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10 ways to go green with credit cards

Eco-friendly steps to save Earth when using your plastic

By Lisa Rogak

One of the best ways to go green in your daily life is to choose plastic, not paper. Green credit cards

With credit cards, that is. 

Here are 10 ways you can start to reduce your personal carbon footprint by engaging the plastic in your wallet in environmentally friendly ways.

1. Go paperless on account statements.
Opt for paperless statements for all of your credit card accounts.

Many people already bank online, but continue to receive paper statements out of habit and to have a backup copy. Many credit card companies allow access to archived statements online, and you can save each statement to your hard drive, and send it to an online document service or Web-based e-mail account for extra security.

The environmental impact can be significant. With a 50 percent increase in paperless enrollment rates in the last year, Discover card reports saving an average of 350 trees a month. The Plant-a-Tree program from Citi set a new tree in the ground whenever a customer switched to electronic-only statements. In the first quarter of 2007, the program planted more than 300,000 trees.

2. Toss your checkbook.
If you're not already making online payments of your credit card accounts -- and on all your accounts, for that matter -- do it now. You'll save on paper, postage and the fuel required to mail the envelope. Using a debit or credit card instead of a check will also eliminate the paper used to print the check.

3. Affiliate environmentally.
If you belong to an environmental group such as The Sierra Club or The Nature Conservancy, sign up for their affiliate credit card. Every time you use the card, the group will receive a percentage of your purchases to fund eco-friendly projects and initiatives. If your favorite group doesn't offer them, ask them to start.

4. Take carbon offsets.
Sign up for a card that buys carbon-offset credits every time you use the card. Bank of America's Brighter Planet Visa  will give you one EarthSmart point for each dollar you spend; 1,000 points will purchase approximately one ton of carbon offsets. The first time you use the card, you'll receive 1,000 points. Opting for a paperless statement deposits an additional 1,000 points into your account.

5. Go eco-reward.
Some rewards cards allow customers to convert their earned rewards into cash donations for environmental groups. Chase BP Visa Rewards Card cardholders can donate their rewards to The Conservation Fund. Users earn 5 percent for every dollar spent at BP service stations, so if you spend $1,000 on gas, the fund will receive $50. And you'll get a tax deduction for the charitable contribution. G.E.'s Money Earth Rewards Platinum MasterCard allows customers to designate up to 1 percent of their total yearly purchases to buy carbon offsets to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The only way to apply for the card is online, which saves paper. According to G.E., if 100,000 cardholders charge $750 to the card each month, the carbon offsets purchased would save 1 million metric tons, or what 175,000 cars produce in the U.S. in one year. 

6. Cut junk mail.
Organizations such as GreenDimes.com will wipe out your unsolicited mail and plant five trees when you sign up.  

7. Buy eco-friendly.
Use your credit card to make purchases online from eco-friendly companies. "There are great companies making everything from bamboo clothing to earth-friendly toys," says Candita Clayton, author of "Clean Your Home Healthy." She suggests Ecomall.com for a wide selection of products you use every day. PriceGrabber.com now offers a ShopGreen option where you can buy eco-friendly, sustainable merchandise. Even better, it donates 5 percent of its profits to the environmental organization you specify.

8. Receipt? Nah.
Whenever you use a credit card to pay for gas at the pumps, always decline when it asks if you want a receipt. And turn off your engine while you're filling it; idling uses up gas.

9. Put your money where ...
For your credit cards and all of your financial transactions, choose a bank or credit union that clearly puts the environment first. Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Long Island teamed up with local organization GreenLevittown.com to offer special debit cards to raise the visibility of the group. Customers who build a credit history with the credit union can receive discounted rates on loans and mortgages along with 20 percent savings on the purchase of energy-saving household items from light bulbs to refrigerators.

10. Re-use that plastic.
When your credit cards expire, don't cut them up and throw them away. Instead, you can reuse the old plastic in some surprising ways. Candita Clayton suggests using expired credit and debit cards  --  along with used-up gift and coupon cards  --  to make fun sculptures with your kids by making slits in the cards so they fit together like a house of cards. You can also string them together to make a colorful mobile for a baby's crib or cut them into small pieces to create a mosaic. If you're musically inclined, cut up a card to use as a guitar pick; just be sure to file the edges first.

See related stories: "Spin the Green-O-Meter," "Green credit cards interactive," "Poll: U.S. not very eco-friendly on credit cards," "Artists give recycled cards new life," "Banks that go green"

Updated: May 2, 2008


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