#Business Transformation

An action plan for a green product portfolio

11 Mins.

Like other responsible businesses around the world, G+D is on a journey to transition its broad line-up of products to support a low-carbon future. We asked two of the leaders from its Corporate Sustainability group to share their experiences and insights into what it takes to reduce the environmental impact of a product portfolio – in a genuine and accountable way.

With sustainability now riding high on corporate agendas, responsible companies everywhere are taking bold steps to reduce the environmental impact of their business activities.

The impetus for change is broad-based. It is being driven from within organizations by business owners, management teams, and employees, as they channel resources and their energies into realigning the business for a net-zero future.

Change is also being driven externally by different groups of stakeholders – customers and commercial partners; local communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and lawmakers; shareholders and investors – each with its own sustainability agenda and goals.

It’s a call to action that is resounding right across business and one that reflects a new sense of purpose to engage directly in solving wider societal challenges. “In this decade of action, it’s imperative that every company deals with its impact on climate change,” stresses John Revess, vice president of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the CEO-led organization of over 200 multinationals.1 Meanwhile, Gavin Patterson, former BT CEO and former Salesforce president, has recognized the climate emergency as “the challenge – and the opportunity – of a lifetime, [one that] requires us all to aim high and build a better society, together.”2

And it’s a responsibility that is inspiring purposeful change at G+D. As part of a broad program of ESG goals, the company is on a multi-year journey to remake its product portfolio as ever-more-sustainable. A key target: to deliver 75% of the company’s revenue from green products by 2040.

With legislation pending that will require companies to substantiate their environmental claims,3 companies such as G+D are only too aware that such commitments have to be not only genuine but also measurable and verifiable.

We asked two of the company’s green program leaders – Andreas Lamina, Head of the Corporate Sustainability department at G+D, and Frank Krüger, G+D’s Director of Corporate Sustainability – to map out that path toward sustainable products and to share their experiences to date. Here are seven of their insights into the greening of a product portfolio:


1. Be clear about what you mean by “green”

The starting point for any company’s green product agenda must be a clear understanding of the ultimate goal, says Lamina.

“For G+D, the objective is simple: to safeguard the natural environment. In this context, we’re focusing on where we can influence our products so we reduce their environmental footprint. In an era when some company claims can appear to be little more than ‘greenwashing,’ we are striving to develop ESG solutions that are truly – and demonstrably – authentic,” he says.

But the idea is not to wait until G+D teams have developed a perfect solution in all cases – a 100% green product. Rather, the aim is for products to become progressively greener, step by step.

To get there, you must be very clear as a company what you mean by “green,” he says. While no independent authority has produced a watertight definition of what constitutes a “green product,” there still needs to be a company-wide understanding or framework behind such a designation, says Lamina, something that led G+D to focus on five broad criteria:

  • A green product should be based on renewable and/or recycled resources.
  • It should be produced using sustainable energy.
  • The processes for creating a green product should be efficient – wasteful processes have an environmental impact in terms of energy and raw materials needlessly consumed.
  • A product should be designed to have as long a lifetime as possible, which in many cases means making it highly durable.
  • A product needs to be engineered so its end of life is also sustainable (even when the company that made it never sees the product again after it has been sold).

A good example of such a holistic approach is G+D’s Green Banknote Initiative to develop a banknote with the smallest possible carbon footprint but without compromising on durability or security. The resulting Hybrid ADDvance® banknote, developed by G+D subsidiary Louisenthal, combines several innovative qualities to reduce the ecological footprint involved in the production of banknotes – and their use in the cash cycle – by 29%.4

Such an achievement has been independently recognized, with the Green Banknote Initiative receiving the Best New Environmental Sustainability Project For Currency Award for 2023 from the International Association of Currency Affairs.

2. Make greener products a goal for all parts of the business

The greening of the product portfolio should not be selective: it should extend company-wide.

All of G+D’s core business areas – spanning currency technology, financial platforms, and digital security – are working on green products, though each is at a different level of maturity. The company’s payment card business, in particular, has developed a wide variety of green solutions for card issuers in the banking and fintech sector.

Payment cards are an ever-present feature of consumer wallets in the majority of economies across the globe. It’s the proliferation of cards that is inspiring a trend toward personalization and environmentally friendly choices. Card issuers are responding to consumer demand with cards based on recycled plastic (including reclaimed ocean plastic), wood, and other recyclable and biodegradable materials. As the range of card innovation grows, more users will want to show the sustainability of their lifestyles through their choice of card.

Responding to that customer call to action, G+D is the first major card maker to pledge to replace all virgin plastic used in its payment card products by the end of this decade ­– just one of many commitments that demonstrate how the company wants to be a leader in both corporate responsibility and society-wide efforts on sustainability.

The payment card shift is already well underway. G+D’s Convego® Beyond range is supporting several major banks to offer a wide variety of sustainable products and services. For example, through G+D’s Convego® Recycled Cards, Rabobank in the Netherlands is introducing plastic cards with relevant card body parts made up of 100% recycled PVC layers. Meanwhile, in Germany, UniCredit’s HypoVereinsbank is providing its customers with environmentally friendly plastic-free debit cards, based on G+D Convego® Natural Payment Card. Its card body is made from 100% polylactic acid (PLA), a bioplastic produced from renewable raw materials such as corn starch.

The greening of cards is just one example: G+D has numerous other green initiatives involving digital infrastructures, passports, ID cards, and much more (see below).

Green payment card in front of a keyboard

3. Take advantage of the “win-win-win” of greener products

If you want to change to a greener future, you can focus on making the day-to-day side of business more sustainable – the energy it uses, its logistics, international travel policy, and so on. Those processes certainly help to decarbonize to a degree. But unless you also tackle the fundamentals of the design and production of goods and services, you will never reach the ultimate sustainability goal, says Krüger.

A focus on the products themselves is a win on multiple fronts. Greener products are good for supporting your customers’ green agendas, good for your own business, and better for the environment overall.

If they are not doing so already, your customers will soon be asking about the environmental impact of your products – in detail, and with demands for demonstrable proof of the products’ green credentials. One key reason is to address their own goals: your B2B customers are under pressure to fulfill their individual requirements to become greener companies by using sustainable inputs to their products and services, says Lamina.

“The demand for greener products will only become more customer-driven in the future – both on the B2B and consumer sides – as each company focuses on its sustainability agendas and obligations,” he says.

Actions are already underway at many of G+D’s partners. For example, in April, Mastercard accelerated plans to eliminate first-use PVC plastic from cards using its payment processing services by 2028, when it will require all banks issuing payment cards to use sustainable materials. All of its plastic payment cards will be produced from bio-sourced or recycled plastics, including recycled ocean plastic. G+D is one of the first partners supporting that initiative through its backing of the Greener Payments Partnership, which is focused on reducing the utilization of first-use PVC plastic in card manufacturing.5

Working closely with both G+D and Mastercard, Deutsche Bank is also on a fast track to converting its entire card portfolio to recycled materials. By the end of 2024, 99% of all new cards issued by the bank (including those from its subsidiaries Postbank and Norisbank) will be produced using recycled PVC. As the bank’s most important card producer and recycling service partner, G+D estimates that making cards from recycled plastic will reduce the CO2 emissions of the manufacturing process by around 65%.

4. Identify green opportunities across whole product life cycle

There are numerous focus areas throughout the life cycle of a product that can help to make it greener. Krüger highlights three:

  • Sustainable by design: Products should have sustainability built into their design from the outset, governing all phases of their lifespan, from creation and use to disposal. However, transforming product research and development processes for sustainability can’t always be achieved overnight, especially for products that are technically complex. “Our path is to develop products that are sustainable by design. And we are progressively making green features an integrated part of each design. But such evolutions take time, careful planning, new processes and production lines, and that sometimes requires significant investment,” says Krüger.
  • Sustainable production: Another area you can influence is production. G+D is constantly looking at the kind of materials it uses. For example, the company is currently planning to switch key elements of the passports it produces (through its Veridos joint venture company) from employing first-use materials to recycling materials.
    G+D has already transformed areas of banknote production, so these have a significantly lower environmental impact. Its Louisenthal banknote company now uses hydropower to generate 25% of the electricity it uses, and it has reduced its water consumption by 40% in the past nine years through recycling processes.
    G+D has set a group-wide goal of fulfilling 85% of its electricity needs from renewable sources by 2030. This extends to the operation of substantial data centers. At locations in Greece and India, it already utilizes 100% green energy generated by wind power plants.
  • Sustainable supply chain: Companies also need to look right across their supply chains to ensure they minimize CO2 emissions, including examining their suppliers’ production approaches, says Lamina. “At G+D we look at end-to-end processes and examine which areas we can influence most effectively, working with our suppliers to find ways to help them make their production greener too,” he says.
    As that highlights, the journey to greener products is rarely a solo venture; it requires close collaboration. And G+D is actively building an ecosystem of sustainability partners. In financial services, for example, it is working with digital eco-innovators Doconomy and Patch so payment card issuers can empower their customers to monitor and address their personal CO2 impacts.
    As consumers use their cards, Doconomy provides visibility into the carbon emissions associated with each purchase, allowing them to modify their spending patterns. Patch’s technology complements that visibility with a next step: the ability to purchase carbon credits that offset the carbon footprint of purchases.
    Such digitalization is one development that is cutting across all aspects of business, highlights Krüger: “The digitalization of all or part of previously physical products is one area that is often a source of reduced emissions,” he says. “Digital products don’t require the transportation of raw materials for production or the physical delivering of finished goods. They do require greater computer power at the back end to run their services, but in practice the energy consumed by such data centers can be obtained from 100% sustainable sources.”

5. Enhance the appeal of your company with ESG commitments

The transition to greener products has become highly relevant to many different groups – not least of all employees. It is vital that you can demonstrate good green credentials, says Krüger. “If you want to be a successful employer and recruit and retain the best people, that’s now a major factor,” he says. “Prospective and existing employees want to know what your company stands for and the goals it’s working toward. Today, many people will not lend their support to a company which is not active in many areas of sustainability,” he adds.

Although they have played an important role as corporate watchdogs for many years, NGOs are another driving force behind the pursuit of green product strategies. “Certain NGOs are well-placed to expose ‘greenwashing’ and a weak commitment to sustainability. That can have a detrimental effect on a company’s brand, its reputation, and, ultimately, its market potential,” says Krüger. His advice: keep your commitments and claims real.

In many cases, the green approach of a company is also now being judged by its trading partners. “If a partner is buying from you, they want your product to be sustainable, so it adds to their requirement to become a greener company too,” says Lamina. Indeed, many procurement processes now require companies to meet a specific sustainability threshold – or else they are eliminated from a contract. A bank asking for sustainable payment card designs is a prime example of such a supplier qualification.

“Creating greener products is the right thing to do and the right direction to go in. You can discuss how fast you want to go, but the greening of your products is not optional. Only sustainable companies will survive in the future.“
Andreas Lamina
Head of Corporate Sustainability department, G+D

6. Make the challenges measurable

The impact of moving to a greener product mix also has to be measurable – and demonstrably so. “In the past, it was quite easy to simply say, ‘We have multiple initiatives underway that are making our products greener,’” says Krüger. “This was enough for some stakeholders, but today every company has to show tangible evidence of its commitment to the environment.”

Lamina recommends defining between five and 10 criteria against which internal progress can be measured for each product, but with the overall sustainability of the product rated via an independent certification framework. Such transparency is vital so customers can judge and compare products for themselves, he says.

A woman is paying for goods with her smartphone at a flower store.

There are major challenges involved in measuring the end-to-end environmental impact of digital products versus physical ones – but it can be done.

As a pioneer of embedded SIM (eSIM) technology, G+D believes strongly that all-digital, programmable eSIMs have a significantly lower environmental impact than their traditional physical counterparts, pluggable SIMs. But the company was determined to put that to the test and present some empirical evidence.

It recently asked Fraunhofer IZM, the renowned applied and industrial contract research institute, to compare the total life cycle environmental impact of an eSIM with that of a traditional SIM card. The research considered the raw materials and resources used, the transportation of inputs and finished goods, the use phases of the products, and the associated components and services needed to support their functionality. The result was unambiguous: the study showed that the use of an eSIM generates 46% less CO2 emissions than a SIM card across a full product life cycle.

7. Get ready for legislation and certification

While most companies are taking action on sustainability, further momentum on the greening of products is being driven by a rapidly emerging regulatory environment, points out Krüger. European legislators, in particular, have several directives already drafted and destined to become law across the region. These directives aim to foster more transparency, accountability, and comparability on product sustainability.

The European Commission’s proposal for a Directive on Green Claims, published in March 2023, is specifically designed to deal with “greenwashing.” A study of EU companies found that 53% of their environmental claims were based on vague, misleading, or unfounded information. The analysis also found that 40% of all environmental claims were unsubstantiated.3

Under the proposal, companies active in EU markets will have to back their environmental claims with externally verifiable evidence and to communicate claims accurately. The use of terms such as “net zero,” “climate neutral,” and “carbon offsetting” would have to be substantiated.

Country-specific legislation is already putting formal demands on companies in this area. Germany’s Lieferkettensorgfaltspflichtengesetz (Supply Chain Act), introduced at the beginning of 2023, requires companies to comply with environmental, human-rights, and child-labor laws not just for their own activities but along their entire supply chain.

There are also specific standards and guidelines being set by different industry and government bodies with respect to the use of materials such as plastics. But whatever the source, the raft of new rules will require companies to set up mechanisms for managing their environmental claims, initiatives, and product labeling if they are to avoid litigation risks and reputational damage.

“In the future, if you state, ‘My product is green,’ you are going to have to be very specific about what you mean and provide evidence about its environmental performance,” highlights Krüger. “That means for each product area, we will need a certification framework that provides a clear signal to the market on a product’s sustainability characteristics.”

Keep your eyes on the prize

The greening of a complex product set is a multi-year journey. And, says Lamina, it is important not to lose sight of the high-level goal of reducing its environmental footprint, even in the face of tough economic conditions and a fast-changing legislative landscape.

It’s not just about pleasing customers, lawmakers, and other external stakeholders. Like an increasing number of companies, G+D now has the sustainability gene encoded in its corporate DNA. “We recognize that creating greener products is vital from a corporate social responsibility perspective. It’s the right thing to do and the right direction to go in. You can discuss how fast you want to go, but the greening of your products is not optional. Only sustainable companies will survive in the future,” says Lamina.

Key takeaways

  • Businesses need to take action to reduce the environmental impact of their products, at all stages of the product’s life cycle.

  • Claims for a more sustainable product need to be genuine and measurable in the eyes of customers and legislators

  • A greener portfolio can deliver major commercial as well as environmental benefits, opening up new contracts and helping to recruit the best talent.

  1. Reaching net zero—what will it take?, McKinsey & Co, 2022

  2. Business quotes on raising climate ambition for 2030, Cambridge University Corporate Leaders Group, 2019

  3. Proposal for a Directive on Green Claims, European Commission, 2023

  4. Sustainability at every level, Louisenthal, 2023

  5. Mastercard to eliminate first-use PVC plastics from payment cards by 2028, 2023

Published: 28/11/2023

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