I was recently in beautiful Gulf Shores, AL vacationing with my family (btw I would strongly recommend this destination) and taking in the bounty of the ocean. We enjoyed warm waters, beautiful landscapes and fresh catches. My wife and I were at Fresh Market Seafood buying some great shrimp, scallops and clams and I whipped out my credit card to pay. The guy working the cash register called my attention to my credit card. I looked down and noticed two letters “BP”. I have been using a BP credit card for at least a decade now. Our main reason for getting the card was for the fuel rewards. I sheepishly will admit that even the night before this encounter we watched the film Deep Water Horizon and every day at the beach I would stare at floating oil rigs off the coast. But it never occurred to me what was in my wallet. Shame? Guilt? Embarrassment? I didn’t enjoy experiencing those feelings but I was very grateful the guy selling me fresh catch brought this glaring offense to my attention.
This interaction had a deep affect on me, but it affected him more. He was out of business for about four years and explained how the ocean environment will never be the same. There are varieties of seafood that he’ll never be able to catch again because of BP’s Deep Water Horizon oil spill in 2010. He graciously accepted my order and when we went back for more two days later I paid with cash instead. But it lead me to wonder what was in my wallet and why hadn’t I changed cards? Is it possible to really have a socially responsible credit card? Or at least a credit card whose namesake isn’t known for atrocious environmental damage? Enter my quest for a better (or at least different) credit card. Here’s what I found that helped me and hopefully it will help you.
What is the card’s cause? There are a variety of cards that support an exclusive cause (Breast Cancer) or a categorical cause (Wildlife). The card will either donate a percentage of spending, a fixed amount or a combination. Other cards aren’t affiliated with a particular cause or category but allow you to direct the cash rewards you earn to a charity of your choosing.
Is it just a marketing gimmick anyway? Yeah, maybe. It’s certainly a spirit of benevolence but in the end all credit cards funnel back to a few major banks. And those major banks understand diversification. So you might find that while using a card that supports a clean planet their bank’s portfolio includes large loans to the oil & gas industry. So before you think there’s a halo around the credit card offer make sure your not being naive.
Will the card work for me when I need it to or is the bank too small? There are more palatable options for your benevolent spirit if you’re willing to leave the mega bank arena and go with a smaller bank. You might find there’s options that align more with your ideals but be ready for less convenience and possible higher fees.
It appears difficult to find a product in the highly commercialized credit card market that is affordable, convenient and exclusive to a cause. At some point, the consumer has to make a concession as to what feature is worth a compromise. Overall, it would seem the best approach to responsible consumerism is learning more about the markets we deal in and having a comprehensive understanding of the entire consumer chain. Good luck becoming an informed consumer and helping to make the world a better place one decision at a time!