The Devil Takes Plastic

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There are few more egregious examples of corporate lip service to the environment than HSBC’s green credit card, advertisements for which have been plastered all over Hong Kong. According to the bank, the card enables its holders to “contribute to protecting the environment.” What this means is that each time the card is used, HSBC will donate a sum equivalent to 0.1% of the transaction value to a program that arranges for the planting of lawns on the rooftops of local schools. These areas of grass are meant to act as insulation, to “increase green space,” and to “improve air quality in the city”—though quite how a few patches of grass are going to improve the toxic miasma that passes for air in Hong Kong is anyone’s guess.
I have no doubt that, over time, 0.1% of all transactions conducted with these so-called green cards may buy a reasonable amount of turf. But the size of the donation is not the issue. The issue is consumption itself. One of the main reasons the world is going to hell is because consumers keep buying and disposing of more stuff, and credit cards encourage them to keep doing it. You could lay every square meter of Hong Kong with fresh lawn and it still wouldn’t make the faintest dent on the carbon emissions represented by all the goods and services that are going to be bought with the green card. But how very Hong Kong to think that you can shop your way out of a crisis.