South Korea promotes credit cards to go greener

SEOUL (Reuters) - Kim Yong-sook is an idealist who longs for a greener lifestyle, which means walking more and wasting less. But she never dreamed that her credit card could help save the planet.

The 59-year-old stay-at-home mother is one of many set to take advantage of a new program in South Korea that will offer “green credits” for consumers who embrace a low-carbon lifestyle. Credit cards have become more than a purchasing tool in South Korea, offering discounts on movies or food and freebies. Now a new government program will add energy consumption incentives to that list.

Indeed, according to a new 2011 policy plan announced by the Ministry of Environment, buying eco-friendly products or living green in ways such as taking public transit by using a so-called green credit card, will be good both for the environment and your wallet. The credits can be redeemed for cash or be used to lower utility bills.

“Accumulating green credits does not sound bothersome at all,” said Kim.

The combination of credit and green consumerism, the ministry said, is part of a drive to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent from projected levels by 2020.

“You can earn bonus points in daily life when you buy a carbon-less labeling detergent or collect used batteries,” said Hwang Suk-tae, a senior official at the Climate Change Cooperation division at the ministry.

Just saying no to a paper cup at coffee shops can add to carbon points, as the government terms them, which then can turn into cash rebates.

“We have a chance to change the current mantra that living green is tough to achieve,” said Hong Sung-pyo, head of the Korea Green Purchasing Network.

He added that the official government Ministry campaign to craft a new spending method for green living had high prospects for success, instead of private companies that may regard this as a marketing opportunity.

Others had mixed feelings about the plan.


“I am not sure how big this green credit card project will grown, and some can criticize this for encouraging spending,” said Choi Ye-yong, director at the Asian Citizen’s Center for Environment and Health, Korea Federation for Environmental Movements.

“I also think that the more incentives become available, the more people will join. But it may provide momentum to induce us to take action.”

The national government is not the only one getting into the act.

Seoul is launching an eco-mileage credit card this month, allowing participants to get discount coupons toward the purchase of hybrid cars and eco-friendly appliances in return for conserving electricity and water, with both Samsung Electronics and Hyundai Motor also taking part.

Kim, the housewife, is planning to sign up for a green credit card when it is available, hoping to help make her pursuit of a greener life a reality.

“I hope this will not end up being just one of the government’s verbal campaigns, because it is hard to live green and spend at the same time,” she said, adding that she worried the card could actually damage the environment by encouraging consumption.

Editing by Elaine Lies