The Actor’s Equity Association (AEA) is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year, and one of its initiatives is to provide members with fancy new gold credit card style membership cards, replacing the former paper-based version. My reaction, when I heard this, was one of disappointment. Every initiative taken by an organization today has consequences and implications that reverberate across multiple sectors. In this case, the AEA failed to take advantage of a priceless opportunity to enhance member services, increase member engagement, and exhibit a very simple but impactful degree of CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility).
More than 7 years ago, the Census Bureau determined that there were nearly 1.5 billion credit cards in use in the U.S. A stack of all those credit cards would reach more than 70 miles into space — and be almost as tall as 13 Mount Everests. If this number of credit cards were thrown away every three years, the stack of credit cards would reach almost 43 Everests high after a decade. These plastics do not biodegrade in landfills. Not so fancy.
Actor’s Equity is not a lone offender, though. When SAG and AFTRA merged, the new union had an opportunity to revisit its longstanding use of plastic credit card member IDs, but opted to stick with the short term functionality of plastics, long-term sustainability be damned. The Producers Guild and other industry organizations are equally guilty. My frustration would be less justified if there existed few alternatives. However, companies such as Discover Financial services are offering cards made of BioPVC™ and other biodegradable alternatives; well-established technologies such as mobile apps present a plethora of creative and operational opportunities; and other technologies such as NFC offer yet more potential, as their adoption becomes more widespread. So why the lack of innovation or sustainability best practices? Is it an absence of imagination? Aversion to change? Financially motivated obduracy?
As current Chair of my city’s Sustainability Commission, I have benefited from the past four years, learning about the negative consequences of unsustainable practices (both in business and personal life), as well as about the positive implications of Green and other more sustainable commercial and community options, be it through renewable materials sourcing, alternative energy programs, commercial district redesigns, and many other areas. Many initiatives in sustainability offer up more than a single-pronged benefit or solution. It’s not just about environmental conservation, or clean air, or recycling. It’s about positioning ourselves, our businesses, and our communities for a more environmentally, socially, and financially robust future.
Had the AEA decided to explore options for member identification, other than the current plastic card tradition, all sorts of exciting avenues to member engagement and empowerment might have been revealed. Imagine a mobile app (what actor does not have a mobile phone?) that represents not only the individual’s union identification, but also a resource for direct connection to their credit union, membership affiliate discount programs, health insurance tools, personalized pension and 401K insights, dues status (and mobile payment processing), and much more, besides. The cost savings to the AEA and their members alike would be enormous, the raw materials no longer needed (plastics, papers, etc) would be mountainous, and the ability to connect more dynamically with membership would elevate the usefulness, value and – by extension – collective bargaining power of the AEA.
To those who would argue that they would not wish to entrust such data to a mobile device that might lose power, break, be stolen, or otherwise be compromised…I suggest they note that more wallets are stolen and lost than mobile devices. The Baby Boomer generation may not be able to acclimatize themselves to the notion of a cardless society, but I personally am quite excited by the idea of saving money, time, and materials – simply by aggregating the contents of my wallet into a well-protected, institutionally insured, cloud-based ecosystem that poses no more risk to our identities than we currently face today. The promise that lies in such innovation far outweighs the risks, and I can think of no better collective to act upon this promise than Actors themselves. This opportunity seems to have been missed, but I sincerely hope that other organizations might think a little more expansively about each initiative they take, going forward. The smallest tweak might offer far greater rewards (and savings) than they might imagine.