Smart Cards and ID Cards Go Sustainable as Part of Security Industry’s Overall Push into Environmental Stewardship

By Ramesh Songukrishnasamy

Smart cards and ID Cards have become ubiquitous and will likely remain a fixture in the access-control landscape even as mobile IDs reach their tipping point. The convenience of mobile IDs continues to make them an increasingly attractive option, but the physical card will still be required in many applications. This is why their transition to more sustainable card materials is a key element of the security industry’s broader focus on environmental stewardship.

Continuing Role of Physical ID cards

Mobile IDs will never fully replace physical ID cards, especially in hospitals and other places where it is essential to see a visible card on a clip or lanyard. As an example, healthcare institutions need durable and professional physical healthcare ID cards that enable people to visually identity doctors, nurses and, in many cases, even patients or visitors. These physical cards can help reassure patients and visitors that a professional wearing a verifiable ID is someone they can trust.

Physical ID cards in the healthcare setting can also be a key element for protecting staff against today’s rise of physical and verbal attacks inside the hospital. The cards can be adapted for duress alerting by inserting them into special badge holders that feature a discreet button for staff – and especially nurses – to push when they want to call for help. These badge holders operate within a real-time location system (RTLS) that makes it possible to know where staff members are in the facility – in real time – and enable them to signal if they are in danger. An LED on the back of the badge holder will blink and an alert is sent to the cloud when in range of one of the connected gateways that are generally installed across the campus or building. Today’s solutions also enable the hospital to centrally manage one of many possible policy-based workplace violence responses.

In these and other applications, physical cards maintain an important role in security. But they need to be more sustainable.

Transitioning to New Materials

Physical ID cards have begun shifting to more sustainable materials, including environmentally-friendly bamboo certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and TUViT Seal 5. Bamboo is exceptionally fast growing and requires little agricultural intervention like fertilizer or pesticides. It also has low energy consumption and CO2 emissions during processing.

Another big benefit of bamboo is that it reduces the plastic and consumables waste of the hundreds of millions of plastic cards that are sold annually. Each plastic card weighs 5 grams and has a carbon footprint of 21 grams (CO2 per card calculations based on assumptions from industry standards), equating to plastic waste of 2,700 tons and an overall carbon footprint of 11,400 tons. The move to bamboo cards will help reduce this waste and footprint problem.

Moving ID cards to bamboo materials is just one way that the security industry is tackling sustainability.

Embracing Environmental Stewardship

There are four major ways that the security industry is approaching the sustainability challenge.

First, suppliers are improving their own sustainability. They are embedding sustainability into day-to-day operations to reduce their own overall environmental footprint, which is a key priority in a “sustainability-by-design” approach. Taking this approach during real estate acquisitions and lease renewals enables a supplier to reduce its carbon footprint, coordinate the implementation of environmental management systems, improve data analysis and benchmarking, cut energy consumption and increase the proportion of renewable energy. These considerations should extend to the supply chain as well.

Second, suppliers are strategically developing products that address sensible energy usage, waste reduction and resource optimization. In addition to moving ID cards to bamboo materials, suppliers are taking such steps as equipping RFID readers with a power-saving mode, streamlining manufacturing to save energy, and using design approaches that make end-of-life recycling of electronics more practical. Suppliers are also providing customers and partners with information about sustainable design criteria, while completing GreenCircle certifications for readers, printer lines, and other products. They are also providing Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) that help customers reach their own sustainability targets. In many cases, the purchasing decision and path to environmental certifications are based on information from these EPDs.

A third way the security industry is improving sustainability is by moving processes to the cloud. An example is secure printing, which enables organizations to control what can be printed, cut consumables usage, and streamlining card issuance through web-based alternatives to visiting a card office. Access control is also moving to the cloud, leveraging the Internet of Things so that organizations can use connected architectures, multi-applications and mobile devices to deliver seamless experiences while simplifying complexities, optimizing processes, and reducing resources. When access control systems are integrated with building automation systems, there are even more opportunities to improve sustainability.

Finally, the security industry is combining cloud-based access control with location-services technology to provide the necessary data for streamlining and improving the accuracy of sustainability compliance monitoring and reporting. In fact, access control solution suppliers now often partner with specialist certification companies to help outline best practices for meeting sustainability scoring goals for programs like LEED and GreenCircle. These developments are enabling organizations to more effectively define and report on a clear sustainability strategy that positions them to anticipate and adapt to many different short- and long-term environmental, social and regulatory changes.

Security Meets Sustainability

It may seem counter-intuitive to expect the security industry to drive big global sustainability breakthroughs when most of the world’s attention is focused on the transportation and energy sectors. But today’s solutions are quietly providing important ways to help solve some of the world’s biggest environmental challenges. With advances like more sustainable bamboo ID cards and other strategies for improving environmental stewardship, the security industry is investing in the future of the planet. These investments are also helping to drive everything from more sustainable ID cards to more efficient, longer-lasting products, streamlined environmental certification processes, and improved resiliency during a period when protecting the planet is increasingly important and can have a direct bearing on business continuity.

Ramesh Songukrishnasamy is the senior vice president and chief technology officer (CTO) of HID. He is one of the founding members of FiRa Consortium. Prior to joining HID, he was vice president and CTO of Honeywell’s Security and Fire Business. Songukrishnasamy provides transformational leadership and execution excellence to create and deliver high-value offerings that align technical innovation with business needs. Throughout his career, he has earned recognition for his ability to create outstanding teams, drive business transformation, and demonstrate a customer-centric approach to product design and development using lean/agile principles.


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