By Brooke Porter Katz
February 25, 2014

Hotel chains have been going green for years, but the latest eco-friendly initiative to catch our eye are wooden key cards by Sweden-based Sustainable Cards.

According to head of sales Johan Kaijser, 30 billion plastic cards are produced every year—that’s 150,000 tons of plastic. Using cards made from wood can reduce the carbon footprint by 50%. So far, hotel brands such as Radisson Blu, Westin, Four Seasons, Accor, and Kempinski—plus retailers like Starbucks and Whole Foods (which use them as gift cards)—have signed on. The European hotel company Scandic was an early supporter, while Mövenpick is the first to adopt them across the brand.

“A hotel can do 1,000 things to improve, but you and I as guests see 10 to 20 of them if we’re lucky. We don’t see what happens on the back end,” Kaijser says. “The thing about the card is that it’s one of the few things you hold in your hand. It’s such a tangible tool to communicate an environmental message.”

The cards—which are made with light-colored Nordic birch wood sourced from certified sustainable forests—can incorporate a magnetic strip, RFID chip, logos and other designs.

To hear Kaijser tell it, key cards are only the beginning. He compares it to the emergence of paper bags, in that plastic producers will be motivated to come up with more environmentally sound materials to compete. As for hotels, he says, “It makes them think, what else do we have that we can switch to wood?” We predict Do Not Disturb signs may be next.

Brooke Porter Katz is an Associate Editor at Travel + Leisure. Follow her on Twitter at @brookeporter1.