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Report: ECO Coin by Lewis Just (Talk)

Lewis Just is the co-founder of the ECO coin, an alternative currency that is designed to incentivise actions that are good for the environment. It’s an attempt to create a constructive symbiosis between our economy and our ecology. Lewis walks us through the reasons for being of the eco-coin, the origin of the idea, the initial prototyping and testing, all the way to the current status and future ambitions.

Reasons for being – from history to today

In 1929, the great depression hit the world. The deepest and widest of the 20th century. Global GDP dropped by about 15% (for comparison: in 2008 just 1%). A town in Austria also suffered. High unemployment and low economic activity. Its mayor initiated their own currency that decayed every month. And got topped up every month to restore its original value. Stimulating to spend, not to hoard. It spread around town. And the town recovered quicker than any other similar town. The idea is not new. Already described in a book in 1916 by Silvio Gisele, “Natural Economic Order”. Aiming to create a positive effect on communities to circulate money.

We are on the edge of a new depression. Number of Americans that filed for unemployment in the last few weeks skyrocketed. Not just an economic crisis, also ecologic at the same time. With CO2 growing exponentially over the past decades. And this will not change as our economic model has not changed fundamentally. We have become obsessed about growth and don’t take into account the damage. We harm our ecology to grow our economy.


The inspiration and origin of the idea for eco-coin

Concrete example: Alberto: Brazilian farmer in the rainforest. Has a choice: burn down the forest, plant soya beans and earn a living for his family. Or: leave the forest untouched and don’t earn money. So somehow we have a system that incentivises damaging our environment and not protecting or growing it. Feels completely backwards as it should be.

ECO coin: do good and get paid. Alberto can earn them by protecting the forest, person X for eating a meat-free meal, person Y for recycling plastic cups at a festival, for biking to work…

The prototype – festivals as small cities

Worked with festivals in the Netherlands. E.g. digital festival. Like a microscopic city for a limited time. We created a marketplace where you could earn them and use them. Stored on a digital festival wristband.

Earning by festival visitors: e.g. planting wild flowers on the festival terrain, building birdhouses from offcuts from the wooden stage building, by changing energy provider (which has longer impact then the festival itself)

Marketplace for spending: we try to focus on services over products. Smoothies from waste food. As inclusive as possible, e.g. involving children. Secret club of Very Ecological Persons VEPs, only accessible for people with enough ECO coins….


The lessons learned & transfer to “the real world”

Make it more social, make it more scalable, more secure and easier to use.
Created a stand-alone app that can be integrated in various contexts. E.g QR code when you ride a bike etc.
Also created a market place. Incl for example option to donate ECO coins. Also included gamification aspects. Often money is managed individually, but you can also earn it as a team by collaborating with a community.

Deployed it at Erasmus University in Rotterdam. They now use it already for three years. In collaboration with the Campus. Spreads out around the city, linking to local restaurants, renting an electric car etc.

Business model & user acceptance – how to make it economically sustainable

We have been approached by a lot of global companies. For two reasons: reducing their CO2 footprint and for organisational change. E.g 250 employees at HQ L’Oréal. Ecocoins earned versus CO2 reduced. The first month 75% signed up already. 4000 actions in one month. 8000kg CO2 reduction. Also saved them money as a company (fewer costs of travel etc.). So that made it viable as a business model.

83% testified it changed their behavior towards sustainability. Created behavioral change, including spillover effect towards the business units (accounting etc.). Currency as a Trojan horse to get sustainable thinking into organizations.

Future ambitions – How to scale up

We approached the city. Working with the municipality of Amsterdam. Starting with the civil servants themselves. Again very successful results. Also from a building perspective to a bigger macro-economy. Been talking to the knowledge mall to try and get ECO coin to the neighborhood scale.

Huge ambitions. Whitepaper on the website Also exploring blockchain technologies, decentralized organization, adding demurrage (decay) etc.

The opportunities that COVID brings

Today we have a unique opportunity to redesign our currency and behaviour. We can’t simply go back to normal. Just like after the great depression, we need new thinking and new resilient models. And there will be plenty of new currencies coming up to change the world for the better.

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