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Upsizing the Community with Earth Day Money

 

Biopolicy Seminar 2004
Oct. 27, 2004
Royal Academy of Science, Stockholm



It’s a great honor to be here, and first of all I would like to thank you, Dr. Heden, who kindly invited me, giving me a chance to present about earthday money.

Actually it is also embarrassing that the topic that I am going to talk is very different from the topics in the previous session, when I hear a huge amount of money like 5.6 billion US dollars, 20 billion dollars, etc. Nonetheless, I would talk about funny money, small paper money. Actually it is this small piece of paper, but I see a big dream on this.

Now let me start with the slides.

The concept of earthday money is, in one phrase, “Everyday is Earth Day.” As you may know, Earth Day is April 22, and people all around world gather and celebrate the day. It’s a kind of festival for those who are environmentally conscious, and it is said as many as 500 million people join the event in some way.
At the same time, it can be said that ideally every day should be Earth Day, not a one-day event. So what we are doing is to connect daily lives and social/environmental contribution seamlessly together.

Here is breakdown of the concept;
earthday money is the money to realize “everyday is earthday.”
We support community and social projects of non-profit organizations or groups of individuals by letting more donation and volunteer work flow into, by issuing earthday money towards those contribution.

So this is to move resources like donation and volunteer work more to the social projects. It is also to be said as an incentive program to move those resources towards projects which do good to society.

And the history of earthday money actually begins in December 2000, when we met a guy called Michael Linton. He is a key person in terms of community currency. He created a community currency system called LETS, Local Exchange Trading Systems, in 1982 in Vancouver Island in Canada. Since then he is still an evangelist of community currency over twenty years.

In December 2000, the editorial group of the magazine called “Kohkoku – future social design” invited Michael to Japan and had him to open a workshop, and I was happen to be there.

Before the workshop, I didn’t have any intention to really do community currency at all. I was just coming to visit the workshop to know what community currency is like as a knowledge. But Michael was very aggressive, I would say, and he said talking on “why” is already finished as it is obvious community currency is necessary. Then he said, “I would like talk about “how,” and let’s just do it!”

His word influenced some people who attend there, including myself, so much, and also it seemed community currency is just interesting to really practice, so we suddenly made up our mind to start it.
Since then we were looking around the possible place, and after some time, we finally made a working group in Shibuya area, which is the core downtown of Tokyo.

By the way our working group started discussion on May 2001, and only with five months earthday was launched. So in a way community currency is very easy thing. What is needed is actually to print the bill, and maybe print a brochure, but that’s it! Well, of course, you might have to walk around the shops, you might do networking with social projects, etc. But it can be easy if you think easy.

I recollect Michael always saying that to make a community currency is just one moment by cracking his fingers. Well one moment is impossible for us, as we took five months, but we don’t need too much time, that’s his message.
Anyway, earthday money started in October 2001, and it’s three years since its launch.

Now we go on to talk about our system. The unit of earthday money is “r.” It came from the capital letter of “river,” because the home ground of our project is along a river called “Shibuya River,” and at the same time, you can associate “r” with some relevant concept like reuse, reduce, recycle, renovate, return, etc. That’s why we named it. We use paper bills of 50r and 100r, and 50r is equal to 50 yen, and 100r is 100 yen. We haven’t found the way, but we are always looking for the way to utilize digital technology, so that people can transact earthday money much in a smart way.

Our system is based on “community way” model, and its uniqueness is there are three different actors in a system and all three gain benefit out of it. In this model, business donate community currency to the non-profit, and the non-profits would kind of exchange community currency with fiat money such as dollar or yen. Then with community currency, individuals can still spend a certain participating business, and business can gain customers. So the non-profit earn cash, and individual donate money but still keep means to spend, and shop can gain customer, this is why community way models are good for three different actors.

Now earthday money association, which is a non-profit organization, connect those three actors. It plays an intermediary role. So what we are doing is collecting business to participate and support the projects, and call for projects to join, and promote to individuals to donate money or to participate in the projects.

Now how to get earthday money? There are some ways.

First option is to actually work as a volunteer at the projects. You will get 500r if you work for an hour as a volunteer. Now we call those people contributor rather than consumer. The projects include SCAVENGER, that is Super Clean And Very Ethical New Generation Earth Ranger, and they enjoy clean-up the downtown shibuya, they almost make clean-up an entertainment.

The other way to get earthday money is donation. There are more than ten projects which join earthday mone and you can choose one of these you would like to support. Normally, donation is just donation, you don’t expect anything back, but with earthday money you will have a kind of receipt of donation, which can be used later. So we sometimes say, “change money, change the world.”

Earthday bank is a place you can exchange Yen with “r,” it’s casually situated at a corner of a café in Shibuya. Also we are introducing a new gadget named “Earthday Gacha.” I wonder you have this kind of gadget in your country, but you might find it in front of the playroom. To operate, you insert two coins, then rotate the handle and you will get a capsule. You will have 200r inside it. Also you may find a thank-you gift inside the capsule, as we would think it’s important to have an element of entertainment, so we put our original badge in one out of ten or so.

Now here is the list of the projects. If you make donation, earthday money association reserves the money, and regularly send to the projects after we took 10% of commission. And when you donate, you choose a project and write the name of the project you support on the paper then put the paper in the capsule back into the box beside the Gacha. The amount of money sent varies according to how many people actually write the name to support the project.

Our projects include Earthday Farm project that is to cultivate neglected farm by people in urban area. It’s a holiday farming, and to touch soils and mud are just fun. At the same time you will have some harvest, and you will have a visible return from the project. Shibuya Flower Project is another project that is plant flowers in front of the station, where there used to be full of garbage. 100 Yen of donation means one flower pot for them. Tokyo Weekend Market is to have a nice open market in the downtown. Many people in Tokyo would love to have a market like the one in Paris or London, but there aren’t something like that. So this group is trying to host the market, hopefully in the spring 2005.

Other than the project, we also have a dried garbage collection program. In this summer kitchen garbage drier sold very well, and people often use dried garbage for gardening. But as you know we have little garden and balcony so most of the garbage will be just thrown away. So we collect them and we give earthday money at 100r for 100 grams of garbage, then we send it to farmers, and farmers convert it into fertilizer and grow vegetables, and those vegetables will be purchased with earthday money.

Now we move on to how to use earthday money. First of all, you can spend it at participating shops. Usually, you can pay partly with earthday money. Shop can decide how much they accept, so some shop take 10% of price, some would take 500r for a customer, some only 50r. It’s totally up to the shop, according to their marketing policy or the margins they earn.

Most of our participating shops are very pretty and it’s nice to drop in. The charm of Antenna is a cozy atmosphere in spite of the fact that it’s situated at only three minutes’ walk from the station. Shang-Lou is a nice restaurant, whose dessert is highly recommended, and some hair dressers and miscellaneous goods shop are also our partners.

Now the value of community currency is relative to the variety of goods and services to be exchanged. So we think discount at the shops is not enough, and we try to have some special goods. We made a T-shirts, or earthday flour which is coming from the earthday farm, and as it is made by donation and volunteer work, it is only sold with “r”, not with Yen. It’s a kind of “giving back” for contributors.

Now we are facing a problem that after shops earn earthday money there aren’t many ways they can spend it. Of course they can spend it in the other participating business but they don’t do very much, so we start to put an advertisement on our brochure for earthday money. Now the shops can post ads with 10,000r for monochrome, 30,000r for color page. This is to somehow reward to participating shops so that they would feel like earning more earthday money.


I am going to visit Gotland tomorrow to see some zero emission practice up there. As you might know, Dr. Gunter Pauli is a prominent visionary leader in the field of environment issues, and his concept of zero emission and what we are doing has much in common I felt. I got a lot of inspiration from some precious limited chance of dialogue with him.

As I understood, zero emission is not just about waste disposal, but is to create a new system that will realize a potential, currently neglected value, maybe because we are lacking what he would call “eco-literacy.”

I once showed our program of dried kitchen garbage collection, but at that time Gunter seemed to be sad and unsatisfied. That’s true because you need transportation that consume oils to send those garbage to farmers, unless you use the returning truck that carried vegetables into Tokyo. And more than that, I learned from the viewpoint of zero emission, to make fertilizer from food waste is one of the last choices that I should take, because it’s cheap in market value. To realize zero emission concept, you must think to produce the most valuable things as possible. So what he suggested is to make a plastic by extracting starch out of the kitchen waste, and maybe produce a compost, then after some time that plastic go bad, then you can use it as a fertilizer because that plastic is organic. Or you can also grow mushroom from coffee waste, and actually we have started a small experiment to grow mushroom from the dried garbage, and so far the result seems very good. So after growing some mushroom then you can make a fertilizer. Don’t go directly to make fertilizer, and we shouldn’t think too easy about this.

As there are several real practice of zero emission in Gotland, I would like to bring what I see there back to Tokyo.

So, as Gunter says, zero emission is “upsizing.” If you say “zero” emission, it is a negative saying, but it actually not at all. If you don’t create a value, it is not zero emission.

Community currency is often said as an “alternative” currency, and I don’t really agree to that concept. As “alternative” basically means different options, so if you say alternative, it is a matter of abolishing the current system. But I think to cope with the current system and to guide it towards better direction is much sensible approach, so I don’t use the word of alternative.

Then another word “complementary” comes. Complementary is very popular word for community currency especially in Europe, and I also used to use the word when I explain about community currency. But I noticed there is a built-in implication that complementary is necessary when it is necessary. So the economy is in bad condition, you need to have complementary system, but if you have no problem you don’t need complementary one, only the mainstream would do all. If you say complementary, you stay complementary for ever. And you are destined to extinct if the main stream is strong.

So now I would rather say community currency as an upsizing currency. In this slide, I draw a very simple model, but this explains very well about what I am thinking. For example, inside is the current economy. People think waste is outside the economy and maybe it is the field of municipality job. Don’t! It is inside economy, and if you have good sense of eco-literacy, you can include what used to be outside. Community currency might bridge inside and outside to help realize new value.

Also, community currency is a tool of involvement. In a famous survey in Japan, 20-30% of people have experience of volunteer, and 20% have no interest in volunteering at all, and the rest 40-50% are actually having some interest but so far didn’t come across a chance to practice volunteer work. This survey indicates that people have more or less a good mind, and there is not enough entrance to practice. As Dr. Heden stated before there are No Exit in the environmental problems, but for ordinary people I would say there are No Entrance, and with community currency like earthday money, I would like to open up the chance for people to join social projects, and involve as many people as possible.

That’s why earthday money will upsize the community, environmentally conscious community, upsize the value of society.

Finally let me announce that we will host an event at EXPO2005. It is named as the “Community Currency Summit,” and it will take place on May 28, 2005. It will be a good place to exchange many groups of community currency.

Now I would like to close my presentation, and I would like to address my sincere gratitude to the host Dr. Heden, and all of the audience who paid great attention. Thank you very much.