19 Nov CAN A NEW CURRENCY SAVE THE PLANET?

REDESIGNING MONEY TO SERVE NATURE, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY

My Drop in the Oceans, an innovative Swiss social enterprise, has created a global complimentary currency called DIO. Designed to return value to nature, the currency is currently piloting in Geneva with plans in progress to expand into Kenya and the US early 2015. President David French describes My Drop in the Oceans as “a currency platform founded on the belief that social and economic progress is dependent on fundamentally changing the way we value nature. At the same time, businesses need to be rewarded for their investments into sustainability and consumers need to feel more empowered towards smarter consumption. What we are particularly interested in are the reward mechanisms that can enable all these elements to come together in order to truly make money part of the solution rather than a barrier”.

Very simply, My Drop in the Oceans rewards consumers and businesses for their sustainable actions, in turn, returning value to nature.  The platform creates a link between the value of environmental costs and the issuing of a digital currency that can be used by consumers to pay for purchases at participating businesses. DIO are initially issued equitably to individuals as credits, reflecting nature’s shared value to all of us, and are converted to rewards through sustainable actions captured on the online platform. This conversion process from credits to rewards effectively activates the currency, enabling payments to be transferred for a proportion of the purchase amount.

My Drop in the Oceans is part of a growing movement rallying around the concept of ‘Natural Capital’. The movement is defined by seeking more holistic ways of valuing nature, recognizing that current practices of attributing economic value to nature result in many of the true costs from human activity to the environment being hidden. Consequently, these costs are not accounted for by governments, consumers or businesses. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) – a forward thinking CEO led organization representing 200 businesses – together with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization are leading the Natural Capital Coalition in an initiative to develop a methodology for businesses across the world to understand the impacts that they have and the extent to which they are dependent on the natural environment.

CATALYSING A GLOBAL CURRENCY FOR NATURE

To mark the launch of DIO, business, public sector and civil society leaders met near Geneva, Switzerland to discuss innovative approaches to addressing sustainability challenges by rethinking how money is designed in order to serve nature as well as people. Facilitated by internationally renowned thought leaders in the fields of economics, money systems and the environment, a high level cross sector audience representing national and multi-national interests were engaged in positive, forward thinking yet provoking discussions about the relationship between business, society and nature.

Speakers at the event, hosted by owners of the Château de Bonmont near Geneva and sponsored by Egon Zehnder, a global leadership advisory firm, included Judy Slatyer (COO, WWF),  Peter White (COO, World Business Council for Sustainable Development), Pavan Sukhdev (internationally renowned environmental economist), Bernard Lietaer (international expert in the design and implementation of currency systems), David French (President, My Drop in the Oceans), Michael Beutler (Sustainability Operations Director, KERING), Cheryl Hicks (Sustainability Investment Partner, Quadia SA Impact Finance).

Bernard Lietaer, a global currency expert who played an influential role in the implementation of the Euro talked about how the design of traditional currencies exposed some functional flaws for society and that complimentary currencies can provide a simple solution to striking economic and behavioral balance in ways that are important for sustainable development. Concluding that “essentially, what you can’t measure you can’t improve! Complimentary currencies can enable us to measure and improve. Mobile payments are already a reality for all currencies and complete integration towards mobile payments is the future. Technology makes complimentary currencies a viable reality today in ways it simply couldn’t have been before. I have seen more innovation in digital currencies in the past 2 years than in my whole career.”

Judy Slatyer, COO of WWF International welcomed the launch of My Drop in the Oceans, finding the prospect of innovation in money linked to nature exciting, particularly the potential of how money can be used as a tool to “shift behaviors of the 70% who don’t necessarily think about the environment. It is fantastic to see the creativity and innovation in this thinking… what’s most exciting to me about this is the ability to reach billions of people to make the right choices and I think that is just a fundamentally huge opportunity for the planet… People want to do something but they don’t know how, they don’t know what choices to make and they don’t get rewarded for it. To have something so simple and so scalable that allows every single individual to very easily make the right choices and get rewarded for it is intriguing.”

Peter White, COO of WBCSD, former Director of Global Sustainability at P&G remarked on how “we have been talking about the need to internalize externalities for probably 40 years and where we are now is a time of great experimentation. We have been talking for a long time and now we are trying to actuality do it. It’s great to see the innovation in My Drop in the Oceans because in many cases efforts have tended to be a push forcing people to do things and we know that doesn’t work, so having incentives is key.

Pavan Sukhdev, internationally renowned environmental economist and former leader of TEEB (G8+5 commissioned project ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’) presented nature as a public wealth that billions of people depend upon directly for their livelihood. Pavan set the challenge of how we can holistically value nature in order to “figure out forms of public management of public wealth that ensure equity so that the poorest will continue to receive what they get from nature”.

Michael Beutler, Director of Sustainability Operations at Kering, parent company of 23 brands including PUMA and Gucci, shared insights on their Environmental Profit and Loss account and how customer loyalty was something companies can achieve from engaging with sustainability beyond just product stories and the feel good factor… Innovations like “linking quantitative environmental ratings with mobile payments and digital currency is an exciting space to watch.”

BACKGROUND TO THE EVENT

There is mounting pressure for leading global companies to measure their environmental costs and include them on their balance sheets. Companies are looking for new ways to leverage environmental costs into business value.

In 2007 The Economics of Ecosystems & Biodiversity (TEEB) was launched at a global policy level. Governments agreed on the importance of calculating environmental costs in monetary terms. In 2008, a global map of human impact on marine ecosystems [1. Halpern B.S. et al. (2008), Science 319, 948], highlighted, for the first time, the scale and cumulative impact of 17 different human activities, from carbon emissions to shipping and run-off from agriculture, on the world’s oceans. In 2010 global sports company brand Puma reported an environmental loss of 145 million EUR – the first time a company had put forward a value for the costs associated with its use of nature in providing goods and services to consumers.

How will these environmental impacts and costs be paid? Or how can costs be pledged as value instead?

Traditional money systems and current economic models have come into question since the global financial crisis of 2008. Alternative and complementary money systems are growing, driven by citizens, consumers and social networks.
In Switzerland the WIR-Bank, created almost 80 years ago, has been shown to bring stability to the Swiss economy with its alternative currency the WIR [2. Stodder, J. (2010), The Macro-Stability of Swiss WIR-Bank Spending: Balance versus Velocity Effects, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Hartford, CT, USA. March 31, 2010.]. In 2005 frequent flyer miles, a marketing campaign which began less than 30 years before became the world’s largest currency [3. The Economist, (2005), “Frequent-flyer miles in terminal decline?”. Printed edition – January 6th 2005. London.]. In 2012, the book “People Money” traced the evolution of the growth and momentum of complementary currencies throughout the world showcasing at least 16 local and regional currency examples in many countries. “We now have it within our power to create new kinds of money ‘by design’ that can serve a range of economic, social and environmental purposes” [4. Rogers, J. Kennedy, M. Lietaer, B. (2012) “People Money”. Triarchy press] – John Rogers. In 2013, Bitcoin, an open-source decentralized digital currency [5. Hough, J. (2011)“The Bitcoin Triples Again”. The Wall Street Journal, 10 June, 2011], is the latest demonstration of how technologies can be used to innovate in the creation of new value exchange mechanisms.

The Oceans represent the single most important life-supporting ecosystem on earth. Oceans are currently considered to be the largest active carbon sink on earth [6. Earth Institute News, (2009), Columbia University, 18 Nov. 2009]. An estimated 70% of the oxygen we breathe is produced by the oceans [7. Hulme, P. E. (2009), Trade, transport and trouble: managing invasive species pathways in an era of globalization. Journal of Applied Ecology, 46: 10–18. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2664.2008.01600.x], 90% of global trade is transported across the oceans and over 2.6 billion people depend on the oceans as a primary source of protein. In 2011 a replacement value of those services in economic terms was estimated to be $US 31 trillion [8. Stone, G. (2011) Global Agenda Council on Oceans, World economic Forum – Davos January 2011] or just over half of the global economy at that time.

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