Guest blog post by Katy Locke, originally posted on the Keene Transition Movement's Community Website and Blog, January 28, 2010.
On a snowy Wednesday evening a couple of weeks ago, I made the BIG trip across the Connecticut River to our Transition buddies in Putney, VT for a sampling of alternative currencies. While Transition initiatives certainly didn’t invent the local currency movement, Rob Hopkins’ engaging stories of the Totnes Pound have helped spread the word. In the Transition Handbook, Hopkins writes that it was actually the model of Berkshares from our neighbors in Western Massachusetts that inspired his interest.
I made the trip to the Putney event because last summer I had gotten really jazzed by three videos in Hopkins’ outline for his 10-week class, Skilling Up for Powering Down. In order of appearance, they are: Money as Debt, Berkshares on ABC News, and Replacing Scarcity with Trust. The last video is an interview with Francis Ayley, originally from England where he started a LETS (Local Exchange Trading System). After he moved to Bellingham, WA, he co-founded Fourth Corner Exchange in 2004 with a few friends, and it now has over 800 members. Check it out!
At the beginning of his interview, Ayley makes the case that the structure of our debt-dependent economic system inspires all kinds of anti-social behavior. Later, Ayley reads the following “Disclaimer” from the inside cover of a 1997 issue of Yes! Magazine called, Money: Print Your Ownthat he feels ought to be included on the back of every dollar bill – in the spirit of a Surgeon General’s Warning. It reads,
“Warning: Use of this product may cause, apathy. laziness, selfishness, ignorance, loss of identity, greed, gluttony, a false sense of empowerment, absence of individuality, self-centeredness, manipulative behavior, superficial values, lack of spirituality, environmental destruction, racial tension, murder, war, and impoverishment for others. Continuous and excessive use could render a permanent state of indifference to the welfare of those around you. USE AT YOUR OWN RISK!”
Beyond Greed and Scarcity, an article in the same 1997 issue, features an interview with Bernard Lietaer who spent five years at the Central Bank in Belgium, and was president of Belgium’s Electronic Payment System. Lietaer states, “Money is like an iron ring we’ve put through our noses. We’ve forgotten that we designed it, and it’s now leading us around. I think it’s time to figure out where we want to go – in my opinion toward sustainability and community – and then design a money system that gets us there.” And later, “What’s nice about local currency is that when people create their own money, they don’t need to build in a scarcity factor. And they don’t need to get currency from elsewhere in order to have a means of making an exchange with a neighbor.”
The Transition Putney event featured four presenters discussing active initiatives in our region complimenting the American dollar. As we filed into the Putney Library, we were handed the following item. (shown right –>)
Amy Kirschner from Vermont Business for Social Responsibility, or VBSR, kicked things off by saying that “alternative currencies” can come in many different forms and are more common than you would think – bonus points on your credit card or frequent flyer miles were a couple of the examples she offered. The VBSR model, adopted from Vir Switzerland, serves the business community in the Burlington area by helping businesses “improve their cash flow through the exchange of their goods and services.” From the website:
The VBSR Marketplace is a simple concept. Your business uses what it has to purchase what it needs. It is like a barter system, but much better and much more flexible than that. Your businesses goods and/or services are actually turned into an electronic trade dollar that you can use throughout the network of businesses using the VBSR Marketplace. When someone buys your product, you acquire VBSR Trade Dollars to purchase whatever you need from another business. You make a sale, gain a new customer, conserve your cash, support a fellow Vermont business, and get a product you need all in the same place: the VBSR Marketplace.
I didn’t find the logic of how it all works behind the scenes totally simple, but couple of things stuck: that large business, i.e. Vermont Public Radio, are encourage to use the exchange system to wrack up a deficit – for example, by “purchasing” gift certificates from local restaurants and distributing them as holiday bonuses. VPR’s “deficit” can then be offset by those restaurants using the “credits” from their gift certificates to underwrite VPR programming. Nifty, huh? The certificates can be designed to be redeemed on theirslower nights, thus turning what would otherwise no business into an advertising opportunity.
The second speaker of the evening was Chuck Lewin, founder and Executive Director of New Generation Energy (NGE), whose mission is to “make America’s communities and more sustainable through the development of renewable energy and energy efficient projects. NGE supports solar, wind, biomass, and geothermal, along with many different kinds of energy efficiency.” Like other micro-investing programs, NGE offers opportunities for organizations and individuals to support green energy projects benefiting non-profits mostly in low-income urban neighborhoods.
In particular, Chuck was there to talk to us about NGE’s Renewable Energy Investment Notes (REIN) which are“fixed interest, fixed term investments that fund green energy projects. REINs are a unique breakthrough in green investing because they allow socially conscious investors to directly support the creation of solar, wind, efficiency, and biomass projects located in the United States.” Upon purchasing a REIN, you receive periodic accounting about the amount of carbon emissions that have been saved by your investment. “Since their inception in 2006, REINs have funded projects that have saved nearly one million pounds of CO2 emissions.”
The Greenfield Dollar is an alternative currency that has been around for 10 years. Issued by a business group within Greening Greenfield, it operates like a gift certificate, and is issued for denominations of $10 and $25. There are several locations where is can be purchased, and there is a list of local businesses where it can be redeemed. During the holiday season, it is not unusual for $20,000 worth of Greenfield Dollars to be sold. Unfortunately, there is no information specifically about this project on the Greening Greenfield website.
The final presenter was William Spademan, President of Common Good Finance and Project Director of the Common Good Bank. The mission of Common Good Finance is to create, “democratic, community-based economic solutions for sustainability, economic justice, and the good of all…” fostering “a society in which communities everywhere gather to decide for themselves what their funding priorities should be – for sustainable agriculture and energy systems, for local self reliance, for ensuring that everyone has enough to eat, a home, and satisfying work.”
The Common Good Bank was designed as the “framework for a community-based democratic economic system that can also compete effectively within the current economic system,” combining the “spirit of a credit union with the power and growth potential of a stock savings bank.”
The presenters all succeeded making the information accessible for those of us who are just starting to venture into this topic. Hats off to Transition Putney for offering such a stimulating event, and to the presenters and participants alike for braving slippery travel conditions!