An ecological answer for a sustainable currency

How to value the planet, nature and society? The ECO Coin is a brand new currency that started as a cool idea and is now almost ready to be implemented into a real economy. This digital coin is earned by being nice to mother nature. In ten days of DORP, the project team finds out if this is a viable idea. 

The concept is very simple, you behave environmentally friendly, you earn ECO Coins. Next Nature Network, founder of the ECO Coin, eventually hopes to implement their alternative coin into society. 

It's not the first time that this project it is tried and tested in the living lab that is a festival. At DGTL Festival in Amsterdam, Project leader Lewis Just already did a trial run with the currency. 

The results prompted Next Nature Network to contact Innofest, an organization that offers eight festivals in The Netherlands as a living lab for innovation. Seeing that ECO Coin needs both development and a testing ground, Welcome to The Village and DORP, the ten day innovation program preceding it, is a perfect fit.

The purpose of their time at DORP is multiplex. The test obviously has to be bigger, with more participants, more ways to earn and spend the coin, but also, Lewis wants to find fresh insights and meet new people who can help him further. 

We've got the materials, now we're connecting.
Lewis Just, from the Next Nature Network, on what ECO Coin tries to achieve in DORP 2017.

Day 1 / 2 - brainstorming

Lewis is not alone in his endeavors to make ECO Coin work. He's got an entire project team consisting of students, professionals and more, that was formed a few weeks earlier. One of the project members is Wout Kommer, who already studied the ECO Coin beforehand. He is here to inform the rest of the team about his findings and his message is clear: "Be interactive with the users," he says, "let them actively participate and surprise them. The coin should not just be used as a currency, it should be used as a way to learn about ecology and as a discussion starter." 

It's a great opener for a brainstorm, in which the team, tries to answer several questions. How to implement the currency in a way that has value, both economic and ecological? What exactly do we want to achieve and what do we need? When is this week a success? Having a small, but working economy by the end of the week is paramount.

Day 3 - Pitching the idea

The third day of DORP is a pickle for every project that is attending DORP. In a yurt that is aptly named The War Room, teams have to stand in front of the festival management, pitch their projects and explain what two days of brainstorming did for them. The stakes are high; if the management doesn't see added value in you being there, you're out. 

As project leader, Lewis takes his time to explain why the ECO Coin would be an addition to every festival. All seems to go well, but there're some obstacles to make it fully work. It's quite a big idea, maybe too big to implement it in the festival in such a short amount of time. Seeing as both parties want to make it work, a compromise is made. The coin will only be implemented at the DORP site only, and not any of the other festival sites. It's a bit of a bummer, but not an enormous surprise. Also, the DORP area, a sort of temporary society, is still a great spot for this financial experiment.

DAY 4 - delay

It's Monday and Lewis talks with the DORP organization to ensure a good spot for ECO Coin's information booth. Meanwhile, the rest of the team splits up to talk with the various other projects at DORP. This might create collaborations that lead into a local, albeit temporary economic network, with all kind of activities to earn and spend your hard earned money.

But as Lewis comes back at the end of the day, he finds out that no hard deals are made with the other teams. Although everybody thought it was a great plan, none of the projects could see how ECO Coin can be a part of their own. This means a slight delay. But a small delay in a course that runs for just ten days, this could eventually turn out to be a problem.

DAY 5 - Activities and rewards

Since the other projects can't hook in with the micro-economy that has to be formed, the team starts working out some of their own ideas. A hoop is hung above a trashcan at DORP. If you throw some garbage through it, you earn a coin. It's a small thing, but a thing nonetheless. 

To make an economy work, people have to spend currency. And what else would you want to spend your money on at a festival, than on an instant memory? Pay one ECO Coin and get yourself a picture  of you and your buddies. 

Like this:

While the actual festival is just a three days away, these are baby steps. Actually making a difference in how people see value, requires much more that a polaroid camera and a shabby cardboard hoop. 

The team realizes this and isn't too happy about it. It cost them a day to create the frame and accessoires for the polaroid gimmick. Continuing in this pace almost surely means that the great idea will fizzle out and fade away, even before the festival starts.

Thankfully, today brings some good news, too. A big batch of little cards has arrived. They all have a NFC chip build in, that can be scanned with a phone and stores the ecological currency on a database, like Bitcoin. It's like a wallet, but on a card.

DAY 6 - Slow down

The new day doesn't bring any solace, as the team hears that the location they had been given, is now used by another team. With other words, ECO Coin hasn't got a physical counter where you can learn about their currency or where you can redeem it. 

After sighing just one bit more, Lewis starts moving around between the event organizers to secure a spot. Every time he finds someone to talk to, they send him to someone else. 

While Lewis does his best not to go completely nuts, the rest of the team is working on the reward and earning activities. Progress is slow and at the end of the day, almost everything is as it was a day earlier. As yet another day at DORP has passed and other projects gain momentum, ECO Coin has stalled.

DAY 7 - here we go

Or has it? As the end of this ten day innovation experience approaches, things start falling in to place. For starters, Lewis manages to secure a final spot for ECO Coin. Or well, 'new'... It's exactly the same spot as where this project started a week ago. 

And the new spot seems to inspire new opportunities. A couple of the other teams also warmed up to the idea of a sustainable currency and have ideas to implement it in their own project. Within a few hours, a bunch of new ways about earning and spending the coin is cooked up and worked out.

During Welcome to The Village, visitors will be able to earn the ECO Coin, as was intended. Building a birdhouse, donating your cup and sharing your own knowledge about sustainability, they're all just very simple, educational and also fun ways to make some money. 

Day 8 - Showtime

The sun is shining and the final preparations are finished. As the first visitors arrive, they team members explain what's going on and the first reactions are good. Within a few hours, the whole of DORP is filled with V.E.P.’s (Very Ecological Person's) who participate in the various activities. 

One of the more frequently executed tasks is the pumping of water at another DORP-project. It's the Hairwasher district, a hair salon that is completely 'off the grid'. It's also a spot where this durable economy is almost completely circulair; you pump up the water to make one ECO Coin and you get your hair washed for one ECO Coin.

Making a sustainable buck at the Hairwasher District

And now what?

During the festival, many coins were earned and spend. For Lewis and Next Nature Network, DORP was a very useful experience. The software that is used to keep track of the digital currency was without issues during the full ten days and more people participated than ever before.

It means that ECO Coin now knows that their currency actually works. And, to quote Lewis, if it can work in the micro-economy of a festival, it can work on a larger scale, too. 

So, be ready to start paying your daily needs with a digital coin that you earned by riding your bike to work!

Story by Tom Jalink