DIO: The Currency That Prices Nature

10/15/2014 08:04 PM

What if doing the « right » thing for the planet—like recycling or buying sustainably sourced items such as organic-cotton garments—earned you money? As an individual, would you be more inclined to take that extra step toward a more sustainable lifestyle, one behavior, one purchase at a time? As a business owner, would you adopt a more sustainable supply-chain strategy?

This is the big bet that environmentalist David French went for when he founded My Drop in the Oceans, a global currency platform designed to "empower people to value nature" through partnerships with businesses and local authorities. Launched last month in Switzerland, My Drop in the Oceans rewards participants for actions that improve sustainable living, including measuring their Ecological Footprint with Global Footprint Network’s Swiss online calculator.

Here is how it works. Sustainable actions are rewarded with DIO (pronounced "dee-oh"), an electronic currency that can be used towards purchases at participating businesses. For instance, using the Footprint calculator to help you choose more sustainable behaviors will earn you 50 DIO. Thanks to a partnership with the Canton of Geneva, local residents are rewarded 450 DIO (about 45 Swiss francs, 37€ or $57) for playing their part in the Canton's current 45 percent recycling rate. They can apply their credit towards 5 percent of their total purchase at one of a dozen participating local businesses so far, including coffee shops, a sustainable fashion line, a music store, a yoga studio and a shared workspace. Companies will have the opportunity to increase that percentage of DIO transactions in the future.

"We are very busy creating more opportunities to collect DIO," Alexandra Knezovich, My Drop in the Oceans' director of communication, told us. She expects that 50 businesses will join the network by the end of the year.

As My Drop in the Oceans is rolling out its pilot program in Geneva, it is already working on a similar initiative to launch in Washington, D.C., next year. The organization also aims to enroll online businesses to rapidly expand the network of DIO transactions and leverage its impact around the world. "We are talking with multinational companies," Knezovich said.

Companies will be able to use DIO to promote sustainable products to customers. And they will pay their suppliers with DIO as the currency system grows its business network.

DIO are no gimmick. The currency was developed in collaboration with none other than Bernard Lietaer, who co-designed and implemented the single European currency system. In order to stabilize its value in the global market as much as possible DIO is pegged against a basket of national currencies. The amount of DIO issued is, over time, set to match the cost of achieving global sustainability targets as defined by the United Nations and other established international agencies, in part through the work of Global Footprint Network.

"What we take from nature's capital, when we produce and consume, has a value to human society and a cost to nature," explains My Drop in the Oceans on its website. "Many of those costs are hidden, not accounted for by consumers, businesses or governments, instead revealing themselves as deficits through the degradation of ecosystems. We need to make a fundamental shift from seeing nature as a resource to seeing it as a provider of resources, in doing so recognizing that our lifestyles bear a cost to nature that needs to be compensated."

"Our goal," added Knezovich, "is to act as the middleman to help shift the economic system to better reflect the value of nature, so that we use its resources more sustainably."

Even if you don't live in Switzerland, check out our footprint calculator at www.footprintcalculator.org.

Categories: Ecological Limits


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