Can alternative coins help overcome the obstacles we are facing when attempting to decarbonise the economy? Given the central role of money in structuring our lives and mental landscapes, could it be that by starting to use a currency dedicated to stimulating carbon footprint reduction efforts across the board, we might reach a critical mass and start leaving fossil fuels behind for good? The survcoin, a climate action coin based on the blockchain technology which is being launched in Luxembourg, aims to explore the potential of using innovative monetary leverage to solve the climate conundrum.
What is the survcoin about?
Because in our societies value creation is almost exclusively, and increasingly, measured in monetary terms, many of the initiatives attempting to help us wean us off fossil fuels fail to achieve their target. The climate action coin ‘survcoin’ (for survival coin) is all about redefining value creation. Instead of looking to earn and trade in euros, dollars, pounds etc., engaging in transactions which will likely end up contributing to the ongoing planetary destruction, let us seek to generate and exchange survcoins, which are exclusively generated as rewards for proven carbon footprint reductions. Because survcoin-denominated transactions are either directly or indirectly stimulating decarbonisation, focusing on earning and spending this dedicated currency opens up a way towards enabling, simplifying and gamifying footprint reduction efforts.
Why did you start this social innovation?
We do not have much time left to change course if we want to preserve a liveable planet for ourselves and our children. While we have all the technology we need to rapidly become carbon neutral, as science mandates, we are far from having explored all the available avenues to bring about the social changes required to get there. One of the levers which have been left unexplored is the monetary one. I believe we underestimate the degree to which our addiction to fossil fuels is intertwined with the heavy and ever-growing usage of money in all aspects of our lives. Hence the idea that giving people and organisations rewards in proportion of reliably measured decarbonisation efforts could change a crucial term of the equation which is currently keeping us trapped in the thermo-industrial loop. The social innovation I would like to promote with the launch of the climate action coin is to leverage our reactivity to monetary stimuli and, through a redefinition of value creation, bring about significant, effective behaviour change towards carbon sobriety.
What were you afraid of at the beginning and how (if at all) did you overcome your fear?
Questioning the way we relate to money doesn’t come easy. We tend to underestimate to which extent everything monetary is deeply entrenched in our culture. Suggesting we could measure value creation differently and create new, more constructive tools in this field remains deeply subversive, even among progressives. I admit I was a bit afraid to be deemed a daydreamer. Eventually, I understood that there isn’t much to gain from such fear, and that the deep changes that are required in our societies need to be conveyed via visions and utopias to have a chance of being tested in reality.
What were the beginnings of the social innovation? (i.e. how did you build your initiative, business, NGO from zero?).
Given the ambitious nature of my initiative – it runs down, after all, to no less than building an alternative, decarbonising monetary system – it dawned on me after a while that I had better start at a relatively small scale to prove that the concept works. As it happens, the little country where I live has a lot of advantages as a lab for social innovation, and I decided to choose Luxembourg as testbed, rather than launching the survcoin into to worldwide crypto-universe and hope for the best. I created a non-profit organisation with friends and started to look for local partners and funding.
How did you attract public attention to the issue you wanted to tackle and make others believe in your purpose and potential?
The issue I want to tackle isn’t exactly a small forgotten cause, it is after all the greatest threat to the existence of our species. So the issue for me was not so much to attract public attention to it, but rather to convince a sufficient number of people around me that to address the challenge of climate change and our addiction to fossil fuels, unexplored avenues need to be explorer, and that my idea of an alternative, dedicated currency was worth a try. I read up about the available technologies, mostly blockchain, took part in brainstorming sessions dedicated to the potential of cryptographic technology and got involved in a blockchain-based project in the realm of social finance. Eventually, after zeroing in on a pilot-project format designed to fit the realities of Luxembourg, I obtained initial funding from a local charity, which allowed me to start dedicating all of my time to the project.
How did you make sure that your idea actually fits the needs of the users?
I strongly believe there are many people that would love to do more to reduce their carbon footprint, but have limited knowledge: what works best, what is really worth the effort, where to begin? Obtaining rewards that reliably reflect avoided emissions is a way to start getting answers to these questions, and shaping one’s behaviour towards less carbon-intensive lifestyles. Provided partners such as cities, utilities or companies accept the coins earned by the citizens as payment, as a way to stimulate decarbonisation, a path may then be opened towards a monetary space, or ecosystem, in which, by design, transactions contribute to decarbonisation. One of the levers to get there is that if institutional partners get credit for accepting payments in climate action coin such as survcoin, individual users may also find, along the way, an incentive in conventional monetary terms to go in that direction.
How did you raise the money for your idea and what is your advice for others considering DYI fundraising?
Oeuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte, a charity institution which distributes part of the proceeds of Luxembourg’s national lottery, launched a call for projects in the environmental field in 2017. I submitted the survcoin pilot project, which was eventually designated as a laureate. In my experience, it makes a big difference to be able to dedicate all of one’s time to a project and rely on its success for one’s living. Undertakings taken forward on a part-time basis or on the side may succeed, but it makes a world of a difference when the creators or founders embrace their project for their livelihood.
How did you scale your social innovation and what tips for scaling could you share?
To be able to scale the survcoin in line with the size of the behavioural changes – namely footprint reductions – that lead to significant décarbonisation, all that was needed in terms of scalability was a blockchain infrastructure designed to accompany the wide adoption of survcoin as an alternative currency. Fortunately, this wasn’t too much of a technological challenge. The scaling challenge lay more in the ability to create proof mechanisms that are not too intrusive and at the same reliable enough rather than being able to register transactions denominated in survcoin.
How do you change the whole system?
As what we are looking at is rewriting the core rules of the economy, that’s a gazillion dollar question, isn’t it? I’m convinced the survcoin has tremendous potential to trigger wide-ranging change because it taps into our money-related reflexes, which are intrinsically, culturally ingrained in the way we interact with each other. However, there is a more sober, down-to-earth way of looking at what the survcoin can contribute to: by fostering the adoption of less carbon-intensive lifestyles, it can help make mandatory changes, which in my view are not just necessary but long overdue, more socially acceptable.
What is the one advice you can give to an aspiring social innovator, a member of the Social Innovation Academy, with only two things at the moment: a big heart and a willingness to do something?
Don’t give up. The challenges to overcome are huge, there are plenty of villains out there determined to keep us on our collective destructive course, and all hands are needed to open up avenues of profound change.
I am the author and leader of the survcoin project, which aims to demonstrate that an alternative, dedicated currency can help shift people’s choices towards greater carbon sobriety. I have long been a journalist, among others for the French news agency AFP, and have also worked as a communications expert for the steel and the aviation industry. I have a master in political science from the Panthéon-Sorbonne University in Paris. My areas of expertise are climate change and climate policy, as well as information technology. I live and work in Luxembourg.
Would you like to learn more from other inspiring social innovators?
Check out the Social Innovation Academy – the first fully online management training programme focusing exclusively on social innovation. Subscribe to our newsletter, join our private LinkedIn group, become one of our friends, or follow us on social media (LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook). We welcome all requests for collaboration here.