Nu Spaarpas

The Nu Spaarpas (NU) scheme is a 'green rewards' currency which has recently been piloted in the Netherlands and has been unre-searched until now. This currency is designed to promote environmentally-friendly consumer behaviour, and operates like a reward card (Bibbings, 2004). Points are earned when residents separate their waste for recycling, use public transport, or shop locally. The points circulate in a closed-loop system, and card scanners in participating shops feed data into a central set of accounts. The initiative was a partnership between local government, local businesses, and non-governmental organisations - specifically Barataria, a sustain-ability consultancy organisation. NU was introduced in the city of Rotterdam in the Netherlands in May 2002, and by the pilot's end in October 2003, 10,000 households had the card, over 100 shops were participating, and 1.5 million points had been issued (van Sambeek and Kampers, 2004: 77).

It is an incentive scheme which specifically seeks to overcome the market disincentives to consume sustainable or ethical products, which are produced by the systematic externalisation of social and environmental costs and benefits from market prices. In other words, if mainstream money effectively incentivises unsustainable consumption, then NU is a prototype system which reverses those hidden subsidies by rewarding more sustainable behaviour. This is based on a marketing assumption that 'it is better to approach people in a positive and stimulating way than in a negative and restrictive manner' (van Sambeek and Kampers, 2004: 13) - in other words, promoting sustainable consumption using carrots rather than sticks (Holdsworth and Boyle, 2004).

Given that NU is a specific-purpose monetary tool designed to promote sustainable consumption, it is unsurprising that localisation and reducing environmental footprints are key outcomes of the initiative. As well as rewarding purchases from locally-owned businesses, extra points can be earned by purchasing 'green' or ethical' produce (such as organic food, fairly traded goods, recycled products, rental, repairs etc) at a range of participating local stores. The points are redeemed for discounts off more sustainable consumer goods, public transport passes, or cinema tickets (in other words, spare capacity in existing provision which incurs no additional costs), or donated to charity. Thus there are incentives to change consumption behaviour when both earning and spending the points, and private businesses benefit at the same time as public goals are met. However, in contrast with the other two cases examined here, there are no specific community-building impacts of NU: it is an individualistic mechanism, coming into play when individuals make consumption decisions (though it is socially inclusive, as points can be earned without financial expenditure). Despite this, it does have a role to play in channelling collective action through the public sector. NU was founded by Rotterdam Municipal Authority and prompted by several government objectives: reducing the volume of waste entering landfill, promoting public transport use, and generally raising environmental awareness and the practice of sustainable consumption. NU therefore has a direct impact on the provision of public transport, as well as waste separation facilities. Lastly, NU creates new institutions of exchange. If the market effectively incentivises unsustainable consumption (by externalising social and environmental costs), then NU is a prototype system which reverses those hidden subsidies by rewarding more sustainable behaviour, simply altering the relative prices of sustainable versus unsustainable goods. It anticipates the internalisation of social and environmental costs and sends appropriate price signals, and is easily understood by a public accustomed to savings points: 'the NU card scheme can present itself as a reliable channel for sustainability, and also offers low-threshold information that the consumer needs at time of purchase' (van Sambeek and Kampers, 2004: 77).

Table 7.1 Evaluating complementary currencies as a tool for sustainable consumption: key findings

Sustainable LETS Time Banks NU







Locally-based skill-swap scheme, aims to rebuild local economies. Usually run by community volunteers. Members advertise their 'offers' and 'wants' and trade in a virtual currency, with a central accountant keeping records. Offers interest-free credit.

Economic tool, locally-bounded money to boost local multiplier, employment and self-reliance.

Some evidence of reducing resource use: sharing facilities, recycling, localisation cuts transport costs (e.g. food miles).

Community-based reciprocal volunteering scheme, aims to strengthen social capital in deprived neighbourhoods. Usually run by charities and agencies. Everyone's time and skills valued equally. A broker matches participants to facilitate exchanges. Participation is more important than account-balancing.

Community self-help is primarily locally-based anyway, so no net localisation.

Time banking concentrates on services, not material consumption. Some developments in rewarding recycling etc.

Green loyalty points scheme to promote sustainable consumption, run by NGOs and local government. Points earned from sustainable consumption (recycling, buying local, buying organic etc), spendable on public services. Users have smart cards to swipe in stores.

Rewards buying from local businesses.

Incentivises recycling, public transport, local, organic and fair trade products and energy efficiency.

Table 7.1 Evaluating complementary currencies as a tool for sustainable consumption: key findings - continued





Time Banks



^ Large social and community ( benefits, boosting social cohesion and inclusion.

^ Very large social and C community benefits: boosting social inclusion and social capital.

Individualistic tool. But inclusive (not dependent upon spending money).

Collective Action

C Individualistic rather than ( collective action tool. Promoted by local government to mitigate poverty and unemployment.

^ Promoted by central ^ government to build capacity in voluntary sector and deliver public services. Could be basis for 'co-production' model of public service provision, and reward active citizenship.

Individualistic tool, but promoted by local government. Influences public sector action in transport and waste.

New Social Institutions

^ Some egalitarian measures ( e.g. minimising wage disparities. Capacity to value non-marketed work. Abundant medium of exchange. Localised monetary design.

^ Central principle of valuing ^ all types of work equally, rewarding unpaid community efforts. Reciprocity and mutuality.

Points system adjusts relative prices to incentivise sustainable consumption. Anticipates internalisation of social and environmental costs and benefits.

Of the three alternative money systems examined here, NU is the most 'mainstream', as it exists comfortably alongside conventional money in regular everyday transactions. The pilot NU project adopted a high-profile, professional marketing approach to raising public awareness of the scheme, and cost €2 million to establish and run for the trial period; there are plans to make the card scheme self-sustaining financially, through charging clients (e.g. government) for meeting their objectives using the scheme (van Sambeek and Kampers, 2004). The main barriers to success faced during the project related to the experimental nature of the pilot, and to developing the project as it evolved - creating publicity material that successfully attracted participants, persuading retailers to take part and install the card scanners, etc - and as a result the organisers felt that making pronouncements about changes in consumer behaviour during the short pilot were premature. Nevertheless, they do point to a growth in the number of points issued from shops as time progressed, and a telephone interview with a sample of cardholders revealed that 5% of participants reported changing their behaviour (of buying organics, separating waste, and buying secondhand goods) as a result of the NU card - reporting that being 'rewarded' for making certain choices was the influencing factor. The NU scheme also made shop owners more aware of the different types of products they sold, but within the short lifetime of the pilot, no actual changes in provision can be attributed to the project.

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  • Sara
    How do we make more sustainable behaviour, more rewarding for the consumer?
    7 years ago

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