The ‘eco-iris’ is a local currency introduced by the Brussels-Capital Region to promote environmentally sustainable behaviour and purchasing, boost the local economy and improve community conhesion. Initially, two Brussels neighbourhoods (Wiels and Helmet-Collignon) participated in eco-iris. It is now oprating across 5 neighbourhoods in Brussels. 1
Inhabitants of Brussels can join the scheme on the Eco-Iris website or at a local office (only in the two officially participating neighbourhoods). Once they are a member they can report when they perform environmentally sustainable actions or purchase certain goods and services, for which they are receive eco-iris. Local associations, local shops and merchants can also join the system and accept to be paid in eco-iris. Whereas most eligible sustainable actions are open to any inhabitant of Brussels, most participating shops are located in the participating neighbourhoods.
The motivation was to encourage citizens to adopt more environmentally friendly behaviour and make more sustainable consumer choices when shopping, including when purchasing food. Eco-iris wants to go beyond raising awareness and providing information, by also providing an economic incentive for inhabitants to undertake ‘green’ actions.
Environmentally, the scheme encourages the adoption of behaviours with lower impacts and aims to shorten supply chains because participants shop in local stores. Eco-iris also intends to strengthen social ties between citizens as well as with their neighbourhood stores. Economically it provides an additional incentive and appreciation for activities and choices that are not usually valued monetarily.
The city of Brussels, the capital of Belgium, holds 1.14 million residents that all could participate in eco-iris in the future. Those is precarious economic circumstances may benefit the most from the discounts that participating shops offer on their legal tender pricing when a customer comes to redeem eco-irises.
Organisation and History
Eco-iris is an initiative of the public authorities, in particular the Wiels district. It is run by the Brussels Ministry of the Environment 2. The project was launched on 16 September 2012 in that district, and has now expanded to include the area of Helmet. Three new neighbourhoods are set to join in 2014.
Although in the end it was decided to allow all types of local shops to become partners in the Eco Iris, many options were considered. Options considered were to redeem the points only on certain types of products such as organic food or eco-labelled goods. Another option considered was to only redeem them in stores that predominantly, though not exclusively, sell such products. However, neither of these options was considered feasible. Preference was therefore given to “locality”. 3.
Participants can jointly participate in defining the actions that should be rewarded. Local committees decide which behaviour to reward and include in eco-iris, and how many eco-iris should be earned for each action.
This pilot project has received interests from over 800 citizens, but managing it has required considerable investment in human resources. It may be necessary to reach a greater critical mass of participating stores to ensure that the eco iris points are not only earned but also used and circulated in the local economy to truly become a useful complementary currency 4.
Eco-Iris are issued, by approved partners, when certain environmental activities are performed such as purchasing organic fruit and vegetables, buying a bicycle or taking public transport, installing solar panels and generating electricity etc. Although not technically backed by legal tender business owners may exchange excess eco-iris into Euros at the Brussels Environment Ministry, with a 5% malus being applied. The unit of account is the Euro with 10 eco-iris being equivalent to 1 Euro.
How it works?
After sign-up, you perform one or more environmental actions that are encouraged and listed on their website.
Once your performed the action make an appointment with your local eco iris branch in one of two pilot areas.
Upon presentation of proof of your eco-gesture you will receive the number of eco iris due for that task.
With your eco iris, you can then purchase products or services from partner businesses, or through a network of cultural venues, sports centers or training centers involved in the project.