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Nu Spaarpas



The NU-Spaarpas (literally NOW-incentive card) was a community currency designed as a loyalty and reward scheme launched in 2002 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. Nu-spaarpas was the first incentive system aimed at stimulating sustainable consumption and behaviour 1. Introduced as a European LIFE-demonstration project by the Municipality of Rotterdam, Rabobank and Qoin (named Barataria back then), it targeted citizens to improve their environmental performance by rewarding them with NU points for environmentally-sound behaviour (like separating domestic waste, use public transport services etc.) and consumption (purchasing local, organic or fair-trade products). The earned NU-points could be redeemed for sustainable goods and services, public transport tickets and cultural events.

At its peak, the scheme reached 10.000 households before the project terminated in October 2003.


The NU-spaarpas was established to engage citizens with environmental policies and empower them to develop environmentally friendly lifestyles. By rewarding sustainable purchasing behaviour, the scheme encourages sustainable consumption (van Sambeen and Kampers, 2004).

Community Overview

The scheme was a pilot project operating in Rotterdam, a city with more than 600.000 inhabitants. When the project ended, there were more than 100 shops enrolled and some 1.5 million points had been issued 2.

User Demographic

The NU-spaarpas was designed to be attractive to a target group that was as wide as possible.  “The project targeted the grey masses of consumers that were neither pro-environmental, nor anti-environmental” 3. As explained in its official report (see van Sambeen and Kampers, 2004:27), “NU-spaarpaas is aimed primarily at consumers who, when it comes to sustainability, are passive. These consumers are open to environmental issues, although they do little about them in practice. The NU card scheme can break through their passivity, by making sustainable behaviour easy and offering immediate rewards.”


The Nu-spaarpas was made possible by a diverse but committed coalition across the public and private sector. The scheme was designed and led by a private consultancy firm, Barataria, which then became Qoin. The project gained the support of the Rotterdam Municipal Authority (Environmental Policy section of the Public Works Department, RET Transport Authority and Roteb Sanitation Department) and also from Rabobank Rotterdam. The NU-spaarpas became possible also through the LIFE III programme of the European Commission and the Province of South Holland with the Learning for Sustainability initiative.

All shops participating in the scheme were independent and locally owned.

Organisation and History

At the opening meeting of the Rotterdam Local Agenda 21 in 1998, the idea of having a green incentive card in Rotterdam gathered positive feedbacks from organisations that later became partner of the project. Because Barataria had experience with saving systems for sustainability objectives, it was assigned to lead the process and make the incentive scheme of Rotterdam a reality. The project was initially named PlusPunten.

In 2000, the PlusPunten Demonstration Project was launched.  After two years of preparation, the NU-spaarpas was presented in May 2002. The project’s demonstration phase lasted until October 2003 4. The scheme terminated on 1 October 2003 after the decision of the Municipal Authority of Rotterdam to withdraw its support.


Due to missing baseline data and the brief time span of the project, it was difficult to measure the impacts in terms of changes in the sustainability of consumer behaviour induced among NU-spaarpas users. Nevertheless, the amount of sustainable products sold at participating shops during the life spam of the scheme saw a substantial increase.

Currency Details

The NU-spaarpas in numbers

The pilot project showed an amount of 1,577,905 points issued and a total of 140,084 points redeemed. Remarkable is that most of the points were issued at a local domestic waste recycling centre. The project gathered a network of 100 participating businesses and had 10,000 users.

Function and Unit of Account

The Nu-spaarpas was both an electronic savings card and loyalty programme. The savings function offered advantages to consumers who accumulated points by behaving or purchasing according to the sustainability-inspired “Savings List”. The loyalty programme offered additional opportunities for participating shops to attract and retain new customers through a traditional point based system. Several promotional tools were developed to highlight the participating businesses.

As explained in its official report 5, for each euro spent at a participating shop, consumers would receive an amount of NU points that could be spent in participating shops.

The NU-spaarpas’ primary function is to act as a local unit of exchange. Its unit of account is the euro – with one point having the same purchasing power as 0.7 euro cents.

Issuance – Backing

All participating businesses had a terminal through which they transfer the points to/from the cardholders. Purchases made at participating shops were rewarded with points equaling a set percentage (such as 1%) of the retail value 6. Environmentally and socially friendly products were rewarded four times the number of points as a way to encourage consumers to buy them. Points would in turn be redeemed for sustainable activities, including day passes for public transport, subscriptions to the art library and free admission to local attractions and museums.

Savings and Redeeming lists

NU points could be earned by purchasing or performing activities in accordance with the following “Savings list”, as taken from the official report 7:

  • environmentally responsible products: biological food label EKO, green label, the European ECO label, the FSC certification for timber;
  • socially sustainable products such as Max Havelaar, Kuyichi, Rugmark;
  • animal-friendly products such as those marked with  Graskeurmerk or Proefkoneen logos, or free-range meat;
  • green financial products;
  • green electricity;
  • energy efficient appliances.
  • commissioning repairs and purchasing second-hand goods;
  • borrowing/lending or renting/hiring (e.g. of art, tools, transport);
  • depositing separated waste at the Roteb civic amenity sites;
  • environmentally friendly mobility, such as bicycles;
  • public transport tickets and related products.

NU points could be redeemed through the items on the “Redeeming list”, that include 8:

  • free admittance to museums, the Euromast,  cultural events, cinemas, the zoo, local swimming pool;
  • discounts on specific green label products;
  • donated to charities, like the Novib/Oxfam Netherlands.

How it works?

A NU-spaarpas card could be received either in the participating shops or in one of the offices throughout the city. Initially, citizens were required to pay a fee of € 1.5 to enroll in the scheme, however in a later stage the cards were issued for free.

Cardholders that bought products or services from the participating shops receive NU points, which were automatically credited into the NU card. Because environmentally and socially sustainable products were worth four times more NU points than the average products, cardholders were incentivised to direct their consumption preferences towards those products. Cardholders could also earn points by choosing a green energy supplier, by separating their household waste and by buying second hand goods.

The earned points could be redeemed for other sustainable goods or services, including bus tickets, swimming pool, entrances at cultural events, cinemas, the Euromast as well as having access to special offers on sustainable goods.



  1. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme
  2. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme.: 77
  3. Joachain, H., F. Klopfert, (2012) ‘Emerging trend of complementary currencies systems as policy instruments for environmental purposes: changes ahead?’ International Journal of Community Currency Research 16(D): 156-168  < >:158
  4. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme
  5. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme.:25
  6. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme.:24
  7. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme.: 34
  8. van Sambeen P., E. Kampers, (2004) NU-spaarpas, the sustainable incentive card scheme.: 34
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