The WSJ shows off Berkshares.

berkshares.jpg

The Wall Street Journal (0nline) recently ran a short video about Berkshares, the local currency being used in the Berkshires region of Massachusetts. The Berkshares home page provides a link. This comes on the heels of a more general article on local currencies done by Time.com.

I recently posted a comment about a book I have been reading, The New Economics of Sustainable Consumption, by Gill Seyfang. Local currencies is the subject of one of the practical chapters. Their cases are all European-based, but have very similar features to Berkshares. Seyfang argues that sustainable consumption requires five factors, all part of the “New Economics.” All should be self-explanatory.

  • Localization
  • Reduction of ecological footprint
  • Community building
  • Collective action
  • New social institutions for provisioning economic goods and services

Local currencies score very well on all but somewhat less so for footprint reduction. Even in this category, the researchers find benefits in the form of improving recycling and facilities sharing. Increased purchases of locally grown food reduces transportation impacts.

For a long time, such alternative economic provisioning systems have been ignored or even made fun of by mainstream economic institutions. To see this coverage in such mainstream voices is most welcome. Maybe it’s only the economic crisis that has opened their eyes rather than the sustainability potential. No matter. It’s good to see decent, fair coverage.

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2 Comments

Susan Witt said:

Dear John Ehrenfeld,

Thank you for recognizing the potential of local currencies.

Susan Witt

Scott Gast said:

John,

BerkShares are alive and well here in Western Mass-- and definitely a key piece in re-assembling strong, locally rooted communities that I think are a prerequisite for strong sustainability. I don't have a full understanding of the way our national currency may or may not promote unsustainability, but local currencies like BerkShares are at least a clear, proactive way forward.

My sense (and Susan, the commentator above me, is the expert on this as she largely runs the BerkShares program) is that for local currencies to really take off, they're going to require a fuller culture acceptance by the community. It won't work if only 25% of shop owners accept local payment-- it's got to be nearly everyone. That's going to require cultural change, as many folks seem to avoid BerkShares either because others do or it's just not on their radar.

-Scott