The alternative currency experiment SOL, backed by the European Union’s Equal initiative, has been underway for a year now in five regions of France and it is a great way to pledge support for different types of ethical commerce as well as be a part of a movement which insists that money should be a means rather than an end in itself. It also seeks to provide greater visibility to products and services offered by the social economy by creating a brand. In the pilot regions – Brittany, the Nord Pas de Calais, Ile de France (greater Paris region), Rhone Alpes and Alsace – around 6000 SOL chip cards have been distributed for users who can either register online or through one of the participating organizations.
There are three different types of SOLs:
– co-operation SOL, like a loyalty card, calculated in euros and valid in a network of some 56 stores including the Biocoop and Artisans du Monde as well as service providers like the green electricity coop Enercoop
– commitment SOLs which seek to make voluntary work more visible and accountable, calculated in time (eg babysitting, care of the elderly, cooking classes)
– dedicated SOLs which are vouchers given by the public sector to specific target groups, allowing them access to specific goods and services like museums.
One of the original sources of inspiration for the SOL project was a Depression-era initiative in Austria. Between 1932-34, a town called Worgl decided to print special banknotes (backed by an identical sum in national currency) which bore a negative interest rate – in other words the money lost one percent of its value each month. In 1934, Worgl was the first Austrian town to reach full employment, thanks to public works such as road building and reforestation. The experiment demonstrated that money at negative interest circulated 40 times faster than the official currency.
The pilot project is scheduled to last through end-2008, after which new funding will be needed to extend its life span.