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Green activities for green currency? International cooperative creates unique project

Wiktor Bochenek
25 of January '23

Will we get green currency in the future for planting trees? An international cooperative is creating a unique project in which we will get virtual money for pro-environmental actions, which we will be able to spend at action partners. In the near future the solution will be tested in Gdansk.

Greenocin/PULA is a unique idea that was born a few years ago and evolved into a full project implemented in cooperation with institutions from Poland and Norway. Based on gamification, the app will promote pro-environmental behavior by rewarding good actions. The currency in the app will be used to buy tangible and intangible items.

W taki sposób ma działać Greencoin

This is how Greencoin is expected to work

© Greencoin

How was the idea for the project born? How is it being implemented? What problems is it supposed to solve? When will Gdansk residents be able to use it? We talk about all this with Kacper Radziszewski (Gdansk University of Technology) and Malgorzata Romanowska (City Initiative Association).

Wiktor Bochenek: It is worth starting with how the idea for Greencoin was born and how it came about, the system you are designing.

Malgorzata Romanowska: Together with Kacper and the rest of the team, we ended up at an IdeaLab workshop organized by the National Center for Research and Development in Warsaw, funded by the EEA. The purpose of the workshop was to find services, technologies or solutions with future cities in mind. At this workshop, we were subjected to a lot of creative activities, which led to the idea in my mind that we should create a green currency that we receive for green activities.

Thanks to the fact that Kacper, Ari and the rest of the team joined me, we were able to develop the project under the guidance of scientists. Kacper became the leader of the project, representing Gdansk University of Technology. Ari represents the University of Stavanger, and I represent the Gdansk City Initiative Association. We were also joined by representatives from the School of Economics, the Academy of Special Pedagogy and Oslo Metropolitan University. In this way we formed a team, wrote a full application and got the money - thanks to this we are implementing the project in Gdansk.

Kacper Radziszewski: It's worth talking about the process of the workshop, it was different from typical grants, that the process is born only during the workshop, and we didn't know each other before.

Usually, when you approach grants, the team knows each other beforehand and, based on their shared experience, they prepare an idea and a proposal for this grant. Here we were assembled from a group of countries such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Poland - none of us knew each other, plus we were all dealing with completely different things. We were a group of people looking for solutions to current problems. During the workshop, we found the idea, which would have been impossible if we had been locked in our fields. For NCRD, it was also an experiment.

Tak wygląda prototyp aplikacji PULA

This is what the prototype of the PULA application looks like

© Greencoin

Wiktor: How was the cooperation with the team thus formed?

Kacper: First of all, the core was Gosia's idea, which we developed together. In the course of working for a year and a half, we were divided into three teams. Each of them dealt with a different part. The first was related to environmental protection, the second dealt with the city and social approach. The third was developing the technological part. This is how we arrived at the creation of this service.

Victor: At what stage in the development of Greencoin are you? What came before, and what will come next?

Margaret: Up to now, we were divided into three teams that did different research. Each team has been working individually, but I would say that we are slowly entering a turning point where the nature of our work is changing. We completed a theoretical exploration that included scientific research and exploration of the experiences of other projects that are already in operation or have been in operation. We have also been preparing the ground for cooperation in Gdansk. So, systematically from mid-2022, we are finishing the theoretical considerations and starting to take action. With my team, we started to establish contacts in Gdansk. Kacper's team finalized the preparation of the application specification at that time, which is currently being developed. The third team, on the other hand, dealt with valuing the coin as currency.

Warsztaty w ramach Idealab

Idealab workshop

© Greencoin

Victor: If you were to explain how the system works?

Kacper: Our currency is supposed to combine two features - it is supposed to be virtual only, and it is supposed to be acommunitycurrency (community currency). Such currencies are already operating in Europe with varying results. We are combining these two factors into one through a system that is very simple because it is based on applications.

Anyone creating a pro-environmental activity is rewarded for it. In fact, the biggest problem has been verifying that residents perform this activity. For example, transportation, which is easy to verify thanks to the phone.

Another method of verification also involves a photo - confirmation by other people. Tree planting is such an example. We can take a photo before planting, while recording the details of where and when it was taken. Later, after the tree is planted, we take another photo. We wanted to avoid complicating the system, so we created a simple idea where other residents verified whether this activity had been done, for which they would also get points, regardless of the result.

In addition, we are keen not only on activities, but also education. There will be educational quizzes in the app, for which you can get points. Not everyone has the opportunity to always do these activities, but they can also educate themselves. We are committed to changing attitudes towards green attitudes.

Margaret: I'll explain how the system works from the philosophy behind the app. We came to the conclusion that in order for this application to have continuity in the future, it must interest a variety of stakeholders. Besides, we came up with the assumption that if people can earn these good coins, they must also have attractive rewards in return.

We were looking for partners in the Gdansk area who have something to offer. We want to create a network of different kinds of entities that want to be associated with a brand like ours and use it for image building. We are at the stage of cooperation where we see it working. As an aside, I can add that similar ideas to ours have been popping up here and there - we had a chance to make this project happen and include willing entities in Gdansk.

Zespół tworzący aplikacje

application development team

© Greencoin

Coming back to the substance, we see local cooperation as a relationship with mutual benefits. We have partners where, for example, instead of buying shoes, we can fix them, thus supporting the idea of circular economy. Then we can earn good coins, which is to the benefit of our partner, because it promotes his services. On the other hand, the partner can offer something for Good Coins for our users. I would like to clarify at this point that at the beginning we were talking about Greencoin, but this is our working name, which was created at the very beginning of this project accompanying our consortium as a team of people implementing the project.

As part of our subsequent research, it turned out that Greencoin did not evoke the associations we cared about - associating with bitcoin, and by the way, it is not a Polish name, and we cared about locality. We created the PULA brand, which will operate in the Gdansk area, where it will hopefully continue to grow after the pilot. In PULA you can earn Good Coins - which is worth emphasizing by putting the terms in order.

We also do not want to create a brand that is associated at first glance with ecology and sustainability. This is because we don't want people to ask themselves if they are green by installing the app. We consciously built sustainable activities into the concept of good, recognizing that nowadays the inseparability of these concepts is not in doubt and it is not worth opening this discussion. To sum up, we bring together different actors: municipal, business and NGOs into a network that bets on goodness, offering people something in return for their sustainable choices.

Warsztaty w ramach Idealab

Idealab workshops

© Greencoin

Victor: You mentioned various activities that PULA would promote like planting trees, popularizing public transportation or extending the life of everyday objects. What other activities will be rewarded in PULA?

Kacper: We are keen on user education. For example, the most important thing is not what kind of transportation we choose, but whether we should choose it at all. In the same way as in the case of clothing, it is not important whether we buy eco-friendly clothing, but it is important whether we had to buy it.

The most important thing is the ecological theme. This includes picking up trash in public places. For the companies we will be working with, the pricing of products will be preceded by a survey that will assess environmental performance, which will affect the price of the products.

The app will also include information about actions in the city. We do not want to replace the actions of the city or NGOs. We want to promote them with additional rewards for participation, creating a "bill" with a QR code, which we will distribute to the relevant institutions, for which you can get points. In our application there will be information that such actions are taking place.

We are creating a system that will be open source, by which each city or group of scientists will use and adapt the system to their challenges. We are testing the applications in Gdansk, but the app will be customizable for each location.

PULA będzie testowana na terenie Gdańska

PULA will be tested in the Gdansk area

© Greencoin

Wiktor: The application is now entering the testing phase in Gdansk. What kind of feedback do you expect? Have you received support from city institutions?

Kacper: At the beginning of April, the app will be tested on a closed group of residents and interested people. Then it will be opened. As for feedback, it is too early, but we are collecting comments under articles and press releases about our project. Thename Greencoinitself , as Gosia mentioned, is associated with cryptocurrencies, and green is associated with environmentalism. We, however, want to reach those people who are negatively disposed towards such products. Our priority should be to change the behavior of those who approach negatively. We are ready for such feedback as well.

Margaret: I would add that we have been in contact with potential stakeholders since 2021. Deeper collaborations are now being established. In terms of the general approach to this project, we see a lot of demand for it and its solutions. We are trying to stay in touch and adapt our solution to the requirements of all users of the city. Everything we do is in response to the needs that we are constantly studying.

Kacper: Not only do we have a positive effect on the environment, but also on the city budget. It has been verified that if two houses had one dumpster, the number of garbage trucks could be reduced by 1/3 in the city. Often, many problems are due to ignorance, not reluctance. By changing habits, we want to have a positive impact on the city. Directly, the city of Gdansk is not a partner, but it supports us and observes the project - this is a great potential for future cooperation.

Warsztaty zespołu

team workshop

© Greencoin | photo by Malgorzata Romanowska

Wiktor: Will we also find tutorials in PULI to expand our knowledge?

Malgosia: Kacper mentioned earlier about the quiz module in the app. It is divided into a learning section and a quiz section. As part of the development of this module, we are cooperating with the Experiment Science Center in Gdynia, which prepares substantive texts for the app. These are short but substantive contents, allowing to understand certain aspects related to the idea of sustainable development. At the same time, this is a module included in the circulation of Good Coins. For reading the content and solving the quiz, users will receive Good Coins. If there is a need to provide a broader range of knowledge, the news module will serve this purpose, where there can be information on local activities, but also broader articles, for example, popular science.

Kacper: We use gamification. The value of these points is huge. First of all, we can share educational texts, but it is faster for someone to read them if they are rewarded with points.

The other side of the coin is also that we don't necessarily get material goods for good coins, but just a tutorial, brochure or e-book. If one receives a hundred points for planting a tree, for example, and the tutorial costs one, the user will see that he has access to a large knowledge base. What's more, if someone purchases the educational material in question, he or she will reach out to read it more quickly. These are mechanisms from computer games or loyalty systems that motivate users.

Wiktor: You plan to make the system available as open source. Do you think this system will become widespread?

Margaret: It's also our role to take care of that. We want to promote this kind of tool. Nowadays we are drowning in a sea of available solutions, and our role is to make ours popularize, because we believe it can be both attractive and useful. In Poland, it may prove most useful in small and medium-sized cities that cannot develop their tools. Gdansk or Warsaw have the funds and capacity to do so, and to contact residents.

There are many localities that have completely different priorities, especially in times of crisis and centralization of public finances. If we offer them this kind of tool, which they can use for specific problems, there's a good chance they'll reach for it - especially since they can't afford to build it from scratch. At this point, it's worth noting that the application's flexibility is a great advantage.

Wiktor: Would it be difficult to implement such a system in a smaller city, one with up to a hundred or two hundred thousand people?

Kacper: First of all, there should be a team assembled, much smaller than ours, to identify the city's partners and problems. Certainly, a team dealing with the technical part would be important, which would introduce content and additional elements working on an appropriate template. A third team would be needed at values, helping to define goals in cooperation with the city. This would all require working on a think tank basis. This is possible, but will require commitment. In the beginning we talked about not using the private sector. Ultimately, it can help us finance projects using the program.

Margaret: In cooperation with a small city, with a well-built team of specialists, I see opportunities for cross-sector cooperation. In a large city, by definition, the administration is more extensive. Creating cooperation between different departments is more difficult. And, for example, such a measure that would combine environmental policy, with social policy is an interesting way, and I have a dream that our tool will be used in such a way, combining, let's say, sustainable development, with supporting people at risk of marginalization. We will conclude the project with a report on what we have been doing and how we have been developing it, which will allow us to see the extent of the work and activities of the team necessary for the proper use of the tool. Because it is important to remember that the application is just a tool. Whether it will help solve local problems will be determined by whether we know how to use it well.

Victor: Thank you for the interview!

interviewed by Wiktor Bochenek

The Greencoin project is benefiting from €1.9 million in funding received from Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway under the EEA funds.

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