LETS grow together

G Magazine

A unique cashless trading system called LETS offers more than access to goods and services - it also reduces waste and builds community

LETS trading scheme

Many hands make a greener future

Credit: iStockphoto

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It's Sunday morning and a dozen people are labouring in Korina Ivatt and her partner Hieden's garden, about half of them total strangers to the NSW Central Coast couple.

Some are using sledgehammers to smash up the old concrete driveway, wheeling away rubble to a skip at the end of the yard. Others are ripping out tentacles of lantana and lopping away overgrown branches.

Three hours later, the garden is transformed.

Yet not a cent changes hand for all this toil. Why? Have the Amish come to live on the Central Coast? In fact it's a LETS working bee - and it offers a glimpse into how a green economy might work.

LETS (which stands for Local Exchange Trading System) puts some key green economic principles into practice. It's local. It builds community. And it facilitates such things as recycling and growing food in your backyard rather than simply making money.

When Michael Linton set up the original LETS on Vancouver Island in 1982, however, his aims were more social than environmental. Following the closure of a timber mill, unemployment was crippling local communities. Linton realised people had skills, capacity to work and needs.

They just lacked money to pay each other.

Linton's solution was to invent his own money. His system allowed people to keep providing services for each other, recording trades in a notional local currency.

There have been thousands of LETS groups since, from the UK and US to Japan and Ecuador. The first Australian LETS was set up in Maleny, Queensland, in 1987, with about 50 LETS groups currently active around the country.

"LETS trading is subtly different from normal money," explains Ivatt, the coordinator of Central Coast LETS. "Because you can only spend LETS credits locally, it encourages people to look harder at the skills and resources already in the local community, rather than just buying new stuff. I see that as very green: building self-reliant communities and encouraging reuse and recycling.

"For instance, our members trade unwanted furniture, clothes, toys or fruit and vegies from their gardens. And we've set up a tool exchange, where people can hire things like drills, lawnmowers, mulchers from other members. Again, that's more sustainable than everyone buying things that end up sitting in their garage."

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