Calgary Dollars

Posted on March, 01 2012

Sustainable money strengthens local society 

Sustainable money strengthens local society

Calgary Dollars is one of the most active local currencies in the world. With it, Calgary residents can buy some 500 products and services from 200 participating companies. Calgary Dollars is one of 5,000 complementary currencies now circulating in the world, a phenomenon that has grown rapidly since 1990. Behind Calgary Dollars stands The Arusha Center, an NGO with a long history of work for a resilient local society, social justice, and ecological sustainability.

Keywords: local currency, bioregionalism, social justice, sustainable consumption, resilience

Calgary Dollars started in 1996 as a time-based exchange system, under the local patriotic name Bow Chinook Barter Community. Two years later, it was revamped as a grassroots-based, interest-free complementary currency system, its value tied to the Canadian dollar. Today there are 80,000 Calgary Dollars in circulation, 500 member-participants advertising at the association's website. Some 200 local companies accept the currency. For companies it functions as a coupon system for a local circle of customers. For individuals it works as a way to earn extra money, at the same time as one participates in, and contributes to, the local economy.

All you need is Calgary dollars?
Most things are available for purchase with Calgary Dollars: food, clothing, transportation, media products, consumption goods, services and entertainment. Local biodynamic farmers and shops are connected to the system, as is Calgary's public transport. Participants can choose to make 25-100% of the price of their goods and services payable in Calgary Dollars. For users, joining the system is not only free: one gets 20 Calgary Dollars as starting capital.

The municipality and a couple of other organisations sponsor the project with salaries and space donation, which creates stability. Otherwise Calgary Dollars is driven by the grassroots organisation The Arusha Center, whose history goes back to the start of the 1970s. Arusha’s focus is to strengthen local society and work for social justice and ecological sustainability.

Social dimension is central
Calgary Dollars gives interest-free loans to local projects and companies to encourage a resilient local economy, including Take Action Grants to local social and ecological projects like urban agriculture, campaigns, exhibitions, concerts, workshops, and street theatre. Calgary Dollars also creates a community with its activities, for example monthly ”Potluck markets” with varying food and barter/exchange themes, happy-hour meetings, and film screenings. This social dimension is a central goal for Calgary Dollars.

Calgary Dollars can be used as a method of payment at all The Arusha Center's activities such as car-sharing and library membership. When it comes to environmental issues, one of the organisation's most important efforts is the founding of Sustainable Calgary, a grassroots movement that has had major significance for the development of a better environmental policy in Calgary.

New currencies are multiplying
Local and complementary currencies have grown rapidly since 1990, with the total number growing 100 times over. Today there are some 5,000 such currencies employing various designs. The starting point has been barter exchange in the local society. A key motivation is to connect needs with resources where the economic system has not been able to do so.

State and municipal authorities have grown more positive, especially towards local currencies for social needs they have not covered themselves. Some known examples are LETS, Time Banks, Ithaca Hours, and SOL. Calgary Dollars features elements of a new generation of complementary currencies that are distinguished by ecological goals, focus on individual lifestyles, and larger cooperation with both authorities and the ordinary market (see also Tokyo and Curitiba).

Calgary Dollars,

The Arusha Centre,

Sustainable Calgary,

Jérôme Blanc, "Classifying “CCs”: Community, complementary and local currencies’ types and generations", International Journal of Community Currency Research, 2011,

Gerald Wheatley, Corrine Younie, Hind Alajlan, Erin McFarlane, "Calgary Dollars: Economic and Social Capital Benefits", International Journal of Community Currency Research, 2011,

Bernard Lietaer, Gwendolyn Hallsmith, 2006, Community Currency Guide, Global Community Initiatives,

Complementary Currency Resource Center,

Key data are retrieved from the UN World Urbanization Prospects: The 2011 Revision,

Text by: Martin Jacobson

1 Calgary dollar
Map Calgary dollars