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Creative Cred: A mutual credit system for circular exchange of value within the Creative Industries.

In early 2021, Creative Informatics invited applications from teams of academics and industry partners to develop a Creative Horizon Project that would combine circular economy design principles and data-driven innovation to support ethical and environmentally sustainable approaches in the creative industries. This call offered a ~£25,000 grant, aimed to be high risk/high reward in nature, that would bring academics and industry together with the aim of breaking new ground and establishing how technology could benefit the creative industries in the future. The successful applicants for this call were an intersectoral and multidisciplinary team who proposed a project about a complementary currency to enable the creative industries to exchange circular value, called Creative Cred. In this post, the Creative Cred team reflect on their Creative Horizon project, in particular the R&D process, findings and outcomes that resulted from the funding. The project is also highlighted in a film produced by Creative Informatics, highlighting case studies of data-driven innovation for sustainable creative practice, which can be viewed here.

–  Introduction by Susan Lechelt & Inge Panneels

Project Overview

The logo of Creative Cred, comprising a green circle
Figure 1: The Creative Cred logo.

Creative Cred is a complementary currency that incentivises those in the Creative Industries in Scotland to adopt a Circular Economy approach. Creative Cred responds to a challenge from Creative Informatics to “use data driven innovation to build a Circular Economy in the Creative Industries.” Following a Collider event organised by Creative Informatics to stimulate interesting responses to this question, we formed the Creative Cred team made up of Ostrero, a small business dedicated to growing the Circular Economy in Scotland; Dr Juli Huang from The University of Edinburgh and Dr Tom Flint, supported by Samuel Grech, from Edinburgh Napier University.

We were inspired by the Collider event, especially by ideas introduced from other parts of the world, such as the Solar Coin and the Fish Coin. This got us to thinking about how a coin can encapsulate so much more than monetary value. We were still deep in Covid at the time and in and out of lockdowns and other restrictions, and the question of value was recurrent in the press and in the public consciousness. What jobs do we value most and are of most value to society? Why are the jobs that we need most the least valued? Why are the industries that inflict a huge amount of harm on our environment and on social cohesiveness the most valued and rewarded by our current system? If it were clear that our current economic system does little to incentivise a Circular Economy approach, what alternative could we come up with that would value sustainability?  From these questions, Creative Cred was born: rather than incentivising endless economic growth beyond the limits of our natural systems, Creative Cred rewards and facilitates sustainable behaviour. The more circular you become, the better for the environment and the better for your business.

What is Creative Cred?

Creative Cred (CC) involves a circular exchange of value within a community through a mutual credit system. Creative Cred allows members to extend credit to one another without bearing any interest, enabling us to access local resources even when our cash reserves in traditional currency, such as pounds and dollars are low. Creative Cred rewards sustainable behaviour, incentivising materials to be kept within the economy wherever possible, even beyond a product’s typical end of life. Because it facilitates local exchange, Creative Cred shortens supply chains and develops new local partnerships.


A poster demonstrating the five stages of interacting with Creative Cred: 1) join a network of Creative Cred users, 2) Tell us about any current circular economy activity in your practice across 5 areas to earn initial credits to spend, 3) Upload the CC badge to your website showing a live reflection of your circular activity, 4) Spend credits with other creatives in the network and extend mutual credit to one another, and 5) Earn more credits
Figure 2: A graphic demonstrating how Creative Cred works.

Each CC user will get a live badge for their website that dynamically updates as they engage in Creative Cred activity. This badge demonstrates their circular activity to customers and suppliers in 5 different areas:

  1. Design
  2. Materials & Tools
  3. Products & Services
  4. Back-end Business Model
  5. Education & Ethos

We want to give you the credit (recognition) for your sustainable actions as well as the credit (as a means of exchange) to support further circular activity. The CC website will display an aggregate badge allowing users to see how much circular activity is happening. This also enables us to gather data on which areas of the Circular Economy users might need more support to work towards.

Working on the Idea

Figure 3: Attendees to the Creative Cred exhibition discussing their circular actions and needs

One of the highlights of the Creative Cred project was working as part of a team with very different skills and experiences. This led to a really fruitful exchange of ideas and enabled us to meet and discuss the big picture of the research project, then each go away and do more in-depth research into our particular areas of the Circular Economy in the Creative Industries, economic systems around the world, and technological platforms. It was vital that Creative Cred responds to the real needs of its users, and so we started with a series of in-depth interviews with people from a range of sectors within the Creative Industries, including gaming, design and craft. This produced data about what Circular activities people already take, if any; what they would like to do more of; what the barriers are to doing this; how the Creative Cred might inform, inspire and incentivise them to do this; and what the barriers to using such a system might be. One of the key findings from this research was the importance of Creative Cred being able to meet both the needs and offers of its users, so if a silversmith wants to offer excess findings and is looking for social media support, the system must be able to meet both of these demands. In order to better understand what people would have to offer and what they would be looking for, we carried out a survey amongst the Creative Industries and the findings of this then guided the design of Creative Cred.

Our research showed that comparable systems around the world, such as Sardex in Sardinia and Celyn in Wales, can bring enormous benefits to their users and their local communities, including keeping value circulating locally, rather than leaking out to big businesses; keeping businesses going even in times of economic hardship, as goods and services can keep circulating even when cash is tight; and diverting waste from landfill or recycling and keeping materials at their highest value.

Figure 4: Creative Cred exhibition attendees interact with the digital Creative Cred prototype.

In May 2022, we pulled the outcomes of our research so far into an exhibition hosted by InSpace at the University of Edinburgh. Visitors were able to interact with a Creative Cred interface that allowed them to trade with other visitors to the exhibition, see their Creative Cred badge appear as part of the wider network of users, and identify which of the 5 Circular Economy areas they had most activity in. An aggregate badge enabled visitors to see how much circular activity in which areas had taken place throughout the duration of the exhibition.

After over two years of Covid restrictions it was wonderful to get people in a room together again to explore and discuss the idea of Creative Cred. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive and our next step is to raise funding to enable us to carry out a pilot of Creative Cred with different groups across the Creative Industries. Please let us know if you are interested in taking part – we’d love to hear from you!

Please see our website and contact mary@ostrero.com for more details.