The Exhibition: a story about investing in sustainability

What would it look like if we set up the economy to drive the change towards sustainability? What would we invest in, what would we pay for? Would banks have another role?

I set myself the assignment of creating a vision of things to come, and decided to approach it using the techniques of imagestreaming. What follows is the imagestream tapescript re-written as a story. For more information on the units of trust instrument please see the UOT information page.


In this imagestream I wish to address the dichotomy between industrial thinking and sustainable thinking. Many have been brought up in the industrialized world and find it hard to imagine alternatives. And yet alternatives are needed; industrialization cannot go on forever. In industrialized thinking you are a worker, you own a house maybe, shares or funds. You are a citizen and can vote. To maintain your lifestyle you have to consume.

If someone wanted to use their money to invest in an organization or opportunity that would give them a sustainable return on investment what would be available to them?

I imagine this particular investment would be in real assets, generate energy, housing and food or transport in a sustainable way. Possibly, their value increases over time compared to fossil fuel powered alternatives or your investment would give a dividend in the form of these services.

Anyway, investing in these organizations and or instruments would give you food, housing or transport (energy) as well as an asset that increased in value over time.

THE QUEST is to visit a place where these kinds of opportunities, instruments and schemes are used successfully to offer individuals, though individual investment, the opportunity to sustainably generate their living standards and constitute an investment for their kids and the future. These investments themselves have monetary value that should increase over time.


I am in the arrival hall, looking for a lift. I’m attracted to a dark red exhibition stand. An exhibition booth. A sign over the entrance says “Investing in the Future”.

I go in, a man is standing at a table, he hands me a brochure.

“Are you interested in investing in the future?” he asks.

“I certainly am” I say. He chuckles a bit, which makes me feel uneasy.

The brochure contains pictures of wind power, water power etc. He invites me to proceed further into the stand. A few people are milling around with drinks and snacks. Screens are showing pictures of sustainable ventures.

I get a cheese on a stick to nibble and a glass of non-alcoholic cider.

It’s all very informal – it seems the idea is to entice passers-by into the stand.

Investment in the future – a DVD playing talks about oil, its depletion and the effects on everyone’s economy, about population pressure on the planet etc.

… However, there IS a way using renewable solutions, but we must construct them now while there is still time, for your children’s sake. Before it is too late

…We already have this place going and more examples. You are being invited to join, if you like.

I feel a sense of mistrust …maybe it’s too good to be true ….or the way the guy laughed. An oxymoron to invest in the future isn’t it – what about now?

Still, it seems to be well grounded. A paper talks about number of working hours, your work, how you use your time, what you can get from this use of time, with many tables and graphs. In fact, it looks rather like an investment brief.

I browse though it, looking at graphs of future price of oil contra renewables. (I know from experience that trying to read documents in an image stream is rather difficult so I concentrate on the pictures.) Another shows the number of hours you have to work to get your daily bread and the role oil plays in that. The higher oil prices rise, the less you can buy with your hour. And then it asks you what sort of life you want, and looks at the available choices.

I suppose this is a chance to browse the material and look at the videos showing places already functioning along these lines.

You can just simply sign up. I look at a paper, which says you can buy a unit or a number of units. The accompanying application form asks for your name, address and other details, and your signed request to purchase. That is all you need to get in the system.

I wonder what I would do with my unit when I have purchased it. Someone takes me aside to explain.

“What will I get for my money?” I ask.

“You become a unit holder, sir. The stands in the next part of the exhibition explain what unit holders get back from their investment.”

This stand extends into a larger, white exhibition space behind the red one. I take the investment brief and the form and move on. Each exhibitor has a table and exhibition space behind them, arranged around the outside and in the centre of the area.

People are milling around handing out brochures for various things.

At the first table someone is planning an eco unit. Depending on the number of units you have invested you can do different things in the eco unit. (Editor’s note see link to explain what an eco-unit is – an ecological village self sufficient in food.) You buy a unit for a certain amount of money. From there on there is no counting in money. You can always compare to monetary value, though. In this case, to put myself in the queue to live on an eco-unit I have to have a certain number of units saved.

This queue is not yet full, they are building a total of 80 houses. One of these trust units would give me a certain number of points which I could redeem for a share in their excess food produce for example. However, it is not enough to have purchased a trust unit. I must have it placed with this organization.

Depending on how many units I place, I get points back which I can redeem against holiday, produce and way in to buy and own a house on the eco-unit. I could also save points to contribute towards retiring to an eco-unit.

The next one is a sailing boat, a big beautiful boat. To join the scheme you place one unit with this organization. Its main purpose is to carry freight sustainably. This scheme is already going- The boat is long, wind powered, and if you invest in it you can join the crew. You can have a holiday on her or help out for good, physical, fun, If you crew you get points. These can be redeemed for produce from other organizations. A video is showing the boat … come on board… it’s beautiful … wonderful investment … just have a holiday … travel …crew .. we all need boats.

Continuing though the exhibition I am drawn to a table behind me about growing food.

A person on the stand explains the scheme provides a system for growing vegetables close to your home. Place in this scheme and you get a whole kit of pots and stuff.

If you invest in this scheme you get utilitas – that is to say, you do not own the equipment but you get the right to use it. (I have difficulty snapping up the phrase is it utitas or ulitas?) If you invest in the organisation you get the opportunity to enjoy some of the capital.

Over the other side of the hall, a wind farm catches my attention. You place your unit in the wind farm and get the right to have a wind turbine. You do not own the turbine but you have a right to use it.

I am picking up a principle here that seems to apply throughout the examples I have seen so far– one of not actually owning anything but having a right to use things.

In this case with the wind turbines, I will earn points by putting energy back to the grid. They install the machine in your house, on your property. The energy goes back to the grid for points.

The system is simple: a wind turbine and solar panels on your roof produce electricity. The electricity you do not use feeds into the grid to earn you points.

I start to grasp the significance of the whole unit trust set-up. One unit costs about 10,000 SEK (say 900 Euros). That is quite a bit of money, but many pay that for a TV so it is affordable. It is not as if you pay once and the money is gone. This is a very secure way of investing. Because if you remove your unit from the organization then they remove the things from your house, but you can still place the unit elsewhere.

That brings me to muse about the food bit, how home growing works. I notice a stand presenting “Local Food schemes” and walk over to it.

The stand looks like a market stall and demonstrates how the points system works across local organizations. If you invest in a Local Food Scheme, as a grower, you can sell your produce for points in the market. If a Local Food Scheme is effective and produces a lot of food, many points will accumulate. These can be swapped with the Local Housing Scheme. I start to see that although the Unit Trust organization is national, it is the local network of organizations that must “join up the dots”.

A Local Housing Scheme (LHS) can buy an apartment block, and instead of paying rent you redeem points. The reason for this is, in the future you may not have the money to pay rent or energy bills.

Or if you all own flats in an apartment block you can place units in the LHS and they will help to convert the block to low energy and take over everyday running, maintenance and upgrades.

Some advisors are walking around, I ask one:

“So can I check I have this right? I buy units, and then I have to choose where I place them. Placing my units gives me back sustainable goods and services.”

“That is correct,” she replies.

“But I never ever loose my unit. I can take it out and put it in another one?”

She smiles: ¨Where you place units depends on your state of life. You can buy units with points or use the points for consumption.”

I ask about tax but she thinks I should come back another time for that one.

She adds: “It is the unit trust (as she calls it), this organization, that puts on these events.”

“So you market yourselves this way in these exhibitions?”

She explains that they put on these exhibitions and market via traditional channels. They talk to existing organizations, cooperatives or companies and explain the benefits to them of joining. They these organisations join the scheme by purchasing units in the unit trust.

I ask for an idea of how my organization would go about joining.

She explains: “You get a number of points related to the number of people who want to invest in you. The unit trust does not invest in your company. Your organization gets a chance to meet a number of investors via us. You invest in us, and keep your unit placed with us.

Our role then is one of matchmaker.”

She explains that organizations come away from an exhibition with a local contact person, address to the website, and already an idea of how to place their unit.

I thank her and leave.


This is an extract from my new book, a follow up to INVENTING FOR THE SUSTAINABLE PLANET

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