Time as a currency of change towards resilient and sustainable communities


Time banking is a reciprocity-based work trading system with time (hours) representing the currency. The system prioritises social care, wellbeing, and reciprocity. It was first conceptualized in the 1980s in USA by Edgar Cahn, an American law professor, to address unfulfilled societal needs.

Time banking is implemented within communities enabling a person with one skill set to trade hours of work with someone with another skill set, without any money exchange. Participants earn time credits by helping others, and spend credits receiving help themselves. The services traded encompass care of the elderly, social work, home repair, tutoring, recreation etc. An example of time bankers’ talents i.e. services pool is depicted below.

An example of timebankers’ service pool

The main aim of time banking is to address unmet needs and offer recognition for community engagement. The underlying principles are that everyone’s time, work and needs are of equal worth and that everyone has equal participation possibilities. One hour of gardening is equal to one hour of helping an elderly neighbor or providing translation services.

Time banks are perceived as platforms for people to develop skills and exchange non-professional services while strengthening their sense of community connection, building local resilience and social capital. The latter suggest that time banks have more of a social impact rather than an economic one.

In general, time banks have been emerging from two sources:

  1. the complementary currency movements around Europe and
  2. the reciprocal volunteering systems in the USA and Japan.

Accelerated development of time banks or time banking-style organisations is noticed in the UK, Spain and USA while in Italy, France, Germany and Japan it seems more steady. In 2018 for example, there were around 120 time banks in the United States. 

Overall, the 5 Key Principles of Time Banking are as follows:

  1. We Are All Assets:Everyone has something to contribute
  2. Redefining Work: Rewards all work, including non-paid and care work
  3. Reciprocity: Helping each other builds strong relationships, and community trust
  4. Social Networks: Belonging to a social network gives our lives more meaning
  5. Respect: Respect is the basis for healthy and loving community, and lies at the heart of democracy

With regards to time banking participants’ profile, some UK studies show that they are completely different from those involved in traditional volunteering (one study showed that time banks attract disproportionately high number of members of socially excluded groups: 72% not in formal employment, 54% receive income support, 58% live in households with an income below £10,000, 42% are retired and 13% are disabled or have a long-term illness). In other EU countries, time banking is often attracting middle class people in economic difficulties, or people from rural communities or the counter-culture.

Time banking is also going digital with a number of new apps facilitating the implementation and making it more mainstream.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for 2030 and 2050 can be considered challenging and the matter requires detailed insight from many aspects. With this said, it should be noted that developed countries export their carbon emissions to developing countries where manufacturing and processing occurs (Druckman et al, 2008) meaning that GHG embedded in what is consumed is larger than what is produced in a certain country.

Consumption patterns of individuals, households and communities do pose an important element in reaching the GHG targets and time banking can play an important role in future changes of these patterns.

The potential time banking has with regards to carbon reduction is within it offering a supportive social network which meets some of the participants’ social and psychological needs for recognition, esteem and belongingness – needs which might otherwise be met through material consumption.

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