Earthbank and permaculture – a productive nexus
Robert Rosen describes the positive relationship between the Earthbank Society and the permaculture movement to 1988 in establishing the ethical investment in Australia.
THE EARTHBANK SOCIETY was an initiative of Bill Mollison, founder of the permaculture movement. In 1982 an Alternate Economic Summit, initiated by Mollison, was held in Tasmania. Although only a dozen or so people attended, two major initiatives emerged out of that conference:
- one was the Maleny Credit Union which Jill Jordan took on the task of helping set up
- the other was the Earthbank Society.
A year earlier after attending a permaculture design conference run by Bill Mollison, Damien Lynch had set August Investment Pty Ltd, Australia’s first ethical investment company. Damien went on to establish August Investment Management Ltd (Now Australian Ethical Investment Management Ltd), the first ethical investment funds manager in Australia.
Earthbank was set up by architect and permaculture designer, Geoff Young, and provided the financial and economic philosophy to go hand in hand with permaculture’s permanent agricultural systems. Its original objectives were:
- to increase awareness of the steps required to create a sustainable economic future
- to assist in the economic revitalisation of local communities
- to promote the concepts of social, ethical and community based investment
- to provide assistance and support to financial organizations which adopt social, ethical and environmental investment criteria.
In practice, so far much of its work has been devoted to the last two of its objectives. Geoff Young helped bring ethical investment to the attention of the media in Australia with early major stories featuring Earthbank and ethical investment appearing in the financial press, radio and TV.
He produced the Earthbank Ethical Investment Guide and answered many enquiries about ethical and community investment. Geoff also contributed a regularly to the International Permaculture Quarterly on a wide variety issues associated with community economics and ethical investment.
The idea spreads
Also at Bill Mollison’s initiative, an Earthbank Association was set up on the US West Coast. It took on a high profile and was helped setting up a socially responsible Credit Union in California’s Puget Sound area. It work was highly regarded and produced the widely read Sustainable Economics Guide.
The Association ceased its activities in 1987.
In Australia in 1986, Geoff Young convened the very successful first National Earthbank Conference in Sydney . Later that year, Geoff moved from Sydney to Queensland to help set up Crystal Waters, a rural village development which is based on permaculture principles.
Robert Rosen, working from the North Coast of NSW, took over from Geoff Young as secretary of the Society. In late 1986 the Earthbank Society prepared the feasibility study for the Bellingen District Loan Fund Ltd, a community based socially and environmentally responsible loan fund which was established in the following year.
In 1987 the Earthbank Society started receiving an increasing number of enquiries from prospective ethical investors and was regularly fielding media enquiries and doing radio interviews. This was partly in response to the establishment of the first two ethical managed funds in Australia in 1986-7.
In 1987, a second very successful Earthbank Conference was held in Sydney, with Roger Pritchard from the United States, an authority on community-based economics and investment as its keynote speaker. Also in that year Earthbank Society of WA was formed
Coinciding with growing community awareness in environmental issues, interest in ethical investment increased dramatically in late 1988 and the Earthbank Society began began receiving enquiries not only from the media and interested investors but also from investment advisers, fund managers, banks, insurance companies and stock brokers. After one radio interview on Carolyn Jones’ In Search for Meaning on the ABC, the Society received over 250 letters.