Concordia University

Bold idea for a more sustainable world

Concordia alum Philip McMaster believes digital currency technology can help solve UN’s Sustainable Development Goals
November 8, 2017
By Matthew Scribner

Bitcoin and other digital currencies may one day replace old-school money for financial transactions. Yet what if the underlying technology behind these types of cryptocurrencies could be used to make the world a better, more sustainable place today?

That is the question that drives Philip McMaster, BA (leisure studies) 01, a teacher, environmentalist and public speaker based in Beijing, China.

McMaster wants to deploy blockchains — the cryptographic technology behind digital currencies — to encourage people to follow the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals and take other socially beneficial actions. He calls his effort the Caring Currency of the Republic of Conscience.

Philip McMaster Philip McMaster gives talks about sustainability in China and around the world. | Photo courtesy: Philip McMaster

“Caring Currency is a new way of paying for values and building your value — it’s a reputation system,” he explains.

As McMaster explains, “You earn a good reputation in the financial system for paying back your loans and making lots of money.” However, he points out, the system has inherent flaws. “Are our mothers paid to raise their children? Well, no, they’re not. Is it valuable to society? Well, yes it is. All of these relationships that we have as humans, with each other and even with the planet, are valuable,” he says.

McMaster suggests Caring Currency is one of the solutions if, as many predict, artificial intelligence and robots eventually take over most of our jobs. Instead of citizens earning salaries, countries are likely to institute Universal Basic Income programs. Ontario is already experimenting with the idea of supporting economically disadvantaged citizens with a universal basic income. This year, the province launched a pilot project in certain communities, in which it transfers up to $16,989 to single people and $24,027 to couples annually.

“It will look after the basics — that’s why it’s called Universal Basic Income,” McMaster explains. “But people will want more. Human nature dictates that we are competitive. So with Caring Currency, you get credit for your pro-social behaviour.”

Accounting for sustainable behaviour

McMaster describes blockchains as “huge accounting systems” that can precisely monitor any transaction using the currency produced through the blockchain. “Anybody can track — on an immutable record — everything that goes on,” he says. “It’s open-source, transparent and trustworthy — anti-corruption at all levels.”

What sorts of pro-social behaviours does McMaster feel are worth tracking? One that he particularly promotes is called “Smile, Change, Unplug.”

Each Wednesday, “Unplug your stuff and unplug yourself,” he explains. “With the exception of your refrigerator, disconnect all your appliances and only plug in what you’re actually using. Importantly, turn off your mobile phone for three hours every Wednesday night and talk with your family and friends face to face. We call it De-Zombification,” he adds. “We didn’t have that problem when I was at Concordia.”

Reaching for the sky

To help promote the UN Sustainable Development Goals, McMaster attends many climate change conferences. “I was in Paris [France] in 2015, Marrakech [Morocco] last year and I’ll be in Bonn [Germany] in November,” he says. “My first UN Climate Change Conference was in Montreal in 2005.”

This past April McMaster took the Sustainable Development Goals message up Mount Everest. “I brought this huge banner with the 17 sustainable development goals to Everest Base Camp,” McMaster says. “I didn’t make it all the way to the top, but we got the Sherpa mountaineers committed to bringing the smaller 17plusONE banner to the summit and the world’s attention to the serious plight of Himalayan climate change.”

McMaster moved to China after representatives of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) – Research Center for Eco-Environmental Sciences heard him speak about “3 finger philosophy” and individual social responsibility at a climate change conference in Hong Kong. A few years later, China Central Television cast him in the lead role in a national docudrama about Norman Bethune, the Canadian doctor who helped bring modern medicine to rural China in the 1930s and whose statue stands on the outskirts of Concordia’s Sir George Williams Campus.

“I’m so lucky — between my CAS credentials, TEDx Talks and Spirit of Bethune television presence, doors have really flown open for me in China,” he says.

Concordia lessons

A former lecturer at HEC Montréal, where he earned his MBA, McMaster also taught at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and now develops the Chengdu Consensus blockchain technology for third-sector organizations — those that are neither public sector nor private sector — in China.                                                                                                              

Noting that Concordia is actively engaged in blockchain research — including by Jeremy Clark, assistant professor in the Concordia Institute for Systems Engineering — McMaster attributes his major in leisure studies in what is now the Department of Applied Human Sciences as the inspiration for his work.

McMaster fondly remembers his Concordia teachers, classmates, colleagues and staff. The lessons he learned in his program remain with him. Two important takeaways were “smile and make other people happy” and “change something about yourself, because you can’t change other people,” McMaster says.

“People can only change themselves. You can influence, you can lead, you can do all these kind of things, which we were learning, but actually the decision to change comes from within.”

For the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany, from November 6-17, 2017, Philip McMaster is offering three free Sustainable Development Goals tokens to anyone who writes “Concordia” in the promo code area of


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