The Sustainability Prize


About the Prize

The Sustainability Prize, established in 2009 by The Sustainability Laboratory in collaboration with faculty members from EARTH University in Costa Rica, is awarded to the student project that best exemplifies implementation of The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability.” The $10,000 prize is awarded to the winning project in order to support project implementation, with $1,000 earmarked for the high school attended by the prizewinner.

During students’ Third Year, they learn about The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability,” which provides a roadmap for developing sustainability practices. Students then have the opportunity to enter a project idea for social entrepreneurship in the prize competition. During The Sustainability Prize Seminar, students present their project ideas, and faculty and students vote on the most promising projects, using The Lab’s principles as a guiding metric. Three to four finalists are chosen, and each are awarded $5,000 from EARTH University to begin implementing their projects..

Finalists will begin implementing their projects in their Fourth Year, with the support and guidance of EARTH faculty. The project that shows the most promise by graduation time will be awarded the $10,000 Sustainability Prize to support continued project implementation.

Since 2009, hundreds of students and faculty members at EARTH University have participated in the Sustainability Prize Seminars, delivered by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, where they learn about The Lab’s definition of sustainability and the derived Five Core Principles. You can explore this conceptual framework by visiting The Lab’s Approach Page.

The Sustainability Prize Seminar is now included in EARTH’s formal curriculum, and has also become a focal point of EARTH’s Integration Week, a full week of special programming including workshops, mini-internships, and field and community visits. Junior students play a role in providing feedback and evaluations for prize nominees. Professors from different disciplines have become involved, and support the students not only in the organization of the seminar, but also as counselors in the development of student projects. In this way, The Sustainability Prize has become part of the fabric of the EARTH University student experience.

The Lab

The Sustainability Laboratory was established in 2008 by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli in order to help address the most pressing sustainability issues facing the planet. The Lab is being organized to foster bold experimentation with untested ideas, approaches and technologies, challenging the prevailing models that result in preservation of the status quo.

To guide its activities, The Lab has developed its own unique, action-oriented conceptual framework. Inspired by the work of innovative thinkers such as Buckminster Fuller and Stafford Beer, and synthesized by Dr. Ben-Eli, The Lab’s signature approach is rooted in a system-oriented design strategy, integrating a rigorous definition of sustainability and a derived set of core principles. The Lab favors approaches that take a global perspective, and feature cross-sector and cross-disciplinary collaboration.

Applying this holistic framework, The Lab engages in research, development, and education activities focused around key sustainability-related issues. Our growing portfolio of projects demonstrate cutting edge, model approaches to sustainability challenges, applicable on a local, regional, and planetary scale. This is best exemplified by the progress of The Lab’s flagship project, Project Wadi Attir, a Bedouin-led sustainable development project in the Negev desert. To learn more about The Lab, visit our website.

EARTH University

EARTH University’s innovative educational approach has been preparing young people from Latin America, the Caribbean and other regions, including Africa and Asia, to contribute to the sustainable development of their countries and construct a prosperous and just society. EARTH offers a rigorous four-year undergraduate program in agricultural sciences and natural resource management under the guidance of a prestigious, international faculty. The University provides a world-class scientific and technological education that emphasizes values, ethical entrepreneurship, and environmental and social commitment.

EARTH was established by Costa Rican law in 1986 as a private, non-profit, international university and was created thanks to the support of the Costa Rican Government, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The main campus of EARTH University is located in Guácimo, Limón. In 2004, the family of former Costa Rican President, Daniel Oduber Quiros, donated “Hacienda La Flor” to the University, to promote development in the Guanacaste region. Thus, EARTH’s second campus was created.

EARTH University’s curriculum is based on four formative areas: technical and scientific knowledge; personal development, attitudes and values; ethical entrepreneurship; and social and environmental awareness and commitment. The program has been designed to imbue students with the competencies required to respond to the needs of today’s world.

EARTH has extensive experience searching for innovative solutions to challenges in sustainable agriculture, environmental conservation and natural resource management. Research at EARTH is applicable and actively involves both students and faculty. In 2011, more than 1,900 individuals in the communities surrounding EARTH benefited from the Institution’s Community Development Program, which includes a service-learning course where students work with small-scale, local producers on their farms, and with organized groups to promote sustainable community development.

The Team

Michael Ben-Eli
Founder, The Sustainability Laboratory

Prior to founding The Lab, Dr. Michael Ben-Eli worked as an international management consultant, pioneering applications of Systems Thinking and Cybernetics in management and organization. Over the years, he worked on synthesizing strategy issues in many parts of the world and in diverse institutional settings, ranging from small high technology firms to multinational enterprises, manufacturing companies, financial institutions, health care and educational organizations, government agencies, NGOs, and international multilateral organizations. In recent years, he has focused primarily on issues related to sustainability and sustainable development. He is author of the widely acclaimed five core sustainability principles, and has been working to help inspire leaders in business, government, community, and youth to accelerate a peaceful transition to a sustainable future. Dr. Ben Eli graduated from the Architectural Association in London and later received a Ph.D. from the Institute of Cybernetics at Brunel University, where he studied under Gordon Pask. He was a close associate of R. Buckminster Fuller, with whom he collaborated on research involving advanced structural systems, and issues related to the management of technology and world resources for the advantage of all.

Irene Alvarado Van der Laat
Sustainability Prize Coordinator

Irene Alvarado Van der Laat graduated as an agriculture engineer from the University of Costa Rica. She received an MBA in Business Administration with a focus in Agro-Marketing from the Technological Institute Costa Rica and a Ph.D. from the Universidad Latina in Economical and Entrepreneurial Sciences.Irene became part of the EARTH University team in 1992, where she worked as an Academic Program Administrator and then as the Director of Marketing for EARTH University’s Products Program. In 2000, she became a full-time faculty member in the University’s Entrepreneurial Projects Program, where she is now a director and lead coordinator. In 2001, she founded the Young Entrepreneurs Club, and shortly thereafter was selected to represent Costa Rica at the US Department of State’s Environmental Protection and Sustainable Development Program. She is the recipient of the Best Investigation Prize at the VII International Entrepreneur Congress in El Salvador (2004), the Galpin Fellowship from Quinnipiac University in Connecticut (2010), and the highest prize from the Literati Network Awards for Excellence for her investigation on entrepreneurship (2011). Today, Professor Alvarado focuses her time researching environmental economics projects, sustainable value chains of agricultural products, and the promotion of entrepreneurship habits and disciplines to create a more just society.

Jane Yeomans
Sustainability Prize Coordinator

Dr. Jane Yeomans is a Professor of Research at EARTH University. She obtained her M.Sc. in soil microbiology from the University of Guelph in Canada and her Ph.D. in soil microbiology and biochemistry from Iowa State University in the United States. She has been working at EARTH University since 1998. During this time she has taught courses in Physics, Integrated Waste Management, and Environment and Sustainable Food Systems, an interactive, online, video conferencing course with seven other universities on four continents. She also coordinates the senior thesis project course and proposal writing course. She has been the principal investigator for numerous projects including “Development of an Integrated Waste Management Plan for Ordinary Solid Waste in Rural Communities in Latin America” and “Sustainable Agricultural Practices in Citrus Production in Los Chiles, Costa Rica.”