Building Bricks That Strengthen Communities: Interview With The 2020 1st Place Prizewinners
The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was awarded to two exceptional teams in 2020, for their projects that exemplify the application of our five core sustainability principles. The 2020 first place prize went to the team of Francely Concepción Flores, Juana Suar Domínguez, and Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales for the project: LlamaBrick. We spoke with the prizewinners about how they developed the project and their plans to take it to scale with the community of Rio Blanco in Guatemala. Please enjoy this interview with the 2020 prizewinners!
Francely Concepción Flores (middle) and Juana Suar Domínguez (right) (not pictured: Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales) on stage with Irene Alvardo (left) during the 2020 Sustainability Prize ceremony
The Lab: Why did you choose this project over other sustainability related projects?
Francely, Juana, and Mónica: We chose this project once we saw an issue not just in Guatemala, but throughout Latin America regarding the excessive use of firewood as an energy source, which has consequences not only on health but also on the environment. Our focus was to improve the quality of life of many people through this project, without negatively affecting natural resources.
The Lab: Why did you choose the community of Rio Blanco for this project?
Francely, Juana, and Mónica: We chose this community because the department of San Marcos Rio Blanco, Guatemala is one of the only municipalities in which there is no waste collection system, so we saw an opportunity to take advantage of these resources for the project. Furthermore, there exists a deficit of firewood, of approximately 14,551.63 m3 per year, so there is an opportunity for our product in the market, in this community and beyond.
Getting to know the community of Rio Blanco in the development of LlamaBrick, 2018
The Lab: What makes LlamaBrick’s paper briquettes healthier than conventional briquettes?
Francely, Juana, and Mónica: LlamaBricks are considered to be a “solid bioenergy”, fabricated with natural materials such as paper and sawdust. This combination results in both a source of higher caloric potential, due to the sawdust, and a binder source, which, in this case, is paper. Being in the same mixture and compressed at a certain pressure, we can ensure that a product is obtained that guarantees a decrease in the amount of smoke and gases in combustion.
The Lab: What was the influence of The Lab’s sustainability principles in the development of this project?
Francely, Juana, and Mónica: At the beginning of the project, we were unfamiliar with these principles, but as we further refined the project for the Sustainability Prize competition, we realized that LlamaBrick has a strong connection to these principles. We firmly believe that when it is carried out, the connection to The Lab’s sustainability principles will be noticeable in a practical way.
LlamaBrick complies with the five sustainability principles, and each of the dimensions is explained below:
Material domain: The project acts as a strategy to use wastes generated in different industries (agricultural wastes, cardboard, and paper) with the purpose of optimizing their use, creating a product for widespread use in rural communities that strengthens natural resources and human health.
Economic domain: LlamaBrick intends to positively impact the economy of the families in the Rio Blanco community in Guatamala, as it will generate employment opportunities within the community, both for women and young people. Additionally, it will provide a product that is economically accessible for local families.
Domain of life: The briquettes emphasize the reduction of particulate materials, specifically from carbon, as this compound is responsible for serious damage to health, while our product improves the quality of life of people. Furthermore, it supports the environment by reducing deforestation, and by reusing wastes generated from other processes.
Social domain: This project focuses on the progress of the community, taking the opinions of the community members into account and building strong communications channels with community leaders. This facilitates collaboration and can help develop community improvements.
Spiritual domain: In the end what we want to achieve with this project is that there exists a combination of utmost harmony between the environment and humans, and without economic repercussions. It’s not simply creating a business, it’s achieving an optimal solution to a problem present not just in the Rio Blanco municipality, but also in Latin America and throughout the world.
The Lab: Do you plan to continue with the project in the future? If yes, what are your next steps? What’s your long-term vision for LlamaBrick?
Francely, Juana, and Mónica: Yes, we are committed to making this project happen. The next steps are:
- The first step involves doing an assessment and establishing direct communication with representative entities of the Rio Blanco municipality. This has the objectives of a) understanding the depth of the problem facing the municipality, b) learning what measures have been taken up until this point, and c) getting representatives from the community involved.
- With the support of the mayor of the municipality, we intend to acquire the area to begin the work of collecting raw materials and fabricating the briquettes. The location of the collection center must be strategic, and close to the waste collection points so that transit will be convenient and low-cost. In addition, personnel will be hired to complete tasks such as collection, classification, and preparation of reusable products.
- The third step involves giving talks to the residents of this municipality to a) provide them with information and training on waste management, and b) let them know when the project will start operating.
- The fourth step that we want to make happen is the construction of the machinery to make the briquettes, and conducting testing of the products, to ensure that they work in the most efficient manner.
Once the machinery is ready, we will begin collecting paper products, with the idea that we will begin to generate a culture of classification. But in the beginning, the community will just provide paper and cardboard that they generate in order to manufacture the briquettes, which later we will sell back to the community at an accessible price for the families who need it.
Our long term visión is to create a project that can provide to the Rio Blanco community, first and foremost, a product that can serve as an alternative to firewood, improving the health of the families that use it.
From left: Juana, Francely, and Mónica
We wish Francely, Juana, and Mónica luck in the development of this project! To learn about the 2020 second place prizewinners’ project, please see this interview with the runners-up.
Replenishing The Earth Through Ancestral Agriculture: Interview With The 2020 2nd Place Prizewinners
The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was awarded to two exceptional teams in 2020, for their projects that exemplify the application of our five core sustainability principles. The 2020 second place prize went to the team of Dasha Montcalm Álvarez and José Andres Charpentier for the project: Educational and Productive Model for Ancestral Agriculture in Peri-urban Spaces. We spoke with the prizewinners about what inspired the project and their plans to develop it at scale in Costa Rica. Please enjoy this interview with the 2020 runner-up prizewinners!
José Andres Charpentier (left) and Dasha Montcalm Álvarez (right), 2020 second place Sustainability Prizewinners
The Lab: Why did you choose this project over other sustainability projects?
Dasha and José: We chose this project over other ones because we grew up in an environment surrounded by many social, economic and environmental issues. We are from urban areas, which are the most disconnected from nature and agriculture. We really believe that these issues must be resolved because they are causing inequalities and suffering within society.
We chose a project that can create spaces in urban areas in order to reconnect society with nature through agriculture. Communities are losing their forests, and thousands of animal and flora species. Like some conscientious institutions, organizations, farmers and individuals, we have had enough. This is why, as agronomists and leaders of change, we want to share our knowledge and experiences to create a better society.
Educational and Productive Model for Ancestral Agriculture in Peri-urban Spaces (MEPPA, based on its Spanish acronym) is a model whose main objective is to educate on agroecological techniques for the production of fully organic, healthy foods. It does so by rescuing ancestral methodologies, such as the conservation of native seeds, and using ancient planting systems, such as mandalas and placing crops in allelopathic and symbiotic associations.
MEPPA also has a virtual component, called Agrosimbiosis.org. This website seeks to create a network of small farmers, new entrepreneurs and students who want to share their knowledge, to establish a platform for help and collaboration. The main objective is the creation of a connection point where we can share free, accessible information. This network also helps to publicize small producers and emerging entrepreneurs. This platform seeks out the integration of social, environmental, cultural, ancestral and spiritual principles in a symbiosis of support.
Image of the Agrosimbiosis website
The Lab: How was the development of your project impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
Dasha and José: The website was not part of our original plan. Last year, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we realized that our project could address more areas than we originally thought we could cover. This crisis has provoked a deep reflection on the current paradigm, which is based on the globalization and monopolization of productive systems. This paradigm has widened the gaps between social classes, and has diminished or completely eliminated the possibility of society to initiate and self-manage the necessary resources to live.
Distinguishing these socio-economic limitations raises awareness about a global crisis that is no longer a novelty and requires a response from political leaders. It is also a door to be leaders of change capable of taking responsibility for individual and collective socio-economic security and food security.
That is why we created this platform. Virtuality has been changing how people receive and manipulate information. We can accomplish our objectives effectively and reach more places and farmers virtually.
Virtual schematic of MEPPA on the Agrosimbiosis website
The Lab: What was the influence of The Lab’s five core sustainability principles in the development of this project?
Dasha and José: Material Domain: Our project complies most with this domain, since all inputs and outputs have been designed to circulate within the system. For example, harvest, pruning and other residues generated in the production chain will be reincorporated through composting and in the production of other bio-inputs. Furthermore, all of our residual or applied materials in the production cycle are environmentally and socially responsible.
Economic Domain: The project is based entirely on a circular economy. Our economy is not above the environment or our employees. This means that we do not want to generate profits at the expense of those close to us, but rather we consider the real costs of our work and product. We have designed a meticulous financial plan that emphasizes low and honest costs, with products of good quality from sustainable sources. We plan to recover our investment and generate profits that allow the growth of the project and the fair payment of the workers.
Life Domain: MEPPA is oriented towards organic production that does not harm the biodiversity of the ecosystem. The use of and training on the subject of bio-inputs is one of the most important agricultural aspects for us, since we guarantee that production does not kill the microorganisms that give life to the soil that enables the harvesting of our food.
Social Domain: The social domain is represented mainly by the contribution to food and economic security promoted by the project. MEPPA shares all knowledge generated with other people and producers to enable a conscious development of people. This project is by and for people who want to see a change in the current paradigm.
Spiritual Domain: MEPPA seeks to rescue the ancestral practices of our ancestors who had a close relationship with nature and the entire earth. We use plants with respect, honoring our ancestors and the earth by selecting plants with great medicinal properties, avoiding agrochemicals and not planting monocultural systems. We recognize that each living being in MEPPA has a function and a purpose in the ecosystem, and using conventional and unsustainable practices will only lead to their destruction.
The Lab: What are your next steps for the development of MEPPA?
Dasha and José: In April 2021 we turned MEPPA into a company called Agrosimbiosis, legally incorporated in Costa Rica. We are working on planning and creating the physical part of MEPPA. The next steps are to finish establishing the legal aspect in the country, in order to begin the construction of the Agrosimbiosis complex under the MEPPA model.
The Lab: What is your long-term vision for the future of this project?
Dasha and José: We recognize Agrosimbiosis as our life’s project. When it is consolidated, we want to take it to other sites; that is, replicate the model so that it can reach more people. Winning The Lab’s Sustainability Prize is the greatest gift we have received in our entire lives, because through it, we can grow both professionally and personally. And we can share this gift with many people, through sharing knowledge. We believe that we can change much of our context through MEPPA.
Beginning of the development of the Agrosimbiosis complex
We wish Dasha and José luck in the development of this project! Follow the development of Agrosimbiosis by following the project’s Instagram.
To learn about the 2020 first place prizewinners’ project, please see this interview.
2020 Prizewinner Announced!
In a year that was different from all others, we are pleased to have been able to continue our annual tradition of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University. The December 2020 prize ceremony marked the 11th year of the program, and the beginning of a now-annual runner-up prize.
The Sustainability Prize is awarded annually to the student project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core principles of sustainability. In the past, we awarded a single $10,000 prize to the winning project. Starting in 2020, we now offer an additional runner-up prize of $3,000. Proceeds of the prizes are typically invested by the winners in the continuation of their projects.
The 2020 first prize was awarded to Francely Concepción Flores, Juana Suar Domínguez, and Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales for the project: LlamaBrick. This project features the development of paper briquettes sourced from sawdust and community paper waste, serving as a less polluting alternative to burning firewood.
Francely Concepción Flores (middle) and Juana Suar Domínguez (right) (not pictured: Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales) on stage with Irene Alvardo (left) during the 2020 Sustainability Prize ceremony
The runner-up prize this year was awarded to the team of Dasha Montcalm Álvarez and José Andres Charpentier, who developed an educational website related to Indigenous food production techniques.
Dasha Montcalm Álvarez (right) and José Andres Charpentier (left), runner-up prizewinners
In spite of the restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s ceremony took place in person, with all attendees masked and socially distanced. Although The Sustainability Laboratory was not able to attend the ceremony in person, Lab founder Michael Ben-Eli sent a video message to the participants, and the ceremony was conducted by Prize program administrator and professor Irene Alvarado. Arturo Condo, President of EARTH University, Yanine Chan Blanco, Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs, and Irmino Perera, EARTH University professor and Director of Student Life and Wellness, were also in attendance.
We look forward to learning how the prizewinners move forward in developing their projects, and we extend a special thank you to Ivor and Barbara Freeman and Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow-Brill for their continued support of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University.
Interview With 2010 Sustainability Prizewinner Johanny Pestalozzi, 10 Years Later
The Lab’s Sustainability Prize program at EARTH University has been running for more than a decade, with the annual prize awarded to the student graduation project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core sustainability principles. In 2010, Johanny Pestalozzi was awarded the prize. We recently caught up with Johanny, who updated us on the impacts of the prize on her life, and what she’s been up to in the decade since graduating from EARTH. Please enjoy this short interview with Johanny.
Johanny Pastalozzi, winner of the 2010 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University
The Lab: It’s now been a decade since you won The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University. What did it mean for you to win the prize?
Johanny: Participating in this initiative made me take time to reflect and internalize the meaning and scope of The Lab’s five core sustainability principles. It was important for me to be able to transfer those concepts into real life, to effectively reflect them in the design and implementation of the projects I led. Learning about these principles made me think more comprehensively.
My decisions became more complex but also richer. I would say that I became more strategic towards accomplishing my personal and professional goals, which meant that while developing my career, I was making sure that my decisions align with my values and the sustainability principles that I have since then integrated into my life.
Winning the award represented to me a recognition of the positive impact my project had among the 100 participants of the environmental contest I organized at EARTH University in 2010. It also served as an encouragement to keep visualizing a better future and continue to design initiatives to bring people together and raise sustainability awareness. I believe that winning the Sustainability Prize has helped open doors both academically and professionally.
Working with local schoolchildren as part of Johanny’s 2010 graduation project
The Lab: Tell us about your trajectory in the years since EARTH. What types of work and projects have you been involved in?
Johanny: It is just over 10 years since I graduated from EARTH and it feels as it if it was yesterday. Maybe because this was an institution that substantially shaped the way I think in a very positive way. At EARTH, I had a unique opportunity to try many different socially innovative ideas for positive transformation, and I will always be grateful for it.
After EARTH, I received a scholarship from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, to pursue my Master studies in Environmental Sciences at the University of Stuttgart. After that, I gained the funds to complete my Doctoral studies at the University of Hohenheim, also in Stuttgart, specializing in Risk Management and Stakeholder Communication. These have been my major academic commitments since EARTH.
In parallel to my post-graduate studies, I was involved in various NGOs, supporting causes ranging from education, arts, international development, and global youth-led initiatives. Some examples include the pro-bono assistance I provided to the Foundation Stay in Stuttgart as Sponsoring Manager, co-organizing two events in the context of TEDxStuttgart, and supporting the Global Entrepreneurship Summer Schools in Munich also with fundraising.
In the meantime, I naturalized in Germany, and as of last year permanently live in Zurich with my husband. I have re-oriented my career, shifting to the business sector as a project manager.
The Lab: Have you been able to apply The Lab’s approach to sustainability and five core principles in your work and life? If so, how?
Johanny: While I have not deliberately applied the five core sustainability principles in my work, this concept significantly changed the way I understand and approach life. It has become somewhat embedded into my identity and my worldview. In my decision-making processes, for example, I try to be consistent with my beliefs of avoiding waste, being sensitive to my socio-cultural context and respecting it, considering financially viable options, and enabling replicability by being reflective about possible outcomes, analyzing lessons learned, and building models/patterns that could help me in future occasions or that I could recommend to my peers.
The Lab: Tell us your philosophy about creating positive impacts through one’s work, regardless of the individual’s field or stage in life.
Johanny: When I moved to Europe, I had the conviction that to make a positive impact in the world I needed to either work in the international development sector, move back to my home country, or work in the humanitarian sector, for example. As time passed, I realized that practically every society/every part of the world needs some kind of positive impact, e.g., need for more empathy, respect, tolerance, or inclusion among humans and at the interface human-nature, just to mention some. In summary, the entire world is in some kind of need, which much comes down to integrating values into our daily lives.
I started to develop the thought that for me to make a meaningful contribution to society while at the same time accomplish my personal and professional goals, I do not need to be limited to a particular geography or career, but rather I needed to examine the concept of being a world citizen, which becomes even more accentuated in the era of social media, rapid digitalization and increased globalization.
A positive impact can be made in every aspect of our lives and in/from any part of the world, and we can make it happen. I believe that we just need to be sensitive to the problems happening around us and, in our communities, assess how we can best contribute to positive and significant changes, and commit to those initiatives.
Johanny (right) with other 2010 prizewinners Neida Melina Chow Méndez (left) and Tania Del Socorro Pérez Matute (middle)
The Lab: Do you have any advice for participants in the Sustainability Prize competition?
Johanny: I would advise them to become dedicated observants about the society in which the live, to inform themselves about events happening in their surroundings, first locally, and then at a global scale; and to reflect carefully and critically on the news and the observations they gather. This information will serve as seeds to identify areas in which they can make a significantly positive impact in society, and in which they can continue to grow in their careers.
The Lab: What are your plans for the future?
Johanny: In the short-term future (5-10 years), I want to continue growing professionally as a project manager and become a leader in the organization where I work, to steer positive change towards resource use optimization and business excellence.
I also want to continue to inspire people in my social and professional network, encouraging them to believe in themselves, to network, aspire to achieve bold dreams, and go the extra mile for their personal (and ultimately) societal development.
Otherwise, I have recently started a coaching business on a part-time basis, to provide training sessions to people on topics of personal growth, such as resilience, positive mindset, personal re-invention, and sustainability. I hope my experiences can be of help to others to keep making the world work for 100% of humanity.
We wish Johanny luck in all of her future pursuits, and we look forward to following her career moving forward!
Five Years After The Prize: Interview With Antony Castro Rivera, 2014 Prizewinner
After winning The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University in 2014, as well as participating in our graduate-level Global Sustainability Fellows (GSF) program, we caught up with Antony Castro Rivera. He updated The Lab on the impacts of the Sustainability Prize and the GSF program in his work and life, and his many exciting professional and personal pursuits. Please enjoy this interview with Antony!
The Lab: You’ve participated in two different programs of The Lab—as a Sustainability Prizewinner in 2014 and as a Global Sustainability Fellows (GSF) program fellow in 2015. How have these experiences impacted you?
Antony: The Sustainability Prize of 2014 changed the course of my life. I had the opportunity to start the family business that my family and I envisioned. Earning the prize brought great satisfaction to all, and this inspired me to further invest my best efforts in the project.
Coming from a neighborhood where violence and poverty are usual, my chances for starting a business based on technical knowledge were very limited, but The Sustainability Laboratory and EARTH University believed in me and each gave me a chance. Thus, I could start to change my country by providing a useful product to those doing urban agriculture.
My participation in the 2015 GSF program opened up my narrow scientific perspective to one that integrates a vast framework of holistic concepts, which have been useful to me in addressing and preparing for projects about sustainability in Europe and Latin America. I got to understand the “system of beliefs” concept and the system dynamics approach to project development and implementation, which I found fundamental for understanding key stakeholders’ concerns, comprehensively integrating them, and thus maintaining projects viable through time after initial investments. It also impacted me deeply because I got to know about the necessities of the Martina Bustos community, which I thought impossible in Costa Rica.
Antony with 2015 GSF fellow Vanessa Armendariz during the 2015 GSF session, giving a presentation to GSF fellows, faculty, and members of the Martina Bustos community
The Lab: In 2014 you received The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University for the project “Implementation of Model Adaptations for a Sustainable Urban Home in Heredia, Costa Rica”. What became of this project?
Antony: I continued the project for about two years after graduating. It grew and generated profit by providing urban agriculture products to customers in 4 provinces of Costa Rica.
We found passion for agriculture within city people, but they could not access what they needed to do it. So we became their providers.
As I wanted to be a better manager, I decided to study Sustainable Resource Management at the Technical University of Munich in Germany. Part of assets of the project served to finance my studies.
The plan was to keep running the business, but I miscalculated the time-difference effects on my ability to attend to the customers from Germany. Eventually, we decided to cease the family business until my return. Nonetheless, my grandpa kept using part of the infrastructure for producing vegetables, supplying our family with more than 15 types of vegetables. This has kept him happy, as he used to do agriculture with his father. This means a lot for all in my family.
Eco-friendly vertical farming in Antony’s prizewinning project: the system uses aromatic plants instead of pesticides to repel plagues; hydroponics and semi-automatized precise irrigation to optimize the use of water and fertilizer; and pyramidal structures with planting bags to optimize the use of space
The Lab: Tell us about what you’ve been up to recently.
Antony: I work doing research for the Technical University of Munich in a joint research project with the German Aerospace Agency. The project is called ForDroughtDet and its objective is identifying drought in trees at Bavaria, because climate change-driven extremely hot summers are significantly increasing tree mortality. We do that using high-technology sensors for inferring the vegetation’s drought affection based on information carried by light, which the human eyes cannot see.
As for personal, ad-honorem projects, I have taught programming to international master’s students. In the same manner, I worked for 1 year and 10 months doing research that made discoveries about the Amazon basin forest’s response to extreme drought, with researchers from Germany, Switzerland, Spain and Costa Rica. We did this by bridging maps on ecoregions (from the Resolve project) with a new satellite product which allow to see photosynthetic activity from space (from the OCO-2 satellite from NASA). My education from EARTH University allowed me to understand processes of the tropical forest. Once I understood what was going on, as a scientist, I felt the ethical responsibility of communicating it to my scientist peers. That could only happen through a scientific publication, so I fought hard for it. It was recently published.
I founded a German NGO called Gaia-liNc together with colleagues I met during my master’s studies. We come from Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Chile, Peru, and Germany. Gaia-liNc aims to create partnerships between Latin American and German institutions and organizations. Our purpose is to get insights on already identified necessities from the Latin American organizations and help to solve them with assets, technology and education from Germany. The German green-investment-infrastructure is very well developed, but is often not unreachable for the Latin American organizations because of a lack of knowledge on the options, a lack of a partner on the German side (us), and the German language barrier.
Also, I am currently exploring possible applications of the Amazonian photosynthesis discoveries with South American organizations and building a proposal to develop these. I hope I will get support, as so far, I have had to pay for most of the research expenses from my own funding. Moreover, I am building another proposal to work with Blockchain financial technology and waste management by integrating German and Latin American markets and institutions.
The Lab: Have you been able to apply The Lab’s approach to sustainability and five core principles in your work and life? If so, how?
Antony: It helped me to realize that sustainability work is best in teams. I learned at The Lab about the complexity of sustainability, and that I alone cannot cover all of The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability” in my projects.
I have spread the five principles because usually people know the 3 pillars approach to sustainability. Some people struggle to acknowledge the spiritual domain, but I have experienced its importance in practice at projects in Peru and Africa. It is difficult to explain, but it connects people with their historic roots and that is a powerful asset.
Antony with a member of the Martina Bustos community during the 2015 GSF session
The Lab: Do you have any words of wisdom for participants in the Sustainability Prize competition?
Antony: To the Sustainability prize participants: if you weren’t doing what you are doing, is possible that there would be nobody doing it. Aim for the highest and be humble at the same time. Also, know when to stand for what you know, even when you work in interdisciplinary teams where others know more than you in their areas. Stand for what you believe in and what inspires you, because otherwise you may lose your passion and get lost. If you are passionate, you may be able to use most of the chances that appear in front of you before these vanish. The success should be envisioned, it won’t just happen.
The Lab: What are your plans for the future?
Antony: In the short-term, I plan to gather funding for continuing research on the Amazonian photosynthesis discoveries, or to do a PhD program in ecology, microorganisms and agriculture. My mid-term plans are to continue gathering skills and abilities that I can use to strengthen projects in the tropics, and help to pay for my sister’s university. And in the long-term, I plan on going back to the tropics for work, where I have been happiest. Meanwhile, I plan to support projects in Latin America through Gaia-liNc from Germany.
We wish Antony luck in all of his future pursuits, and we look forward to following his career moving forward!
Water Purification Through Biofilters: Interview With The 2019 Prizewinner
The Lab’s 2019 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was recently awarded to Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori for the project: YAKU sin límites (Water Without Limits). We spoke with Yesenia about how she developed the project and her plans to take it to scale in Arequipa, Peru. Please enjoy this interview with Yesenia!
Yesenia with her winning certificate during the 2019 Sustainability Prize ceremony at EARTH University
The Lab: Why did you chose a water purification system as opposed to other sustainability related projects?
Yesenia: Water is the fundamental basis for human beings, and many waterbodies are very contaminated due to constant discharges of waste into rivers. If children consume clean and purified water, they will not suffer from ailments such as diarrhea. It’s important to address these problems at their root. Biofilters are unique in that they remove heavy metals from water, such as arsenic, lead, and chromium.
At EARTH University I researched how to purify water. I conducted many analyses about biofilters and their ability to remove heavy metals and other contaminants. I also created a prototype artisanal oven in which to fabricate the biofilters. This enabled me to know the approximate cost of production of the biofilters.
The Lab: How are you planning on implementing this project in the future?
Yesenia: The project will be implemented in the city of Arequipa, Peru. My first step is to find the appropriate legal support in my country that will allow me to realize my project.
My plan is to employ local women, particularly single mothers. There are many local women who wish to work. It’s true that in order to form a business one needs to work with people who are business-savvy, and for that reason I will work on strengthening my association with female colleagues who want to support the project.
In 2020 I plan to focus on the project, processing the patent for the biofilters, establishing all of the necessary legal documents, and beginning the production and sale of the biofilters. The materials used in the fabrication of the biofilters I will have to obtain in Peru, from various industries. For example, fibers obtained from a company involved in sugar production. Also, based on the prototype artisanal oven that I created at EARTH University, I will create another oven in Peru. The women employed at the project will be involved in the fabrication and sale of the biofilters.
The Lab: Why did you chose the name YAKU?
Yesenia: YAKU means ‘water’ in Quechua. Later on I added the phrase “sín límites” (without limits). The project in general is called YAKU sin límites (Water Without Limits).
The prototype artisanal oven made by Yesenia at EARTH University
The Lab: What was the influence of The Lab’s sustainability principles in developing YAKU?
Yesenia: I had been working on the project independently and as part of some class projects. However, I hadn’t presented it anywhere. Since presenting it in EARTH University’s Sustainability and Innovation Forum and obtaining the first-place ranking as a finalist, I began believing that my project was special and could achieve great things. This helped motivate me and keep me focused.
In the material domain, I sought to find waste materials from various companies, to reduce overall environmental impact. In the economic domain, my objective was to look for low-cost materials, so that the biofilters would be accessible by low-income populations. In the social domain, I am motivated to work with women, given that this is the population with the highest unemployment rate in my country, and women are also those who are in charge of raising children. In the domain of life, the project enables better quality of life of various people without harmful environmental impacts. And in the spiritual domain, I am working transparently to be able to implement my project.
The Lab: What’s your vision for the future of YAKU?
Yesenia: I envision that during the first few years YAKU will enable production of biofilters at the national level. Later I plan to expand production throughout Latin America and the world.
Left to right: Tobias Wuscher; Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori; Michael Ben-Eli, founder of The Sustainability Laboratory; Yanine Chan Blanco, Dean and Vice President of Academic Affairs; Mike Gucovsky, a Lab board member; and Róger Castellón Mora, EARTH University faculty member
We wish Yesenia luck in her future pursuits, and we look forward to seeing how she implements her scale-up in the coming years! For more information about The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University, please contact us at info[at]sustainabilitylabs[dot]org.
2019 Prizewinner Announced!
In December 2019, The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was awarded to Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori for the project: YAKU sin límites (Water Without Limits). The $10,000 prize is awarded annually to the student project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core principles of sustainability. Yesenia plans to use the funds from the prize to implement her project in Arequipa, Peru.
YAKU is a project that involves the fabrication of biofilters—pollution control devices—to purify water. Through YAKU, Yesenia demonstrated a waste-to-resources approach by assembling biofilters from waste fibers from various industries. She initiated and led the construction of a prototype artisanal oven in order to produce and then extensively test the filters for their ability to remove contaminants from water. She found that biofilters were a viable and economical means of providing clean water to low-income families. She plans to take this project to scale in Arequipa, Peru, where her enterprise will employ women, particularly single mothers. Her ambition is to bring the project to production on a national, and later international, scale.
We look forward to learning how Yesenia moves forward with YAKU, and we extend a special thank you to Ivor and Barbara Freeman and Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow-Brill for their continued support of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University.
Sustainability Prize Extended For Another Five Years
The Lab’s Sustainability Prize program at EARTH University has been going strong since 2009. We are very excited to announce that it will be extended for another five years, now to be offered through 2024, thanks to the generous support of Ivor and Barbara Freeman and Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow-Brill.
The $10,000 Sustainability Prize is awarded annually to the student project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core principles of sustainability. The prize money supports project implementation, with $1,000 earmarked for the high school attended by the prizewinner. Going forward, in addition to the annual $10,000 prize, we will also be offering a runner-up prize of $3,000, also to support project implementation.
We look forward to seeing the innovative and entrepreneurial solutions to pressing sustainability challenges proposed by the competition participants in the coming years. Detailed information about all past prizewinning projects can be found here.
2018 prizewinners Mariana da Cruz Albertazzi and Raphaël Loubert with community members at their pilot project
2017 prizewinners Jhoselyn Dayhana Mendoza Lozano and Kalem García Abad and runners-up Johanna Carmona and Carolina Aguilar
2014 prizewinner Antony Castro Rivera with EARTH University faculty members
Participating students in The Lab’s prize program at EARTH University
Finalists Selected For The 2020 Sustainability Prize
Five teams of finalists were selected to compete in The Lab’s 2020 Sustainability Prize program at EARTH University.
Each year, The Lab awards the Sustainability Prize to the student graduation project at EARTH University that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core principles of sustainability. The prize consists of $10,000 to be used for project implementation, with $1,000 allotted for the high school attended by the prizewinner.
Third year students at EARTH University are exposed to an extensive sustainability curriculum, which encompasses The Lab’s definition of sustainability and five core principles. To enter the prize competition, third year students present their project ideas to EARTH University staff, students, and community members during the annual Sustainability and Innovation Forum. This year’s event was attended by over 100 people. The judging panel consisted of Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, founder and director of The Lab; Ignacio Barrientos, entrepreneur and founder of the Costa Rican start-up Bambu Pallet; Germán Jiménez, engineer and one of the founding partners of Balanced Energy Costa Rica; Michael Gucovsky, a Lab board member; and Victor Eduardo Acosa, Costa Rican entrepreneur. Eleven teams participated in the event, of which five were selected as finalists to compete in the 2020 Sustainability Prize competition.
EARTH University students and faculty, community members, and the judging panel at the Sustainability and Innovation Forum
The five finalists are as follows:
Francely Concepción Flores (Guatemala), Juana Suar Domínguez (Guatemala), and Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales (Colombia), for the project “Llamabrick”. This project addresses issues of deforestation through the development of paper briquettes, which would replace firewood used for cooking in Guatemala and various other countries in Latin America. The paper would be sourced from re-purposed community waste.
From left: finalists Francely Concepción Flores, Mónica Alejandra Montoya Grajales, and Juana Suar Domínguez
Lourdes Andano (Guatemala), Julio Leiva (Paraguay), Yulyana Duarte (Costa Rica), for the project “BioMetabolitos”. This project involves the development of an organic herbacide, which could replace chemical herbicides currently on the market. It would be developed for use in various countries.
From left: finalists Julio Leiva, Lourdes Andano, and Yulyana Duarte
Bleck Tita (Cameroon), for the project “Gunacam” This project addresses food waste in the guanábana industry in Cameroon, where a great quantity of these fruits are grown. Guanabana plants rot quickly, which poses barriers to exportation. The proposed project involves the creation of juice from guanábana plants, which could then be exported.
Finalist Bleck Tita
José Andres Charpentier (Costa Rica) and Dasha Montcalm Álvarez (Costa Rica), for the project “Ancestral Agriculture” This project involves the utilization of existing open space in cities in Costa Rica’s central valley for the creation of community gardens and other green spaces, which would increase food security in cities and engage students in sustainability related projects.
From left: finalists José Andres Charpentier and Dasha Montcalm Álvarez
Javier Abdelnour Suarez (Costa Rica) and Jorge Luis Tomala (Ecuador), for the project “Agroforestal System” This project involves the development of an integrated farm with various cultivations via an agroforestry system, to be implemented in Limón, Costa Rica.
From left: finalists Jorge Luis Tomala and Javier Abdelnour Suarez
Each finalist is provided with funding from the university to support the implementation of these projects throughout the year, with the guidance of EARTH University faculty. Finalists will be hard at work throughout the year to implement their projects, and the 2020 prizewinner will be announced in December 2020. Congratulations to all of the participants for their entrepreneurial efforts, and we look forward to seeing what the finalists achieve in the coming year!
The 2020 finalists for The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University
Forestry, Agriculture, And Poultry Production: Interview With The 2018 Prizewinners
The Lab’s 2018 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was recently awarded to Mariana da Cruz Albertazzi and Raphaël Loubert for the project: Agrosilvopastoral system with free range laying hens. We spoke with the prizewinners about the benefits of agrosilvopastoral systems and their plans for a scale-up of this project. Please enjoy this interview with the prizewinners!
Prizewinners Raphaël and Mariana at their pilot project
The Lab: Why did you decide to focus on an agrosilvopastoral system over other sustainability related projects?
Mariana and Raphaël: Our area of expertise is agronomy (a branch of agriculture that deals with soil and crop management). We focused on agrosilvopastoral systems because they rely on ecological principles that allow the closure of cycles, using the residual products of one production cycle to feed another, thus reducing the need for external inputs. For example, the animal component of the system (in this case, the hens) contributes to the control of weeds and pests, as well as the improvement of soil fertility with manure. The forestry component provides forage species (plants that are grown to be eaten by livestock), which are rich in nitrogen and serve as food for the animals and as a fertilizer for the soil. Finally, the agricultural component can generate short- or medium-term income for communities and food for the animals.
Taking into account that this type of system is environmentally sound, we proposed a project that can also be economically sustainable (by taking advantage of each available resource and its contributions) and socially (by functioning as a model farm and promoting the establishment of this type of business among the members of the community in which the project is located).
Construction of the chicken coop during the pilot project
The Lab: What made you choose to implement the scale-up of this project in Bajos del Toro?
Mariana and Raphaël: We decided to implement the project in Bajos del Toro because we have a family plot available to be developed there. It is also an advantageous location because this region of Costa Rica attracts a lot of eco-tourism, which makes it feasible to give the project an agro-eco-touristic approach. However, this kind of project can be developed in almost any part of the world, by taking into account that the animal and plant species implemented are suitable for the edaphoclimatic characteristics of the region.
The Lab: Based on what you learned from the pilot project, what changes do you plan to make when implementing it on a larger scale?
Mariana and Raphaël: In the pilot project we tested three diets for hens that had different proportions of concentrated feed and of the plant Alocasia macrorrhiza, with the aim of reducing food costs. We chose Alocasia macrorrhiza for this experiment primarily because it is a plant that has high nutritional value, grows easily, and requires little care at the agronomic level, making it an economically viable alternative to the use of concentrated feed. Thanks to this, we discovered that we can reduce the use of concentrated feed by 30%.
In addition, it was determined that a hen can control 95% of the weeds in 2.1 square meters in a period of 48 days, which will allow us to define the exact number of hens we need in a given area to control a certain percentage of weeds and, in this way, reduce the use of labor for weed control.
Grazing areas at the pilot project that correspond to different feed levels, used to determine the time required by poultry for weed control
The Lab: How did The Lab’s sustainability principles influence the development of this project?
Mariana and Raphaël: The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University motivated us to develop this project in its entirety. We went from having just an idea of something that we are passionate about, to working on it and developing it into a feasible project.
The sustainability principles guided the development of the project. For example, our project covers the material perspective by ensuring the closure of cycles, which as we mentioned above, uses the residual products of one production cycle to feed another, which reduces the need for external inputs, waste of resources, and the generation of contaminants. The aforementioned also translates into a reduction in production costs (which contributes to the economic sustainability of the project) and into the preservation of life by reducing the use of agrochemicals that put at risk the preservation of flora and fauna, as well as human health.
Regarding the social approach, the project seeks to motivate the generation of similar businesses among producers in the region. We hope to form partnerships with the objective of reducing production costs and facilitating the performance of certain tasks (for example, the marketing and transport of products to the points of sale). In addition, the project will have an agro-eco-tourism approach that will promote awareness among the general public regarding the need to produce food in harmony with the environment and with the people involved in its production.
Finally, our project covers the spiritual domain simply because it will allow us to do what pleases us in life, which is to design and implement efficient and environmentally friendly food production systems, giving us the opportunity to have constant contact with the soil, the food that nourishes us, and with the people who produce and consume it.
The Lab: What are you hoping to achieve with this project in the future?
Mariana and Raphaël: We wish for this project to be established successfully in Bajos del Toro, and for it to generate data and serve as a model for other agricultural producers in the region and around the world. The idea is to establish the agro-forestry component at the beginning of the year 2021. Later, when the plants have a suitable height and development, we plan to introduce the animal component, which in this case would be laying hens. Subsequently, a food processing plant will be built to give added value to the agricultural products obtained.
The 2018 prizewinners with various community members who assisted with the construction of the pilot project’s chicken coop
We wish Mariana and Raphael luck in their future persuits, and we look forward to seeing how they implement their scale up in the coming years! For more information about The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University, please contact us at admin[at]sustainabilitylabs[dot]org.
2018 Prizewinner Announced!
In December 2018, The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University was awarded to the team of Mariana da Cruz Albertazzi and Raphael Loubert for the project: Agrosilvopastoral system with free range laying hens. The $10,000 prize is awarded annually to the student project that best exemplifies The Lab’s five core principles of sustainability, and the team will use the proceeds to implement a scale-up of their pilot project.
2018 prizewinners Raphael Loubert and Mariana da Cruz Albertazzi
This project features an agrosilvopastoral system, which is a type of agricultural system that incorporates crops, forestry, and the pasturage of animals. Through their pilot project, Da Cruz Albertazzi and Loubert showed that poultry under pasturage results in weed control, higher soil nutrient content, and economic gains from egg production. They proposed to scale up their project on a parcel of land located in Bajos del Toro in central Costa Rica, which consists of 2 hectares of pasture land and 0.5 hectares of primary forest. The team plans to develop an integrated, sustainable farm that consists of various interconnected elements, including the pasturage of poultry, the production of agricultural and forestry products, the cultivation of food products, and agro-eco tourism.
Prizewinners with Irene Alvarado, Professor at EARTH University; Yasmine Chan Blanco, Dean of Academic Affairs at EARTH University; Michael Ben-Eli, Lab founder; and Arturo Condo, President of EARTH University
We look forward to seeing how the prizewinners move forward with this project, and we extend a special thank you to Ivor and Barbara Freeman and Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow-Brill for their continued support of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University.
Transforming Packaging Through Bamboo: Sustainability Excellence At Seedstars Summit 2018
Who knew that a simple switch from wood to bamboo pallets could catalyze such drastic, sustainability related changes in the world? This concept, proposed by entrepreneur Ignacio Barrientos and founder of the Costa Rican start-up Bambu Pallet, has vast implications for reducing harmful emissions and countering deforestation caused by the packaging industry. At The Sustainability Laboratory, we liked this solution so much that we awarded it The Lab’s prize for Sustainability Excellence at this year’s Seedstars Regional Summit in Costa Rica.
Seedstars is a Swiss organization that promotes innovation around the world. Each year it holds competitions in different cities, in which local entrepreneurs present their solutions to various sustainability related challenges. In Costa Rica, Seedstars partners with ProComer, an organization that promotes innovation in industry throughout the country, put on the Seedstars Regional Summit. The event took place on September 25, 2018, in San José. A panel of judges selects the winning start-up, which then goes on to the Seedstars World competition in Switzerland. The Lab also participates in the event, offering a separate prize for Sustainability Excellence.
Judges at the Seedstars Regional Summit: José Rafael Brenes (Bolsa Nacional de Valores), Henry Chen Wienstein (Cockpit Innovation), Irene Alvarado Van der Laat (EARTH University and representative of The Lab), María Noel de la Paz (Seedstars World), and Pedro Beirute Prada (ProComer)
Representing The Lab at the summit were Irene Alvarado Van der Laat, professor at EARTH University and one of the partners of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University, and Michael Gukovsky, a Lab board member. We award a $2,000 prize for Sustainability Excellence to the company that best demonstrates innovative solutions to sustainability related problems. This year’s prize went to Bambu Pallet.
Ignacio Barrientos of Bambu Pallet
And why bamboo pallets? Pallets make up an essential part of the shipping and packaging industry, as they are involved in the transportation of goods around the world. Yet traditional, wooden pallets carry an environmental cost: the demand for hardwood contributes to deforestation, many pallets are chemically treated to prevent the spread of mold, and pallets are generally difficult to recycle. Thus the solution to use bamboo, which according to Barrientos is stronger and less contaminating than treated wood, and is easier to be grown and produced by local communities. According to the Bambu Pallet website, “We have managed to construct pallets with zero deforestation, less energy consumption, and a greater rate of oxygen regeneration – which makes us a company that cares about conservation and the regeneration of the environment.”
We offer our congratulations to Bambu Pallet, and we look forward to seeing how this concept impacts the sustainability landscape within the packaging industry.
Ignacio Barrientos with Mike Gukovsky, Irene Alvarado Van der Laat, and Pedro Beirute Prada
Finalists Selected For The 2019 Sustainability Prize
This summer, three finalists were selected for The Lab’s 2019 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University.
Each year, third year students at EARTH University learn about The Lab’s Five Core Principles of Sustainability and how to use these principles to develop innovative, impactful, sustainability related projects. Students then have the opportunity to submit a project idea for the Sustainability Prize competition, which is coordinated and led by EARTH faculty member Irene Alvarado.
This year, eight project ideas were submitted during the university’s annual Sustainability And Innovation Forum. The students presented their project ideas to an audience of over 100 people, which included university faculty and staff, fellow classmates, and local community members. After a challenging deliberation, the judges, consisting of local entrepreneurs, community leaders, university staff, students, and others, voted on the top projects. Of the eight submitted, three finalists were selected. The finalists will develop and implement their projects throughout the next year, and the winning project will be awarded The Lab’s Sustainability Prize, which consists of $10,000 for project implementation, with $1,000 earmarked for the high school attended by the prizewinner.
The three projects selected for the 2019 Sustainability Prize are as follows:
Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori (Peru), for the project “Treatment of waterbodies using biofilters for water access in rural areas in Arequipa, Peru”. This project consists of a water purification system, utilizing artisanal water purification methods to remove heavy metals and other contaminants from water, to be implemented in Peru’s Lake Titicaca and replicable in zones experiencing heavy metal water contamination.
Finalist Yesenia Sandra Cahuana Condori with Arturo Condo, president of EARTH University
Malachi Troy Symonds (Bermuda) and María José Rojas Gutiérrez (Costa Rica), for the project “Controlled fishing and vegetable production”. This project consists of a food production project for fishing and vegetables, to be implemented in Bermuda and replicable in other coastal zones, to combat the need for imported food in Bermuda and other Caribbean islands.
Finalists Malachi Troy Symonds and María José Rojas Gutiérrez with Marcial Chaverri of Seedstars Procomer and Michael Gukovsky, a Lab board member
Forget Shareka, Respect Musiyiwa, Precious Nemutenzi (Zimbabwe) and Blessing Anyibama (Nigeria), for the project “The Life Hope Future Association (LiHFA) Youth and Community Development Centre” This project involves education and food security in Zimbabwe. This project works with vulnerable women and children in rural Zimbabwe, enhancing educational opportunities for children while establishing a farm for local food production.
Finalists Blessing Anyibama and Precious Nematanza with Michael Gukovsky, Marco Gomez Jenkis, and Vladimir Jiménez (professors and researchers at Costa Rica Institute of Technology)
Each finalist is provided with funding from the university to support the implementation of these projects throughout the year, with the guidance of EARTH University faculty. At the end of the fourth year, the project that best exemplifies The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability” is awarded the Sustainability Prize.
Congratulations to all of the participants for their entrepreneurial efforts. Finalists will be hard at work throughout the year to implement their projects, and the 2019 prizewinner will be announced in December 2019. We look forward to seeing what the finalists achieve in the coming year!
Stay tuned for the upcoming announcement of the 2018 prizewinner, to be announced in December 2018!
Farm to Market
This year’s runners-up were Johanna Carmona and Carolina Aguilar, for their project Cultivarme, a marketing strategy for contract farmers in Limón, Costa Rica, providing economic support and financial leverage to farmers, ensuring fair trade, and providing consumers with access to fresh, local goods.
Carolina (left) and Johanna (right) with goods from local farmers, sold on the EARTH campus
The agricultural production systems for small and medium-scale producers often have trouble responding to price fluctuations in the market, and therefore receiving fair prices with regularity.
After analyzing the current situation, Johanna and Carolina established a pilot marketing strategy for the goods of contract farmers local to Limón, Costa Rica, providing economic support to producers as a means of financial leverage. In addition to ensuring direct and fair trade, the plan granted consumers at EARTH University access to fresh, high-quality local products. This trial run was intended from the start to assess replicability for other agricultural regions.
Local producers and their families
The project was structured in four phases: elaboration of the business plan, general diagnosis, design of the logistical process, and finally, application and evaluation of the system.
The results identified the potential demand and supply of products from the area, the need for direct and fair markets, and a financial analysis of the strategy. The marketing model, and the market itself, was successful on the EARTH campus, leading to greater awareness of responsible consumption and production, the reduction of pollution, and the empowerment of local producers. The team concluded that local consumption has a strategic advantage, fulfilling social, economic and environmental aspects of sustainability. The prizewinners hope to implement this model in other agricultural regions in the future.
Local produce on the EARTH campus
This year, deliberations for the prizewinner were particularly tough, with only a hair’s breadth separating the winners from the runners-up. Inspired by the quality of both of the projects, Ivor Freeman, one of the lead funders of the prize, committed $2,500 on the spot for the runners-up, for the continued development of Cultivarme. To read more about the prize ceremony and the prizewinners, click here.
2017 Prizewinner Announced!
In December 2017, The Sustainability Laboratory and EARTH University awarded the annual $10,000 Sustainability Prize to Jhoselyn Dayhana Mendoza Lozano and Kalem García Abad for their project: “Green energy-powered desalinization of drinking water.”
The project, which was inspired by the lack of access to clean drinking water in coastal areas during the April 2016 earthquake in the prizewinners’ native Ecuador, was a design for a home desalinization system that runs on coconut waste instead of fossil fuels. For more information about the project, please see the prizewinner page on this website. You can also read a short interview with the prizewinners, here.
This year’s runners-up were Johanna Carmona and Carolina Aguilar, for their project Cultivarme, a marketing strategy for contract farmers in Limón, Costa Rica, providing economic support and financial leverage to farmers, ensuring fair trade, and providing consumers with access to fresh, local goods. For more information about this project, click here.
This year, deliberations for the prizewinner were particularly tough, with only a hair’s breadth separating the winners from the runners-up. Inspired by the quality of both of the projects, Ivor Freeman, one of the lead funders of the prize, committed $2,500 on the spot for the runners-up, for the continued development of their important project. This speaks to the high level of innovation sparked by the prize, and to the value of the projects undertaken by all of the prize finalists.
From left: Michael Gucovsky, Lab Board Member; Irene Alvarado, EARTH Faculty and Prize Coordinator; Kalem García Abad, Prizewinner; Jhoselyn Mendoza, Prizewinner; Michael Ben-Eli, Founder of The Lab; Carolina Aguilar, Runner-up; Johanna Carmona, Runner-up; Ivor Freeman, Prize Funder
A special thank you to Ivor and Barbara Freeman and Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow-Brill for their continued support of The Sustainability Prize.
The 2017 Sustainability Prizewinners were Jhoselyn Dayhana Mendoza Lozano and Kalem García Abad for their project: “Green energy-powered desalinization of drinking water.” The project involved a design for a home desalinization system that runs on coconut waste instead of fossil fuels. Please enjoy this short interview with the prizewinners:
Why did you decide on this project?
We were looking for a topic related to water, because it is one of the principal problems worldwide. This coincided with the earthquake in our home country of Ecuador in April 2016, which affected the coastal areas. The largest problem the people in the region were having after the disaster was access to clean, fresh water for consumption.
We knew a little bit about this problem because one of us, Jhoselyn, is from this area. Kalem also remembers being at the beach and seeing signs that said, “save water, it is limited.” It’s a seemingly simple sentence which says a lot!
Yaku Thani (Quechua for “healthy water”) was developed to provide a solution to this problem, with the design of a system to desalinate seawater using clean energy. Desalinization is a technique that already exists, but it currently uses conventional energy, which emits CO2 and contributes to climate change.
Through Yaku Thani, we proposed a method for creating clean water without negatively affecting the environment, using a gasification technique for the production of syngas, a clean gas, and using coconut fiber waste as energy.
Jhoselyn and Kalem performing trials with materials used for gasification.
How was your solution fitted to the specifics of the region? How might it be adapted for other regions?
It’s important to say that just 2.5% of the world’s water supply is fresh water and the rest is in the sea. What’s more, the underground wells which provide freshwater have salinized over the years, creating even more scarcity.
The coastal region of Ecuador, but also many other coastal regions worldwide, has all the necessary ingredients to make the project work: a large quantity of salt water, and the biomass required for the gasification process (in the form of coconut husks).
The system would be useful for water issues in other regions, but the purpose might change. In other regions, it might be a way to purify the water that comes from the tap. The source of biomass could also be swapped out for materials that are more prevalent in different areas, but for that we would need further trials to see which works best with our system.
The Yaku Thani desalinization system
How did The Lab’s sustainability principles inform the way you designed this project?
We knew we wanted to design the desalinization system, but The Lab’s sustainability principles helped us connect this aim to a higher, more interconnected purpose. With the Yaku Thani machine, we want to provide more than just water, we want to provide security. We want to ensure coastal families will have a good life, in harmony with the environment: reusing local waste, while cheapening the cost and lowering the barriers to clean water.
What is next for Yaku Thani? What and how are you trying to improve?
During the process, we had evidence that our desalinization system works, but we will have to purify and improve the quality of the water. The seawater near the coast is contaminated by human activity—a problem that also affects the largest desalination companies, who must take measures to ensure the quality and safety of the water.
There are techniques in existence for water purification, and we already have ideas about how to build this into our system and produce clean water on a medium-scale. Our main barrier at the moment is that we are currently living far away from one another while we work at different companies, building experience in our respective fields. We look forward to working on this project in the future!
Kalem (left) and Jhoselyn (right) presenting the project last year
For more information about the project, please see the prizewinner page on this website.
Finalists Selected for the Sustainability Prize 2018
Six finalists have been selected for the 2018 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University.
The results are as follows:
Finalist #1: Elia Romero and María Nohelia Rojas, “CUÑATAI: Aggregate value of harvests by low-income women in rural Bolivia”
Finalist #2: Raphaël Loubert and Mariana da Cruz Albertazzi, “Poultry production associated with an agroforestry system”
Finalist #3: Maddalena Bettonni and Darling Blanco, “INSPIRA: Corporate Social Responsibility model”
Finalist #4: Marc Présumé, “Desalination of sea water for agricultural uses”
Finalist #5: Noemi Vásquez Bajurdo, “Creation of a microenterprise of coffee products”
Finalist #6: Franco Gustave and Sharpton Budji Toussaint, “Kore Ti Plante: Production of compost with organic waste generated by the families of Ouanaminthe”
Congratulations to all the participants for their entrepreneurial efforts, especially those that made it through to the final. They will be entitled to financing for realization of the project prototype. In the next year, they will refine this idea and present it in the “Finals” for The Sustainability Prize. This $10,000 prize has been sponsored by The Sustainability Laboratory since 2009, in recognition of the graduation project that best incorporates The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability.”
Best of luck to you all!
Lab Awards Prize for Sustainability Excellence at Seedstars Summit
In collaboration with its Sustainability Prize Program at EARTH University, and Professor Irene Alvarado Van der Laat, who runs the program, The Sustainability Laboratory recently sponsored a prize for sustainability excellence at the Seedstars Regional Summit in Costa Rica. Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, Founder of The Lab, sat on the jury, and awarded the prize to the Costa Rican company Balanced Energy.
Presenting the prize (from left): Roberto Bolaños, Balanced Energy; Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, The Lab; Germán Jiménez, Balanced Energy; and Dr. Irene Alvarado Van der Laat, EARTH University
Balanced Energy is run by a group of engineers currently transforming waste plastics into alternative fuels, in order to reduce plastic waste and fossil fuel consumption, and to create job opportunities for people recovering plastic waste. B-Energy has debuted a fuel called Polydiésel, equivalent to diesel gas, which has already been tested in cars to great results.
At the summit (from left): Michael Gucovsky, Lab Board Member; Dr. Irene Alvarado Van der Laat, EARTH Professor and Lab Advisory Board Member; Marcial Chaverri, Procomer Costa Rica; and Dr. Michael Ben-Eli
Seedstars is an international effort to connect with the digital changemakers of the emerging world. As an incubator of educators and investors, they facilitate innovation in emerging markets through competitions, conferences, education and more.
Turning Rural Women To Artisan Entrepreneurs
Sindy Patricia Ramos Pocón from Guatemala won The Lab’s 2016 Sustainability Prize for her project, which trained rural women to create high-quality crafts from banana pseudostem fiber, a waste byproduct of nearby banana plantations.
Sindy with Dr. Ben-Eli of The Lab and Irene Alvarado of EARTH University
Sindy identified a group of Ecuadoran artisans, the Association of Women Agro-artisans (AMA), working with banana pseudostems and conceived of a pilot program to train rural women from Limón, Costa Rica to process the pseudostem fibers and turn them into high-quality crafts like hats, wallets, handbags, jewelry and more.
Familiarizing the women with the material
Sindy raised $12,000 to bring three Ecuadoran artisan women to Costa Rica for a five-day training program for 35 rural women. Other training sessions followed, culminating in one of the Costa Rican trainees forming her own women’s group, and training another seven women to create banana pseudostem crafts. As their skill in working with the material grew, these women became a formal association. Handicrafts Kalöm was born, named for the local indigenous word for “banana.” Sindy and the women were able to create a reputable brand, and build relationships with local retailers to get the products in stores.
Trainees processing the pseudostem fiber
Until now, little has been done to innovate around banana waste in the rural areas of Costa Rica and Guatemala. The raw material for these crafts, banana pseudostem, are acquired at no cost, and the ease of drying and processing means products can be made comfortably from home. These crafts rely on nothing but human capital: new skills, leadership and creativity, and indeed, the women are constantly innovating to create new products.
“With this project, a group of rural Costa Rican women were able form a sustainable agribusiness, and will now be able to train other rural women to do the same, generating new job opportunities and decreasing CO2 emissions by adding value to an unused waste product,” said Sindy.
Sindy, who is a MasterCard Foundation Scholar, now plans to expand Handicrafts Kalöm, by replicating the training process with rural, low-income Guatemalan women who live near plantain plantations in Escuintala.
“Thanks to the prize, I will be able to sponsor Costa Rican trainees to begin training Guatemalan women in the skills they learned from Ecuadorian artisans. My dream is to be an example of a brand with a social and environmental approach, that also has global reach,” she said.
Kalöm has also become an approved vendor through the “Handmade” section of Amazon.com, which has the potential to significantly expand sales for their products.
Some of Kalöm’s products
“I am happy and proud. I’ve realized nothing is impossible if you have the motivation and initiative. I have struggled to be where I am today and I feel as if life has rewarded me. This project has really opened a lot of doors for me,” said Sindy.
Finalists Selected for the Sustainability Prize 2017
This June, four finalists for the 2017 Sustainability Prize at EARTH University were selected.
This $10,000 prize has been sponsored by The Sustainability Laboratory since 2009, in recognition of the graduation project that best incorporates The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability.”
The four finalists were chosen from among eight projects, represented by 12 students, who all had the chance to present their projects to the jury, faculty and fellow students.
The results are as follows:
Finalist #1: Emilio Patricio Suárez, “Preparation of biodegradable substitutes for plastic materials.”
Finalist #2: Gerson Bringuez, “Family Business Development for the ALCOR Brand in Guatemala”
Finalist #3: Johanna Carmona, “Creating a pilot for a production network and marketing plan for small producers through contract farming in the Municipality of La Unión, Antioquia, Colombia”
Finalist #4: Jhoselyn Dayana Mendoza and Kalem García Abad, “Purification of salt water using green energy”
Congratulations to all the participants for their entrepreneurial efforts, especially those that made it through to the final. They will be entitled to financing for realization of the project prototype. In the next year, they will refine this idea and present it in the “Finals” for The Sustainability Prize. Best of luck to you all!
Michael Ben-Eli of The Lab with the Sustainability Prize 2017 Finalists
The 2016 Prize will be awarded in December.
Finalists Selected for The Sustainability Prize 2016
This following is a dispatch from Jorge Manuel Dengo O. from EARTH University’s Business Program. Following changes to the structure of the Prize program, delineated in a previous post, four finalists in their third year at EARTH were chosen to compete for the prize during their fourth year. EARTH will award the finalists $5,000 each to implement their project over the course of the year, under the guidance of EARTH faculty. The project that shows the most promise by graduation time will be awarded The Lab’s $10,000 Sustainability Prize.
This summer, four finalists for the Sustainability Prize at EARTH University 2016 were selected.
The Sustainability Prize has been sponsored by The Sustainability Laboratory since 2009, in recognition of the proposal that best incorporates The Lab’s “Five Core Principles of Sustainability.” This prize consists of $ 10,000 for the winner, with $1,000 earmarked for the prizewinner’s high school.
The event was held within the framework of Integration Week, Level III. Originally we started with a list of 17 projects and, in time, it was narrowed down to eight. During Integration Week, these eight projects, represented by 10 students, were presented, all of them seeking a balance between human activities, food production, and environmental conservation. We believe they were wonderful examples of the ability of youth to lead and present game-changing ideas for the benefit of humanity.
The 8 participating projects were:
- Integrated Farm in the Municipality of Samaipata, Santa Cruz, Bolivia by Lucia Fernandez
- Financial Inclusion for Entrepreneurial Women from Ngatataek Maasai, Kenya by Abigael Simaloi Pertet
- Fresh Foods Farmers Association by Justina Bentil, Philip Bissiwu, Primrose Najjemba
- Vermicompost Based on Organic Waste, as a Waste Management Alternative in Quito, Ecuador by Andrea Paola Ortega Montalvo
- Waranka Cavia, SA, a Company Devoted to the Production of Guinea Pigs by Maria Flor Guzman Brito
- Development of a Fortified Flour Based on Traditional Crops to Counter the Problem of Malnutrition in Guatemala and Costa Rica by Otto Enrique Quin Rivera
- Production and Marketing of Crafts Made of Fiber Banana Pseudostem from the Village of Pinula, Municipality of Tiquisate, Escuintla, Guatemala by Sindy Patricia Ramos Pocon
- Development of Semi-Mature Cheeses, Ricotta and Whey-Based Drinks as Gourmet Products such as gourmet cheeses, Promoting Typical Guatemalan Culture and Flavors with Ingredients Produced by Local Farmers in Retalhuleu, Guatemala by Antonio Bressani Cordova
We wish to thank all those who supported this process, especially Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, sponsor of the award, and Professor Irene Alvarado, for her guidance and perseverance in working with the students year after year.
The selection, in which teachers, students and other audience members participated, was a difficult job, full of excitement and anticipation.
Here are the results:
Finalist #1: Otto Quin Rivera: ” Development of a Fortified Flour Based on Traditional Crops to Counter the Problem of Malnutrition in Guatemala and Costa Rica.”
Finalist #2: Sindy Ramos Pocon with “Production and Marketing of Crafts Made of Fiber Banana Pseudostem from the Village of Pinula, Municipality of Tiquisate, Escuintla, Guatemala”
Finalist #3: Abigael Simaloi Pertet with “Financial Inclusion for Entrepreneurial Women from Ngatataek Maasai, Kenya”
Finalist #4: Andrea Ortega Montalvo with “Vermicompost Based on Organic Waste, as a Waste Management Alternative in Quito, Ecuador”
Congratulations to all the participants for their entrepreneurial efforts, especially those that made it through to the final. They will be entitled to financing for realization of the project prototype. In the next year, they will refine this idea and present it in the “Finals” for The Sustainability Prize. Best of luck to you all! Thank you for your ideas as we strive every day to make a better world!
Update: Changes to the Prize Structure
We are pleased to announce a change in the structure of The Lab’s Sustainability Prize at EARTH University that we feel will improve students’ abilities to implement their chosen projects. After five years of offering this prize, and in recognition of its tremendous value for students, EARTH University has decided to “match” the financial contribution of The Lab by investing from the fore in the development of the projects that will ultimately be considered for the prize.
In the past, all students in their Fourth Year would have the opportunity to enter the prize competition, and projects could be in various stages of development and implementation. The major change to the prize structure is that now, students will apply in their Third Year to be considered for the prize. During “Integration Week,” which includes the “Sustainability Prize Seminar,” up to four Third-Year finalists will be selected by students and faculty. These finalists will be awarded $5,000 each by EARTH University towards implementation of their project idea. 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.
This means that there will be no prize awarded in 2015, as student finalists chosen this year will be eligible for the prize in 2016. To read about the finalists for the 2016 prize, click here.
Living like Zooids
I recently had the chance to interview 2014 Prizewinner Antony Castro Rivera about his graduation project, “Implementation of Model Adaptations for a Sustainable Urban Home in Heredia, Costa Rica,” which turned his family home into a sustainable and profitable entity. I caught him right before a backpacking trip to Rio, where he plans to do some traveling before scaling up his hydroponic lettuce business!
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
On the inspiration for the project:
At the time I was deciding on my project, I read about an animal called a pyrosome, informally called a sea unicorn in Spanish. It looks like a single organism, but it belongs to a classification of animal called a zooid: a collective of individuals that acts as one, similar to bee colonies. That was my specific inspiration. I was looking at these animals and thinking about my home as a home-sized fishbowl. I thought about we as humans as a kind of pyrosome, with external individuals protecting the internal ones, and the internals providing food to the external. I wanted to make my home a kind of example, and I wanted to become a seed disperser in my community: not just with vegetable seeds, but with microorganism seeds and earthworm seeds for sharing. I wanted my home and my community to start functioning like a zooid.
About the project itself:
The idea was to make my home “blue flag” sustainable. Then I realized that the certification is meaningless and you can do everything better on your own, outside of the certification bureaucracy.
I started investigating. I found that there is a lack of information necessary to determine what human intervention means in this context, so I decided to provide a theoretical and practical framework of my experience as an economic and technical reference for others who would like to do the same thing.
I started looking at my surroundings and broke everything down to the basics: water, light, heat, food, the wastes we all produce. I took into account that time equals money for most people. That gave me the basis for building my model.
I quantified all the wastes my home produced during the study time and determined recycling methods for plastics, paper, cans, etc. I gave our recyclables to people in the community who work in this area, and who will pick it up for free. Like in the zooid model, it gives them revenue and they are happy to come get it, and it contributes to wastes not ending up in the garbage.
I started checking global methods for disposing of organic wastes. There were two very promising methods: earthworm composting (vermicompost) and a Japanese method of creating microorganisms for compost with fruit peels, salt, dairy cultures and sugar. I followed both of these methods and made earthworms from the seed, as well as microorganisms, for sharing with others.
For the energy factor, I borrowed a voltmeter from the university and measured all electro-domestics to determine the biggest power consumers as well as the time of consumption. I made this document available for others in the community to be able to determine their own domestic electricity consumption patterns.
I projected the viability of installing solar panels, but it wasn’t economically viable because we didn’t consume enough energy to qualify for a lower price. I started looking around for other possible adaptions, and found an example of a local guy who had made a solar water heater. I included his work in the study with instructions of how to do it. It’s viable and it works! The electric water heater accounts for the most consumption in our home, so it reduced our energy bill by 20%.
I also made the projection for rain collection on my roof based on local meteorological data, and determined that it was viable. Here it rains a lot! We made the adaptation and we got lots of water. Unfortunately, you can’t drink it or use it on the skin because it has some microorganisms. But it can be used for washing the car, cleaning, stuff like that.
The economic, social and ecological impacts of the project:
The project had to have a very convincing economic element for my family. I decided on hydroponic agriculture, and made about 100 pounds of hydroponic plants. I invested mostly in lettuce, because you can consume it all day in salads. We decided to sell it with its roots, so it’s still alive and people are getting contact with a live plant. Many of them saw it as so beautiful that they didn’t eat it, just left it to produce flowers in the kitchen. That was an interesting reaction that I didn’t expect.
I made the hydroponic concentrated nutrient solution myself and compared it with the one available on the market. We found that a solution is 10 or 20 times as expensive to buy than to produce, and micronutrients are 60 times more expensive on the market than to self-produce. The market doesn’t reflect the real cost of these solutions. So people can do it themselves! It’s not as expensive as they say.
In terms of profitability: In the beginning of the project, you have to invest in infrastructure, which will take time to cover with revenue. Within a matter of two years, however, you can be paid back for all of the costs associated with infrastructure and manpower. This year, 70% of my income came from the 1,000 lettuce heads, and 3% from chiles and small food items, including medicinal plants. I am currently making projections for 2,500 lettuce heads, which would make the project more viable.
Every month the project generated 8.5% of an average Costa Rican base salary, so over the course of the year it would generate 102%. That’s an extra salary per year, which for a low-income family would represent a big windfall.
It also adds ecological value to your field. We’ve seen more lizards, more spiders, more birds. We even see bees pollinizing different plants. There is ecological synergy, and if you share spaces with your neighbors then you have economic synergy, too. If you have 12 people in this system, you would have the equivalent of an extra person producing revenues for everyone. Not to mention the social aspects—giving the children hobbies, which is important in my neighborhood, where children have very hard experiences.
One major element was the live, biological assets. They make the project more interesting from an economic standpoint because of their reproductive capabilities. For example, you have 1,000 earthworms for composting, and you share them with others, and in a month you will recover everything you shared and the others will have the same. It’s been pretty neat with my closer neighbors. I tried to share specifically with people who already grew some medicinal plants, people with some agricultural area, families with children. I tried to involve all the children I could! But the people I was most interested in were university-age people, because of the fire we feel inside. We know that we need seven planet earths to survive and that we have just one. It’s ingrained in us and so we are working together to create synergies: You know about architecture? Ok, help me with this part. You shouldn’t do it with that percentage sand, you can do it better by combining these materials. Thank you very much, here take this seed. And we keep in contact and we share.
It’s not as romantic as it looks! I had some problems. The corn I planted outside was stolen. A girl was using it to feed her macaw. My sunflowers were also stolen. I told the kids who stole it: when you plant, you have the right to harvest, but if you don’t plant, you don’t have the right. After that, they helped me plant beans and they saw it wasn’t as easy as they thought. They saw the work that goes into it, and they also had the experience of planting their own crops. I saw it as a positive in the end.
How his family felt about transforming their home:
They feel good about it. They have been exposed to the process through the university and through my and my sister’s school. They’ve become aware of the situation at the global scale and they are concerned about doing something for us, for the planet, for the animals. They are happy to do it in our home.
We had been thinking of building apartments off the house and I told them not to spend money on that, and that I would provide something different, and even more beautiful and satisfying, and they said “Ok, Tony, we’ll give you a year. Show us it’s viable and we will see.” They were satisfied.
How others felt about the project’s viability:
I was invited to the public university in Costa Rica to present this project to the students. Then, I asked them to complete a survey. I found that the people lack information, but they are interested in these home modifications, and they think it’s viable as a means to creating independence. People are looking for ways to reconnect with the agricultural past of Costa Rica. I also surveyed my neighbors, who told me that they have the space, but that time is a limiting factor, which is why I tried to make these adaptations “cheaper” in terms of time. For example: because we had lots of water, more than we could use on the plants, my father and I developed an idea for a gravity drip irrigation system. I developed some prototypes of the drip parts on my own, since gravity dripping is viable but not yet available on the market. Gravity irrigation means people would just have to open the system and let the water flow and all the plants would be irrigated. They wouldn’t have to go one by one, which is a big time limitation.
Antony’s Short-term plans:
Having a white sheet of paper in front of you after four years of university is an interesting sensation. I really love backpacking, having only necessities, and sharing with people in different countries (not just hotel people). I love contemplating landscapes. I’m hoping to do that for the next two months.
When I get back, I’m planning to produce my own microenterprise to expand into 2,500 lettuce heads with roots. When I do that, I will have my income capital and if everything goes as planned, I will invest in a 3D printer to further develop the prototype for the gravity drip irrigation system. I’m interested in developing printable models for gravity drip irrigation to send by mail, the digital files you need to print them on your own 3D printer, as well as the tutorial you need for installing it.
I’ve also started consulting at the university, producing soldier fly production for their wastes, which can be converted into animal feed. Right now, the production is 20 kilos per day, but I know we can produce more with some adaptations.
Long term plans:
I started my education studying economics and finance, but I realized I don’t want to work in an office all the days of my life, so I went to EARTH to be in the field. It was a nice experience, but I don’t want to live in that world either. I think I’m more of a hybrid, which is why I’m interested in urban agriculture.
All my life, my favorite hobbies have been to contemplate stars and read about quantum physics. We are living in an era which will lead humanity to another scale and quantum helps comprehend these processes. In the future, I really want to study physics. That’s my goal.
A Model Integrated Farm in Guatemala
The following is an interview with Issa Secaira Mancía about her graduation project, “A Proposal for an Agro-Ecological Integrated Model Farm for the Training Center at Chuitzanchaj, Solola, Guatemala.” It has been edited for content and clarity.
Issa with Lab Board Member, Michael Gucovsky, and Prize Program Advisors, Professor Irene Alvarado (right) and Professor Jane Yeomans (left).
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I am from Guatemala. I lived my first years in a farm close to Antigua, Guatemala, and then I moved to Panajachel, Sololá, where I grew up. I have always enjoyed being surrounded by nature and I love to explore it. I also feel a very strong connection with Mayan culture and I have always been closely involved in community service, helping children, youth and families from the surrounding communities. Hiking and bird-watching are the two hobbies I enjoy the most. I also love gardening, working at the orchard, growing fruits and vegetables and cooking healthy dishes. I also enjoy reading a good book, swimming and meditating.
On the inspiration for the project:
I lived for many years in Panajachel, a town near Lake Atitlán, in the highlands of Guatemala. This region is very rich in natural resources, biodiversity and culture. However, population is growing exponentially and natural resources are being exploited at a rapid rate. Poverty, malnutrition, and illiteracy remain major problems in many communities. Mountains are deforested, soil degraded, and water polluted. Equilibrium between human activities and nature is urgently needed. Sustainable agriculture brings diverse opportunities to improve people’s lives and at the same time helps preserve natural resources through responsible management. This inspired me to develop a project that would empower people through an exchange of knowledge and practical tools in sustainability-related topics.
On the project itself:
The purpose of this graduation project was to propose an agro-ecological design for an integrated farm for a training center in Chuitzanchaj, Sololá, Guatemala, thereby contributing to the sustainable development of the basin of Lake Atitlán. The aim is to empower people through an exchange of knowledge and practical tools in topics relating to sustainability. The first phase of the project consisted of making a diagnosis using a feature-oriented domain analysis (FODA) in order to assess the production and educational potential of the intended project. In the next phase, data was collected and analyzed in relation to the cultural, technical and scientific knowledge needed to transform conventional agro-ecosystems into integrated and sustainable food production systems. Finally, the project was presented to the Asociación Vivamos Mejor for implementation. Five principal components were chosen: agroecology, livestock, agroforestry, training centers, and organic fertilizers. All of these components are interconnected in order to guarantee an integrated production, the closing of cycles, and the efficient flow of energy and matter throughout the agro-ecosystems.
A graphic detailing the project’s integration of The Lab’s Five Core Principles of Sustainability.
On highlights of the project and its impact:
When I did my first visit to the site, I identified the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the project. Based on that, I proposed strategies to take advantage of the strengths and opportunities, minimize debilities and neutralize threats. I am very grateful to see that the NGO, Vivamos Mejor, is implementing the ideas I proposed in my graduation project. Together with Vivamos Mejor we established short, mid and long-term strategies in order to guarantee the continuity of the project.
For example, during the visit, I saw many bees and proposed to implement an apiculture component. Bees play a fundamental role in the agro-ecosystems and also can bring opportunities to people in the surrounding communities. As a result, twenty bee boxes were established.
Lake Atitlán, at the center of the basin, and the surrouncing rivers are contaminated by an improper use of synthetic fertilizers. Farmers also have become dependent on external sources to fertilize their fields. So I determined that there was a need for an organic fertilizer center that will offer alternatives. I proposed to implement a center for organic fertilizers in the integrated farm and training center Paisajes de Chuitzanchaj that will offer useful tools and knowledge to farmers and visitors to the training center, so they can implement good agricultural practices in their plots. Vivamos Mejor already has the materials to build the organic fertilizer center.
This region is very rich in biodiversity, and there are many nutritious native plants that are connected to Mayan culture. I proposed to implement an agro-ecological orchard that would take advantage of the genetic material of the region, and would be a model with clear examples of good agricultural practices that could be replicated and implemented by farmers and visitors. This would help to improve people’s diet and also bring practical tools to manage natural resources in a responsible way. The terraces for the orchard are already done and it will be soon implemented.
What’s next for you?
I’m looking into Master’s programs in sustainable agriculture, most likely in the United States, Germany or here in Costa Rica. I would also love to work on the project at Chuitzanchaj. My long-term goal is to start a project with my family and have an integrated farm where I can grow and sell high-quality products, live the most sustainable life possible, and create an open classroom to share knowledge and experiences with everyone.
Keeping the Water Supply Safe
The following is an interview with Marianela Chaves Rivera about her graduation project, “An Integrated Water Resource Management Plan for the Community of San Juan Norte de Poás.” It has been edited for content and clarity.
Tell us a bit about yourself:
I am a Costa Rican. I was born and still live in Poás, in the Central Valley, where my project is based. I am proud of my nationality and at EARTH University I was part of the Costa Rican folkloric dance group. I also belonged to EARTH’s electoral tribunal.
I am the oldest of three. My parents taught us about hard work: to serve, be independent, study and fight for what we want. My grandpa was a farmer, and my dad is surveyor, which is why I have a great love for the land and natural resources.
Before I went to EARTH University, I studied Cartography, Digital Design and Water Resource Management. In my free time I like to walk, run, make crafts, draw, paint, read, garden, visit and learn about new places and things. All of my beliefs and values are mainly based in my faith in Christ, which is my best gift.
On the inspiration for the project:
In 2010, I was working in the community at San Juan Norte, Poás in Costa Rica as Secretary for the main board of the aqueduct, which is a group of people that handle issues related to the quality and quantity of water released to the community. San Juan Norte de Poás is a beautiful place near the Poás Volcano, and the community is very organized. However they need support in order to improve their water management system.
In 2013, I went to Ethiopia for an internship and confirmed the value of managing this important resource, because there water is not as available as it is here. Water is the resource that feeds life, ensures the production of food, and helps communities develop.
My idea was to develop a plan to keep the water resources of San Juan Norte de Poás safe, in order to guarantee the continued sustainability of this area. The projects proposed in my report involve economic, social and environmental factors and required teamwork by the entire community.
On the project itself:
The objective of this graduation project is to establish an Integrated Water Resources Management Plan (IWRMP) to support the community of San Juan Norte de Poás in reaching a sustainable path to socioeconomic development while safeguarding water resources in the short, medium and long term. Even though Costa Rica has established policies favoring IWRMP, the process of integration in rural communities has not been outlined. So, by helping to develop IWRMP guidelines, and enhancing their capacity to systematize and operationalize in a comprehensive manner, we can create a set of actions that encourage and depend on community participation and engagement, and ensure continuity. This participatory process explores innovative ideas that bring together issues like food security, agricultural production, soil conservation, education and renewable energy, which are all key issues related to the current and future quality of life for local residents.
In this project, the National Plan for Integrated Management of Water Resources is taken into account, and linked to the definition of the Global Water Partnership. Twenty-six projects are proposed, mostly defined by community leaders. For example, one of the projects is to collect rainwater for agriculture use or to clean certain areas in the dairy farm. Another project involves the use of micro turbines to generate electricity by way of elevation differences. The plan also seeks to generate conditions that promote competition in the local productive sectors, generating employment opportunities and reducing costs, to create a more equitable wealth distribution while ensuring the financial stability of community organizations.
On highlights of the project and its impact:
The highlight of the project was the high level of community involvement and participation. Community members attended meetings and interviews and participated in a number of scheduled activities. Together, community members identified problems related to water resource management and provided strategies for improvement. Individuals even went to the top of the mountain to view the water sources, deepening their understanding of the importance of this resource and its proper management.
On the project’s continuation:
Last Thursday, I went to talk with the Directors of the Board of the aqueduct and I gave them a copy of the graduation report. The President of the aqueduct is amenable to implementing the project, especially because of the community engagement, but they will need to work to find financial support to organize and develop the projects proposed in the plan. The plan is only a tool to begin the project.
What’s next for you?
In the short term, I would like to find a job that serves the community, to get more experience and pay off my student loans. Also, I will study to improve my English.
In the medium and long term, I would like to launch my own business, perhaps in the field of water management, because I love this topic and the community-oriented work. I have some ideas about best practices and several plans for irrigation and drainage systems. Also, I would like to buy land and start my own integrated farm.
Sustainability Prize Renewed until 2018!
Thanks to the generosity of donors Joshua Arnow and Elyse Arnow Brill, and Barbara and Ivor Freeman, The Sustainability Laboratory will continue The Sustainability Prize Program for another five years, through 2018. This represents another $50,000 investment in EARTH students and their ideas for improving the lives of people in Costa Rica and in students’ hometowns across Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Prize Sponsor Joshua Arnow with 2013 Prizewinner María del Rosario Chávez Lazarte.
“Entrepreneurship is scary at the best of times; to create a sustainable enterprise is more so. This is why I support the Sustainability Prize: to encourage and reward those who have the courage to make the effort,” said Mr. Freeman.
Over the past five years, the Prize Program has become an essential part of EARTH’s curriculum, and a key, motivating factor in the quality and ambition of senior students’ graduation projects.
“The existence of this prize is a concrete demonstration to our students that they are not alone in their deep concern about the future of our planet and that there are people and organizations in the world who share their desire to seek innovative and constructive solutions to the environmental, social, economic and spiritual challenges facing us,” said EARTH Provost Daniel Sherrard.
The Prize Program will continue to be led jointly by Dr. Michael Ben-Eli of The Sustainability Laboratory and Dr. Irene Alvarado Van der Laat of EARTH University. A winner for 2014 will be chosen later this year.
Michael Ben-Eli Appointed as Adjunct at EARTH University
Dr. Michael Ben-Eli, Founder of The Sustainability Laboratory, has been appointed as an Adjunct Professor at EARTH University.
The appointment was made “in recognition of the substantial collaboration that has existed between The Sustainability Laboratory and EARTH University, and our mutual hope for increased cooperation in the future.” Dr. Ben-Eli has led seminars at EARTH, in connection with The Lab’s Sustainability Prize Program, since 2009. EARTH also acknowledged that Dr. Ben-Eli’s “expertise and experience” in the field of sustainability will “enrich the University’s academic environment.”