The Sustainability Prize


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 and Juana Suar Domínguez, 2020 Sustainability Prizewinners, holding their certificates on stage with Irene Alvarado at EARTH University

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.

Prototype briquettes

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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