The Sustainability Laboratory




Project Wadi Attir is a groundbreaking initiative of a Bedouin community in the Negev desert, demonstrating an approach to sustainable desert agriculture, replicable locally as well as in other arid regions around the world. Using The Lab’s sustainability principles as a guide, the project is designed to leverage Bedouin traditional values, know-how and experience with modern-day science and cutting edge technologies.

After six years in development, Project Wadi Attir is moving into the implementation stage for all of its major initiatives, including the Herding and Dairy Initiative, Medicinal Plants Initiative, Indigenous Vegetables Initiative, the Vistor, Training and Education Center, and an integrated system of green technologies.

“Project Wadi Attir is creating a new reality of empowerment and hope for the future, encouraging a move to self-reliance. In particular, the project creates an unprecedented new situation whereby women are equal partners in leading a significant development process with men. Involvement in the project will open new horizons and new opportunities for women and strengthen their ability to influence the fabric of family.”

Amal Elsana-Alh’jooj
The project features many opportunities for income and employment. It has already trained dozens of local Bedouin women in vegetable gardening and in the creation of high-quality dairy products, which will be available for purchase. The project will also sell cosmetic creams and soaps, infusion teas and essential oils. These products are based on Bedouin traditional medicine, and created from medicinal plants and herbs grown onsite.

“This project offers a golden opportunity for people in the Bedouin community to organize in an independent, democratic fashion, with emphasis on common goals, shared effort and commitment to community values. With this project we broke the mythos that ‘these people’ are not able to manage themselves, that they always need someone else to tell them what to do. In all my years in community work, I have never come cross a change-making project like Project Wadi Attir.”

Aatef Abu Ajaj
Founding Member of the Project Team
The project will feature an integrated technology system that will maximize use of renewable resources, eliminate harmful emissions, and aim for near-zero waste. Designed by a Project Design team including researchers from Ben Gurion University of the Negev, this system will include a pioneering hybrid wind/solar energy system, a state-of-the-art irrigation system, a bio-gas system, a wastewater treatment system, and a composting system.

“Once the project is fully realized, it will undoubtedly serve as a blueprint for the development of rural areas in Africa and other Less Developed Countries. I am very optimistic about the success of this project under the leadership of Dr. Ben-Eli, whose creativity and imagination is put to use to conceive, organize and orchestrate the process.”

Professor Jimmy Weinblatt
President, Sapir Academic College, Formerly Rector, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev
The Soil Enhancement and Water Retention Initiative has all but stopped erosion on the site, and the construction of strategic earth mounds have minimized water loss due to runoff.

“The project actually enhances our tradition. In the case of preserving indigenous seeds, just as in the case of reviving traditional medicinal plants and animal husbandry, there is much to learn from people in the community. I think that everyone – adults, young people and children – can all join in this project. Everyone can learn, as well as teach.”

Abu Rakayek
Founding Member of the Project Team
There has been a noticeable uptick in biodiversity on the site, which was previously almost void of life. Foxes, butterflies, and many bird species have been observed.
Site preparation work began in 2013, and construction of all green buildings will start during the fall of 2014.

“It has been an honor for me to participate as one of the founders of Project Wadi Attir. This unique project constitutes an important breakthrough in the area of sustainable development, an idea which resonates with values and principles that were deeply ingrained in Bedouin society, prior to the era of urbanization of the last few decades.”

Dr. Mohammed Alnabari
Mayor of Hura, Founding Member of the Project Team




The Global Sustainability Fellows Program is designed to inspire, inform and mobilize future generations of leaders who are committed to adding an in-depth exposure to sustainability issues to studies in their chosen disciplines. Integrating a rigorous theoretical orientation with experience-based learning, international exposure, and cross-discipline work, the program will impart the core competencies required to effectively tackle urgent sustainability challenges on a local, regional and planetary scale.

Twenty students from 15 countries on five continents, and representing a range of disciplines, participated in the pilot session of the GSF Program, held at EARTH University in Costa Rica during July of 2014.

“As a person brought up in a poor, rural area, I understand that the heaviest brunt of the effects of climate change, environmental degradation and poor leadership are faced on a daily basis by those whose ecological footprint is too insignificant to mention. I therefore desire to be a leader in transforming the lives and livelihoods of the very poor, marginalized, and hard-to-reach people.”

Boru Halkano
Global Sustainability Fellow from Kenya
By incorporating The Lab’s rigorous theoretical orientation with hands-on, experience-based learning, international exposure, and cross-disciplinary work, the GSF experience adds an essential dimension to the education students receive at their home institutions.

“I want to create a definition of sustainable practices that I can incorporate into my future work as an architect. As a student peering out of the academic bubble, I seek to understand how ‘sustainability’ can move from the theoretical to the tangible without losing the clarity of the idea.”

Christopher Taleff
Global Sustainability Fellow from the USA
The program structure for the pilot session included a homestay with a local family, rigorous theoretical modules, an eco-leadership segment, fieldwork in a challenged community, and the creation of a Development Plan with that community.

“By using group model building and qualitative modeling, we could integrate the stakeholders in the process of developing the plan. It was great to experience what a powerful tool system dynamics can be, and how the participants of the workshop engaged in the task given.”

Therese Bennich
Global Sustainability Fellow from Sweden
Following the session, we strive to implement the Development Plan in partnership with local NGOs, EARTH University, and members of the community. As the GSF program grows, communities where fieldwork is based will continue to benefit from student work, and will serve as a real-world testament to the efficacy of the GSF approach.

“I believe there is a clear need to involve social scientists when conducting environmental research; sustainability projects should consider the communities’ values, beliefs and practices in order to combat poverty, improve their social organization and protect their resources.”

Rosa Ana De Luca
Global Sustainability Fellow from Mexico
Students in the pilot session will be the first members of the GSF Alumni Association, a professional, interdisciplinary network, where a common purpose, language and framework will continue to serve as the basis for game-changing sustainability innovations and initiatives worldwide.

“Meeting a diversity of inspiring, like-minded people, determined to making the world a better place, helps to reignite one’s optimistic spirit, in the face of all the challenges that lie ahead. Now it’s time to get to work!”

Conrad Steinhilber
Global Sustainability Fellow from Germany
View the Global Sustainability Fellows Program photo gallery




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

Since 2009, over 500 students and 40 faculty members at EARTH University have participated in the Sustainability Prize seminars, where they learn about The Lab’s definition of sustainability and the derived five core principles.

“In underdeveloped and developing countries, it is very difficult for young adults to start private businesses. Without family support and financing, it is improbable that any financial institution will lend the necessary capital. The Sustainability Prize is therefore not just monetary – it represents an opportunity for an EARTH University student to fulfill their dreams.”

Professor Irene Alvarado
EARTH Faculty Member
Since 2009, $60,000 in prize money has been awarded to nine prizewinners representing six Graduation Projects, with $10,000 returning to the prizewinners’ high schools in rural Latin American communities.

“My graduation project designed a system for coffee farmers in my home community of Opórapa, Colombia to associate plantains and coffee in their fields, thereby improving farming practices, taking better advantage of space, and generating income and employment. Many small coffee growers in my community have implemented this plan, and are benefiting from harvesting plantains when coffee growing season is over. They are role models for other community farmers.”

Diana Milena Cajibioy Artunduaga
EARTH University Prizewinner, 2012
All but one of the prizewinners are currently working in the fields of environmental research, management, policy and corporate sustainability.

“Because of the prize money, we were able to finance a waste management project in the high school I attended, introducing ideas that are new to many areas in Peru. Seeing a change in the quality of life in the place that I live is the best motivation to keep going!”

Yngrid Espinoza Villaruel
Sustainability Prizewinner, 2011
More than half of the prizewinning projects have been implemented and have achieved continuity even after the prizewinner’s departure.

“To me this prize was more than a recognition of the substantial effort that my classmate and I did in our graduation project – it represented the beginning of my career in the field of scientific research and biodigestion. It also honed my professional skills in project design and coordination in rural communities in developing countries.”

Johanny Perez Sierra
Sustainability Prize winner, 2010
Due to the generosity of Dr. Ivor Freeman and Joshua Arnow (pictured here with Maria del Rosario Chavez Lazarte, winner of the 2014 Prize), the program has recently been renewed until 2018.




Project Turquoise Mountain is a proposed innovative approach to mine remediation and ecosystem restoration in Gleeson, Arizona, a remote area that contains a slew of long-abandoned mine shafts, tailings, and associated contamination. The Lab is currently collaborating with the owner of the site of these abandoned mines, with the intention of launching a model project that would showcase the application of sustainability principles to the vexing problem of mine remediation.




The Lab is being developed as a network linking advanced research centers mapped onto specific eco-zones around the world. The centers will subscribe to a common set of principles, values and operating practices. Each center will aim to pioneer strategies, technologies and best practices that will be applicable in similar eco-zones. Individual centers representing specific eco-zones will also work collaboratively with one another.



Following a successful pilot session of the Sustainability Entrepreneurs workshop, held at the Esalen Institute in California in 2008 and inspired by professional interest in the format and content of the recently launched Global Sustainability Fellows Program, The Sustainability Laboratory plans to launch a special yearly workshop geared at helping professionals integrate sustainability concerns into their chosen field.



The Sustainability Laboratory is working on establishing a Project Development Fund, which will be used to finance the preliminary stage of projects. This facility will make possible financing of early preparatory activities including preliminary concept formulation, reconnaissance and concept validity assessment, identification and early engagement of key stakeholders, and the establishment of an early project team and strategy.