Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sustainability in Palestine

Salam alaikom!  I am back in the Middle East after a magical summer in Central America.  I have moved on from Latin American culture to Middle Eastern, but the coffee and sustainability study continues.  I am now on another scientific and academic exploration seminar through my university in the state of Israel, this one focusing more on political science although we are learning so much more every day in addition to political issues in the region.   When I signed up for it, I did so because I wanted to gain a better, more educated understanding of the conflict, relations, and context there, and see what sustainable actions are being taken to address the problems.  So far I have seen that there is a lot of development taking place, some sustainable and some totally unsustainable to the point where it is clearly a flagrant violation of human rights.  On the lighter side, I have been taking note of the coffee culture here and see that the Ethiopian Jews, Muslims and Christians have introduced their coffee culture to Israel.  My first cup of coffee here was actually what they call Bunna and is served in a little handle-less cup like Arabic coffee.  I hope to find a place that sells the traditional Ethiopian coffee pot and accessories so I can take it back with me to the Burke Museum for the exhibit on coffee coming up this winter.  I also had the best latte ever this afternoon along with my favorite chocolate souffle cake at a cute cafe that serves Guatemalan coffee.  It is interesting to note that Guatemala was the first country to announce its recognition of Israel, by Jorge Garcia Granados in the United Nations immediately after the proclamation of the state.  There are about 1,200 documented Jews living in Guatemala.  A lot of them are of German descent.  Notably, the coffee and cardamom I am planning to sell comes from a region that was first cultivated by the German immigrants to Guatemala.  I wonder out of simple curiosity if any of them were Jewish.   While the coffee industry is very complex, I have a very good feeling about my vision and I am eager to get to Kuwait to talk to my potential investors abut my plan.  
For now, I am just focused on this learning experience and I will be posting a lot about what I have learned so far every time I get the chance.  It was fun to watch my classmates try Arabic coffee and sweets for the first time when we were in the Israeli Arab Women's College, which will hopefully become the first University in the Israeli Arab sector.  
I had a cup of Arab joe in the Druze community we visited today.  We ate my favorite lentils dish at the restaurant there too.  It was fascinating to finally learn more about the Druze religion and great to meet some Druze in the community as well.  We also went to another NGO that is dedicated to changing the system through legal action.  It is called Adalah.  I think it would be cool to work with this organization.  They are attempting through presedence to make a difference.  Israel has no constitution and the parliament committees don't seem to have much sway in tackling discrimination and human rights issues when it comes to the Israeli Arab minority especially with regards to human rights and land and property rights issues.  One particular issue that especially touched me was that regarding family unification. Apparently there is an Israeli law that states that if an Israeli Arab marries any person of Arab descent who is not Israeli, even an Arab in Palestinian territory, he can no longer live in Israel.  Another issue is that while Israeli law does not outrightly have discriminatory phrasing in its laws, there is room for people to abuse it and interpret it in such ways, which creates a challenge for Israeli Arab society and this NGO attempts to analyze the law so as to find more socially equitable solutions from within.  

After this visit, we went for a visit to a mosque, and for many of my classmates it was their first time inside one, and the Imam was very educated and friendly and welcoming, and we had a great talk with him.  After the mosque, we took a lovely hike in the mountainous part of Haifa and crossed a long suspension bridge before we headed home and crashed for the day.  Our days start around 730am and end around 8pm every day.  It is about as energy demanding as my exploration seminar in Central America but just as educational and dynamic.  Looking forward to the Kibbutz tomorrow.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

My Search for Organic Coffee in Guatemala

Salam alaikom! I am covered in mosquito bites but loving life. I arrived in Guatemala last week to visit my family and do a feasibility study on whether I could export organic, regenerative coffee and cardamom from here to the Middle East. I use the term regenerative in place of sustainability based on what I have learned from my study on coffee in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. I will elaborate on these terms more later. At any rate, since arriving in the Middle East, I noticed that coffee is a big part of Arab culture. It is also served in small cups as it is in Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Coffee is always offered as it is an element of hospitability in the Middle East. There are two main ways it is prepared; Turkish style which is similar to espresso, and then prepared almost like tea and served in little glasses without handles. The beans are mostly from India or Brazil, although some is still coming from Yemen, which seems to be the favorite among the Arabs. When the coffee is purchased, it is ground together with almost equal parts of cardamom pods. Cardamom, like the coffee, is a big part of the staple food selection in the Middle East. It is used in drinks, desserts, foods every day. I felt that coffee could serve as a bridge between the Middle East and Latin America, so I decided I would begin exporting some regenerative coffee from Guatemala and Costa Rica to Kuwait since it is still not readily available. I also learned that the number one exporter of cardamom to the Middle East is Guatemala, but that most if not all of it is not organic. So I decided since cardamom is also a big part of Guatemalan infustry and a big part of the Arab diet that I would also export it.

After the coffee study program in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, I came to Guatemala to visit my family and show some of my closest friends around the country while I search for some good, organically grown cardamom and coffee. I found one farm that was established with the German coffee planters early on, that grows both cardamom and coffee. The only catch was that it would take a 5 hour hike and a 4 hour bus ride to get to, according to a book I had. We took a 1030 bus from Guatemala City toward Coban to a place called San Rafael Chilasco. The Bus dropped us off on the main road and then we waited for a van to take us into the 12 km dirt road. We caught one just before it began to pour, however, the van was already packed. There were about 31 people in that little van. It was definitely an uunforgettable moment. When we arrived in Chilasco, the lady in the tourist information center sent us down into the town with a little boy on a bicycle. I use the term for town loosely as it is a very rural area with little of the typical resources we are used to finding in a town. We got there to meet our guide who would be leading us on the 5 hour hike. unfortunately, the guide was no longer available as he had just left with another group, and not only that, they explained that the hike takes 3 days, not 5 hours!! We spent a couple of hours there trying to arrange for a guide, but finally we found out we could just drive there.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Standards and Sustainability

Most if not all coffee farms I visited seemed to be striving for some form of sustainable business practices, but definitely not in the same ways or at the same levels. However, there do exist regulations and standards, both through legislation and through private certifications that help contribute to ensuring that coffee producers are approaching some form of sustainability. As I mentioned before, there are many different types and definitions of sustainability.

Some farms are more concerned with economic sustainability so they focus on seeking the most economically-efficient practices, which in turn save energy, which in turn helps the environment. However, they might not care to avoid chemicals to fertilize or fumigate their trees because it maximizes production, at least on the short-term. It all depends on what the interests of the farm are. Some farms are motivated by producing simply organic coffee, while others care about nature, while others worry about production, while others want the best quality coffee, and that is just a tenth of a percent of the different interests among coffee producers. That is why it is important to have standards and regulations in order to ensure that these producers have concern for the environment, society, quality, and the economy, among other important issues.

Some of these standards include the ISO 9000 which is for protection of the environment, another is ISO 14000 which is for quality. Some farms exceed the minimum standards and go beyond obeying regulations by incorporating more responsible business practices, such as offering scholarships and other educational opportunities to the communities surrounding their farms or even to the workers on the farms themselves and their families. Some non-governmental agencies contribute to promoting higher standards, such as Fair Trade, Rainforest Alliance, and C.A.F.E. Practices.

ISO 9000 specifically addresses waste water on coffee farms and how it is disposed of. This is in response to the past common practice of dumping the waste water from the coffee processing directly into the rivers, which contributed greatly to polluting the water. Now, many more coffee farms have purification plants of different types in order to comply with ISO 9000.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Sustainable Coffee Cultivation

As I mentioned before, I came to Central America to do a coffee study for credit through my university with a group of 21 students and our instructor and we visited many places connected with the coffee industry and met with many people in the coffee business to learn more about it. One of the first coffee plantations I visited in Costa Rica was in the Naranjo region, which is known as one of the best regions in the country for growing coffee. The coffee farm is called Espiritu Santo. Carlos, the farm´s agronomist led us on a tour where he showed us the beautiful landscape of the plantation and explained to us some of the intricacies of cultivating coffee and marketing it.

As we were approaching the property we saw literally an ocean of glossy Arabica coffee trees growing in orderly rows like ripples of waves throughout the green mountain region. When we arrived at the farm, we all gathered under a big mango tree just next to the coffee plants. Unfortunately, the tree had been neglected so the earth below the tree was heavily littered with rotting mangoes. The stench of the mangoes was unbearable, but thankfully my scarf served as a face mask which helped mask the smell. The ground was also infested with every kind of insect you can imagine from beetles and ants to ticks and wasps and even jumping spiders and we could feel the mangoes squishing under our feet like a wet shag carpet. It seemed that this did not bug the facilitators of the group so we had to stay there among the bugs and stink for what seemed like forever while he gave us the introduction about their farm. It was hard to concentrate on what the speaker was saying but fortunately I filmed it so I could watch the talk again from the comfort of home.

Each student in the group is focusing his study on a different aspect of coffee. I am using coffee to study the concept of holistic sustainability and sustainable business practices. After the first few farms we visited however I soon realized that it would be very hard to make one blanket definition for holistic sustainability as each farm has many different factors affecting the coffee and so different levels of practices work for different farms. Holistic sustainability includes environmental, social, and economic factors.

One factor that I learned about at the Naranjo farm was about the social sustainability, such as how they made a road through the coffee trees so as to allow for trucks to pass through carrying the bags of coffee so that the workers no longer had to carry them for long distances on their backs. Another factor related to holistic sustainability is diversification which contributes to social, economic and environmental factors. For example, this farm is planning a hotel on the property. They also created a botanical garden.

Before beginning this coffee program, I had no idea how complex coffee would be. It seemed the more questions I asked, the deeper and more complicated it would become. As it was my first time on a coffee plantation since I was a child, I was curious about how shade relates to coffee cultivation. All I knew was that shade helped promote biodiversity and protected bird life in the region. I also wondered what other effects it had as well as how it worked. I noticed that this coffee plantation in particular did not have as much ¨shade¨as I would have expected. There were some trees sporadically growing among the coffee plants but in my opinion that did not constitute what I would call shade. I asked the staff member of the farm about it and he said that they preserved enough trees so as to keep the birds coming which in turn provide fertilizer to the coffee plants. He also pointed out that they have conserved a large portion of their outlying land to primary forest instead of using it to plant more coffee trees. I asked him what kind of trees they choose and he told me eucalyptus and some other varieties.

I found it strange later when I went to another farm and they were explaining that eucalyptus trees are so bad for the coffee plants because of many factors including the fact that they are not a native species of plant to Costa Rica (well coffee is not either actually), they have a pH level that is not right for the soil near the coffee trees and they are a very aggressive plant that compete with the coffee trees for nutrients and water.

I soon realized that shade is not a black and white topic, and that the type of shade and how it is applied can vary from farm to farm depending on location, climate, and many more elements. At another farm, one farmer explained that they cannot use a lot of shade on their plantation because the climate in their region is so humid and if they have too much shade then the coffee trees will develop a fungus and die.

It would be hard to label one coffee farm as sustainable and then another not based on one set standard for shade or other factors because as you can see that the shade that works for one farm may not work for another, so it is hard to judge if one farm is more sustainable than another simply on the amount of type of shade available. The photo in this post for example is of a traditional coffee plantation in a mountainous region of Costa Rica called Monte Verde. As you can see there are some trees there among the coffee plants but not too many.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Costa Rica, Coffee, and Sustainability

From the time I arrived in the airport in San Jose, I knew Costa Rica would be special in comparison to other Latin countries regarding ecological concerns. The airport was also very modern and clean, including in it recycling bins and posters throughout promoting their beautiful ecological diversity. I bought two newspapers at the airport to read in my taxi on the way to Heredia, the city where I would be staying for the next couple of weeks or so. The first thing I noticed about the papers, is that both front pages contained articles addressing environmental issues. One of the papers for example was commending Costa Rican civil society for bringing down energy consumption by switching to more energy efficient light bulbs in their homes. While many environmental issues still have not been addressed here similar to the rest of Latin America, there are many measures being taken here that I have not seen anywhere else in the region. There are posters even in the most rural regions promoting care for the environment and for conservation. Some of the hostels we stayed in even offered tips on how to conserve water and offered environmentally friendly toiletries. I noticed that most coffee farms we visited have recycling bins as well. I was also surprised to learn that most farms we visited have switched over to more sustainable methods for producing coffee. For example, in the past, coffee plantations used to process the coffee cherries using enourmous, inefficient mills and little or no shade, and great amounts of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. However, now, many farms are not only cutting out chemical fertilizers, but they are also learning through bioligical studies which trees are best to plant in coffee plantations to provide shade without being competition for the coffee trees. Additionally, many farms use organic fertilizers from the waste of the coffee cherries and they re-use their waste water. That is just some of the many examples of the sustainability I have found in Costa Rica and the coffee industry here. I have four days left in Costa Rica and then it´s off to Nicaragua. I better get going, I am smelling fresh fish being served in the little cafe next door and it's making me so hungry. Pura vida!

Monday, June 30, 2008

Coffee and Sustainability

Coffee is a big part of Arabic culture. Coffee was a daily part of life and was synomous with their tremondous hospitality and social interactions in every country I visited in the Middle East from Syria to Kuwait. Every home I visited offered me a coffee, as a nescafe or as an Arabic coffee which is served in a tiny glass handle-less cup flavored with fresh cardaomom pods that are ground along with the coffee beans, or even a Turkish coffee (similar to an espresso). From the time I first arrived in the Middle East, I could not help but notice the strong underlying connection between Latin and Arab culture, especially in the language.

I realized very quickly that just knowing Spanish I already had a great foundation in Arabic, as the Spanish language contains at least 10,000 Arabic-derived roots and words. It has always been a passion of mine to build bridges of understanding between people. I hoped to find a way to celebrate this link that exists between these two cultures in order to increase understanding about the Middle East in other parts of the world and to promote sustainable growth and greater exchage and cooperation.

I found one tool to do this through coffee and matte as both of these products are a big part of both of the culture and history of both regions in different ways. Being from Guatemala, which is a producer of some of the best coffee in the world, and the number two exporter of cardamom (which is mixed with coffee) to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, I already had some background in coffee as my family was involved in the coffee business at one point and it was a big part of our culture. I knew that coffee would be a great industry to learn more about and find a way to promote sustainable business practices in the Middle East while at the same time increase understanding and relations between the Arab and Latin American regions through commerce.

I decided I would enroll in a program about coffee studies throug my university which would take me to two countries in Central America, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, to learn more about the coffee industry in order to see if this idea of mine would be feasible. I have only been in Costa Rica for about 10 days for this program and I have already learned so much about coffee and how it relates to sustainability.

It is a very complex industry and product, which I hope to elaborate upon more over the coming weeks and will be the focus of most of my entries. I have to get back to my home stay family for my traditional Costa Rican dinner, so I must end here, but please stay in touch I hope to post again later this week. PURA VIDA!!! ;)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Kuwait Received a U.S. Environmental Award

On May 24th, Kuwait received the award for "Protection of the Ozone Layer," by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States. This award is given annually to member countries of the Multilateral Fund for the Implementation of the Montreal Protocol. I wonder how much of a difference Kuwait has made in this effort, and what other countries it beat out for this award. They did mention in the article that Kuwait's National Ozone Committee an intergovernmental agency established in 1986, which I had never heard of prior to this story, was taking part in a workshop on alternatives to a chemical that is damaging to the ozone layer used in the production of dates. this committee was also recognized for successfully implementing an action plan to convert ODS (Ozone Depleting Substances) consumer sectors to ozone-friendly technologies.

According to the statistics in the article,
"the Ozone Depletion Potential or the relative amount of degradation to the ozone layer a chemical compound can cause, decreased from 4,068 in 1986 to 349 in 2002, a rate of 91 percent downfall of Kuwait’s ODS consumption." However, I quoted this because it was hard for me to make sense out of it for some reason.

Kuwait was recognized for its "unique" licencing controls and monitoring of ODS consumption in addition to its supporting awareness campaigns to ensure all stakeholders to effectively carry out their roles to fulfill Montreal Protocol obligations, although it did not elaborate what those campaigns were.
It went further to point out that Kuwait is planning to table a paper on alternative cooling systems. It also stated that Kuwait is one of the first countries to adopt strict controls on importing and licensing of ozone-depleting machines in cooperation with banks and customs. My question is, is this enough? Can Kuwait do much more?


Kuwait and the Environmental Public Authority

To give you the background information about what the Environmental Public Authority is before I discuss about it, here is a statement I drew from the EPA website:
"EPA provides leadership in the nation's environmental science, research, education and assessment efforts. EPA works closely with other federal agencies and local governments, to develop and enforce regulations under existing environmental laws. EPA is responsible for researching and setting national standards for a variety of environmental programs , and monitoring and enforcing compliance. Where national standards are not met, EPA can issue sanctions and take other steps to assist the state in reaching the desired levels of environmental quality. The Authority also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts (http://www.epa.org.kw/main.php?pg=about_us)."

When I began my study of Kuwait and the environment and my internship with Equilibrium, (www.eqcco.com), I quickly discovered that in spite of Kuwait's wealth and the great development in Kuwait and throughout the Gulf region, there was a large gap between the problems Kuwait is facing with regards to environmental issues and true steps of action by the government in addressing them. However, I have noticed that recently, the amount of articles related to environmental issues has greatly risen. One article in particular that struck my attention was regarding the governmental body of Kuwait, the Environmental Public Authority.

I agree that the establishment of the authority was a great step taken in the right direction with regards to Kuwaiti policy, however there is still a lot of room for development and improvement. The EPA is limited in what it can do with regards to enforcing action against companies and individuals exploiting the environment. I posted earlier suggesting some steps towards improving the situation, but I also came across another great idea suggested by a senior official of the EPA. It was encouraging to find an article about someone thinking in this way within the leadership of the EPA itself. It unfortunately helped further confirm my concern that the EPA is not yet where it should be. While EPA seems to be doing a lot for the environment if you look at their web site and you read everything they have posted there, there is little concrete information regarding actual changes they have made in addressing the environmental issues in Kuwait, and possibly because of lack of authority because of lack of sufficient environmental legislation among other factors.

One of my suggestions with regards to Kuwaiti Environmental Policy was building more bridges between the public and private sector and finding ways to promote the private sector and sustainable growth in terms of the environment. The General Maanager of the Department for Monitoring Air pollution, Dr. Saud Al-Rashid was the one who proposed that the EPA become privatized and independent of the government so that it can play a "more effective" and complete role. He also suggested similar to what I did earlier that the government create a department such as the "Ministry of Development, Panning and Environment," although I think there should also be a permanent Environmental Affairs Committeee in the National Assembly.

He stated that the problems that he saw with the EPA at present were its "lack of clear organizational structure and lack of regional and strategically located offices for monitoring the situation in Kuwait properly." He also gave a great suggestion with regards to involving youth, and it would be excellent if someone could come up with an actual implementable plan to get more youth to join the efforts of the EPA and even become an active part of it.

Another suggestion he made was to increase the budget so they can buy the equipment and technology the EPA needs to properly monitor and assess the situation of the environment in Kuwait. I think this would be something that could connect with promoting the private sector. I have met a few people who have created innovative tools for waste management that would help to turn the situation around for Kuwait and even all of the Gulf countries. The doctor was also concerned that the EPA lacks a strong foundation with regards to strategy and addressing the environment, and he also stressed that the last time the committee for environmental affairs was last active in 2006 as well as the Higher council for the Environment, which is a great concern in itself.
Al-Sayed, Hamed, Al Watan News, May 25. 2006

Monday, May 19, 2008

Kuwait Parliamentary Elections إنتخابات مجلس الأمة 2008

This semester I decided to take Kuwait Politics & Government so I could learn more about how government works in the gulf region and understand the system in Kuwait in case I plan to do business here someday it is good to know. I also wanted to learn more about Kuwait in general and politics and government was a great place to start, and my experience at American University of Kuwait where I was very active in the community and with Model United Nations also inspired me to learn more about political science in general. I remember when the members of parliament were drilling the Minister of Kuwait and many of us AUK students went to the steps of parliament in support of her. But never did I imagine that this Kuwait politics class would compliment my internship with Equilibrium and my passion for environmental sustainability like it has.
It all began when I was learning in the class about the Legislative Branch of the Kuwaiti government and the Parliament and its committees. It is made up of about 11 permanent committees and about 8 ad-hoc or temporary committees. I noticed that the environmental committee was temporary. I found it strange that it would be a temporary committee, as if the environment is only an issue sometimes. I asked myself why isn't it permanent when there exist so many environmental issues in Kuwait? I knew there was the Environmental Public Authority on the Executive Branch side, but where was the voice for the people in parliament with regards to the environment? I later learned that the last time this committee was active was in 2006! It would seem that it was made just to put out fires, but when it comes to addressing environmental issues, being PRO-ACTIVE is the most efficient (in all senses of the word) way to go. It is true that there are many important aspects of Kuwait that the parliament has failed to address well and that many of the committees have major issues, but as one MP himself commented, "the Environment Committee never convened even once."
Soon after learning about the parliamentary structure in Kuwait, the emir historically dissolved the parliament as is his constitutionally given right to do. This happened for many reasons including that the MPs were not cooperating with the Ministers and as a result many issues were not being resolved. When the emir dissolves parliament, according to the constitution, they must hold elections for new MPs within 3 months. It was very exciting to see the whole process first-hand. I took advantage to do my best to spread awareness about the environment in Kuwait and getting voters to ask their candidates about the environment and to vote for candidates who had knowledge about this and to push for an environmental committee.
For our class project, we had to select a committee and relate a topic from it to Kuwaiti policy and debate about it. My partner and I chose this environmental committee and planned to debate about whether or not the environmental policy in Kuwait needed to be improved. We had to do research for this project but we soon came to realize it is very hard to find any real data on the environment. Few organizations and government agencies are willing to share with others this information, possible for fear it will be later held against them in one way or another. Sadly this is the wrong mentality to have about this information. It should be accessible by all through a common database so change can happen and improvements on the situation can be made. It is hard to make change when the supporting data to show that there really do exist serious issues cannot be accessed.
This became a campaign for us. We spent hours online and going around to various advocacy groups, companies, parliamentary candidates, professors and government organizations trying to piece together some information about Kuwait's environmental situation. After our work, I ended up creating a five step policy proposal for legislation as a part of my presentation for the class. I also included an short video slide show on Kuwait and the environment, which you can view at the top of my blog.
This weekend the elections were held and I hope that some of those who won will work to get some of what I proposed into action, especially making a permanent environmental committee. I met today a young lady whose uncle won the position for head of the Housing Affairs committee in parliament. I told her to tell her uncle to push for more "Green Buildings and Green Real Estate." She is studying engineering at Kuwait University and I told her, if they increase in this area, there will also be an increase in jobs for engineers as new "green" technologies grow in number, and a need for engineers to structure such projects will be more in demand. Check this link to see won of the winners of the parliamentary elections celebrating, Kuwaiti Style! :) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cri6xCRpmB4
May this new Parliament be the best yet. But it will also depend on how active the people of Kuwait are in holding them accountable and not just in sitting in on the parliament but making sure to keep tabs on the MPs as well. The point of the parliament is a link between the people and government, so the people still play an active role in this and the MPs are merely the representatives of the people, so it is essentially a team effort.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Green Culture

Salam alaikom,
I am back to Kuwait after my quick trip to the USA. It was very therapeutic to spend a few days back in the green paradise of Washington state. The air was so crisp and fresh and the skies were a brilliant blue. It felt so nice to sit in the grass under the trees on my university campus again. here is a pic of my campus.

I never noticed how green my campus or even my city was until I saw it for the first time after spending almost one year in the desert climate of Kuwait.

I also noticed that people really care about the environment. I even noticed this in Europe when I had a 8 hour layover in Frankfurt, Germany, as well as in the capital of the USA, Washington, DC where I spent a day visiting with my good friend.

Everywhere I turned I found a recycling bin or a sign promoting environmentally friendly actions. It was everywhere, from the hundreds of bicyclers and skateboarders on my university campus, to the hybrid electric cars driving down the street, new light rail systems, to benefit concerts to raise awareness about such topics as solar power and debates on CNN about which presidential candidate is more green. It seemed to me that green was everywhere I looked.

I remember a time when people were more conscious about the idea of recycling and saw it as a great alternative to just dumping their waste. But now it has become a part of the culture. It is difficult NOT to find recycle bins around. They are everywhere I look from the Fedex Kinko's to the airport to the school copy room, and even along the streets one can find recycle bins. There are many alternatives to cars with regards to public transportation and not only is it convenient it is less polluting on the environment and produces less traffic.

Green has become so popular that is even a fashion statement now. Everywhere I looked in the malls I could find t-shirts that say "recycle" or "green is the new black" or "i love organic." Even the mannequins in the window of the mall shops were promoting environmental websites.
It is actually "cool" to not ride a car to the university at the University of Washington. Before, only people who could not afford a car and a few green-conscious folk used to ride bikes or skate boards to school. It almost had a stigma attached to it, but now, it is a status thing if you ride your bike or carry your skateboard around campus. People are carrying their skateboards into class decorated with many different styles and stickers, some of which say to recycle or other environmental causes. It has become cool to be a preppy student and have a skateboard in hand at the same time. Who would have thought those categories would have gone together? I remember a time when students were judged on how cool of a ride they had, now this is not as much of a factor anymore and that is a refreshing change.

I don't know if this could happen in Kuwait since it would not be very fun to ride to school on a bike in 130 degree heat. So what would be the alternative for them someday? Maybe electric cars and a solar powered city! I know that Kuwait is planning a new city. Wouldn't it be cool if Kuwait, being one of the world's largest oil exporters, is one of the first countries to switch to electric cars? It would be nice to see as well as innovative and creative. Anything is possible.

I noticed that it is getting harder and harder to see any type of trash laying around. Every photo I took of my campus for example was void even of a candy wrapper or pepsi can.

I was relieved to find recycle bins even in airports. The bins in Germany had them even in multiple languages so passengers getting off their planes could dump their empty plastic containers, wrappers or newspapers into the bins without any confusion.

As for riding on the planes, there was not much waste other than that which was connected with eating. My advice for lowering the amount of waste produced is to pack a lunch. Just be sure to avoid any fresh foods like fruits and vegetables because they could affect the agriculture in other countries in addition to it being prohibited. Try brining nuts and raisins and a peanut butter sandwich or anything that will give you energy and protein. Keep in mind that traveling takes a lot out of you so eat well before you leave the house, something light but at the same time nutritious.

Be sure to hydrate as well because you will have to dump your water bottle as they are not allowed on the flight. I think they allow empty bottles, so you can bring your thermos but be sure to drink whatever is in it before you go through security. Bringing your own lunch in reusable containers will not only be healthier, you will avoid all the waste from the on-flight meals and snacks and the candy bar wrappers from the shops along the way. If you do have any waste, be sure to hold on to it in a bag until you get off the plane where you will most likely find recycle bins in the airport. I definitely saw them in every airport I was in.

Speaking of producing waste, another way to avoid it is to make sure you are not carrying any cosmetics containing liquid in your carry on or make sure they are each smaller than 3 ounces and fit into a ziploc bag. If you don't take care about this, you will end up losing money and producing waste when they ask you to throw away all your products before passing through security. I saw so many trash bins full of peoples' water bottles, cosmetics, creams and hygiene products next to security, so be sure to remember this point.

I hope that someday we can see all this happening in Kuwait and the rest of the Arab world.
If green-consciousness can appear in other countries, it can happen in the Middle East too. I have a lot of faith in the Arab people to adopt more socially and environmentally conscious practices after seeing how it has become a part of the culture in other places, something they now take for granted, just like brushing teeth before going to bed or turning off the faucet after filling a glass of water.

Here are some pics from my travels:

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Mitigating Climate Change

My inspiration for taking action about our environment was the former president of Costa Rica, his excellency Jose Maria Figueres-Olsen.  Through him I first came to understand abut Sustainability and how it relates to human, environmental and economic development.  Sustainability means "meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."  I met him when he came to the American University of Kuwait to speak about the escalating dilemma of climate change and its effects on our environment today and into the future.  

I had known about the former president before this being from Central America myself.  I knew he had accomplished so much in his young life and had been dedicated to gearing Costa Rica, and in many ways the rest of Latin America, towards sustainable development through policy making that includes strategic investments in social areas and the developing of environmental policies.  It is exciting that even in less wealthy countries this issue can be addressed, so imagine what the more wealthy countries can do?  This is where social responsibility comes in, but that is a topic I will save for a later post.  

At any rate, he is a very down-to-earth and un-assuming person.  He smoothly slipped through the crowd into the auditorium, but I recognized him immediately.  I greeted him in Arabic with Salam Alaikom.  He responded "wa alaikom salam!"  I then asked him how he is in Spanish and he was surprised to find an Spanish-speaking student.  I explained to him that I am from Guatemala and we had a nice conversation.  His speech was amazing.  He had the entire audience mesmorized for almost two hours with the topic and his undeniable passion, wit and charm.  

He explained how the environmental problems can find roots in the failure of government to implement and follow through on policies to address them.  He stated that it is crucial to elect representatives in government who are at least environmentally aware and able to invest in protecting the environment proactively.  A leader should focus not only on foreign relations, which need development in Kuwait, but also on domestic issues and use influence and power to make change from within, such as including environment policy as part of the National agenda.

The UN Secretary General said; "No longer was it hoped, would environmental protection be regarded as a luxury or afterthought.  Rather, environmental factors would be integrated with economic and social issues and become a central part of the policy making process."

If you might have noticed, in the corner of the poster advertising the ex-president's speech, there is a little green logo titled, "Equilibrium."  This is also how I first learned about Equilibrium, the company I am now interning for.  



Friday, April 25, 2008

Green Travel

I will be traveling sooo much this summer and taking so many flights, which inspired me to consider the environmental cost of flying. I plan to do a documentary of my experience with all my flights this summer and record how much I waste not only through the plane emissions itself but through my own footprint along the way. I will see where I can incorporate "green" ways to my travel and report it to here in Green Gulf.

According to official statistics, the environmental cost of flying is zero. This is because flying between countries is classed as an international activity, so the greenhouse emissions from the planes are not counted on any given country's stats.

The European Union's aircraft emissions, for example, have risen by 87% since 1990! The burning of petroleum jet fuel releases greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming and climate change. Air traffic emmissions produces more than 600 million tons of carbon dioxide -- the leading greenhouse gas -- each year.

It also releases nitrates, ash, and sulfates, some of which deplete the layer of ozone gas that is crucial for protecting life from the Sun's rays.

One hour of a Gulfstream jet burns as much fuel as driving a family car for a year!

So for my first step toward green travel, although already it seems by the simple fact of flying in the first place I am already doing a lot of damage, I decided to take part in this new campaign called:
ECO2llege Carbon Credit. I came accross it on a website I was using to buy my plane tickets - www.studentuniverse.com

They have a campaign called "Fly Green." This is an exerpt from their site about it:

What does "Fly Green" mean?

Traveling by plane can have an environmental impact from the carbon dioxide emissions released during the flight. Carbon dioxide, the most prevalent of Greenhouse Gases directly contributes to global warming. StudentUniverse is now offering the ECO2llege Class option to all customers to help balance the impact of the carbon emissions released during your flight. With ECO2llege Class you can go out and see the world while helping protect it at the same time.

When you upgrade to an ECO2llege Class ticket StudentUniverse will allocate enough Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to offset the carbon dioxide emissions created during your flight. The RECs purchased by StudentUniverse are generated by American wind farms producing clean natural energy.

Flying is the fastest growing contributor to global warming. But if you still travel by plane, it is clearly a good thing if your travel has a low environmental impact, or positive social or economic impact.

The overriding concern is to reduce our carbon footprint, which must mean flying less often.

I was just booking a flight for my mom to Kuwait and I noticed that British Airways also has this option now when buying tickets:

Offset the carbon emissions for these flights

carbon offset

You can help minimise the impact of your flying by offsetting your carbon emissions. The total carbon emissions from your itinerary are 2.600 tonnes and the cost of offsetting your emissions is $ 77.28.

Your money will go towards UN certified emission reduction projects.

* Please be aware that once your carbon offset contribution is paid, it cannot be refunded.

The total cost to offset these emissions is

$ 77.28 *

How is this calculated?

How does carbon offsetting work?

The money you pay to offset the emissions from your flying is used to buy and cancel carbon credits that will have been registered and verified through the United Nations Kyoto Protocol. These carbon credits balance the effect of your CO2 emissions by funding projects that reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere.

Where does your money go?

Your money goes towards supporting projects in developing countries and typically focus on providing new sources of renewable energy and in promoting energy-efficiency schemes. In addition to balancing your CO2, the projects we have chosen must also bring social and economic benefits to the communities in which they are based and often bring health benefits from improvements to local air quality.

What are the projects?

Morgan Stanley funds emission reduction projects in developing countries across the world and maintains a portfolio of carbon credits on behalf of British Airways customers. The locations of the projects selected reflect the global nature of our business.

Find out about the Ningxia Dalisi Wind Farm in China

Investing in renewable wind power in China

This UN Kyoto Protocol wind farm project in the Ningxia region of China will supply electricity to the second poorest region in the country. The Dalisi wind farm aims to save over 78,000 tonnes of CO2 a year, equivalent to taking 17,000 cars off the road each year. The wind farm also aims to work together with the local communities to provide more jobs and reduce the poverty in the region.


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Waste Management Conference

I had a great experience during the Kuwait Waste Management conference. The Public Authority for Industry sponsored it in order to raise awareness of the dangers of wastes and various negative consequences on public health and the environment of the region and of the world. The exhibitions included many organizations aimed at protecting the environment and minimizing contamination from waste and other forms of pollutants.

I was impressed by the amount of companies that exist currently in the gulf region to address waste and protect the environment. The issue I see that is not being addressed yet is social responsibility. The companies there were those that are dedicated to waste management, bu there were no companies that specialize in other areas yet have a commitment to being responsible about the waste they produce. Also, most of the companies there seemed to be addressing either petroleum, industrial, or hospital waste. But there seems to be a lot of innovation among these companies and that is encouraging to see. I didn't see any companies like Equilibrium Environmental Consulting there.

There were many lectures, one of which was regarding a recycling campaign and what was unique and significant about it was that they actually do follow up studies after they do assemblies for the public and schools to see how many people actually change their behavior after being educated about recycling. They found overwhelming results. Many people indeed responded to the new awareness. This is very encouraging considering the fact that many people in Kuwait consider awareness campaigns and education about such topics as recycling as a futile yet noble effort because they see that society in the Middle East is years behind in getting to where other countries are in this. however, this study showed that people in this region are capable of playing a role in being more socially responsible if given education and awareness about it.

I told a classmate about the conference who had created an invention to reduce waste, and he went to the conference and met someone there from the Kuwaiti government who would help to get his product licensed more expeditiously. While he was discussing this matter with the municipality, I took the opportunity to read their posters which were for the most part in Arabic, but I knew enough to understand that they were the department for environmental affairs of the municipality. I asked them if they knew anything of the National Assembly's temporary committee on the environment. According to them, it may become a permanent committee. They invited me to come to their office in Kuwait City to ask any questions I would like. I plan to do this both for Equilibrium and for my upcoming debate project in my Kuwait Politics and Government class where I will be required to do a five minute speech giving an argument regarding the environment and how it relates to the national assembly committees and Kuwaiti policy and my partner will be giving the counter-argument. Hopefully the municipality will be able to provide me some good data to back up my debate.

That is all for now...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Waste Management Conference - Kuwait

It is promising to see that in spite of the issue Kuwait and the rest of the Middle East countries have with waste, there are many efforts coming forth to address it. There is a Waste Conference being held this week in Kuwait, where many of the people behind these efforts are coming together in an organized conference to address this issue. I am very much looking forward to attend. The conference is three days long and will be addressing many problems and proposing many solutions. Representatives from many countries will be there from countries such as Bahrain, Lebanon and UAE. This is the web site for the conference: http://www.kuwaitwaste.com/

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Fair Trade in the Middle East

For my next stage in research on Fair Trade, I focused on seeking out what already exists with regards to fair trade specifically in the Middle East region. Here are some links to fair trade products that are either being exported from the Middle East or imported from other countries. Additionally, I included a list of fair trade organizations based out of or dealing with the middle east.

This organization exports Fair Trade olive oil to the states from Palestine to benefit the olive farmers there in the midst of the challenges they are facing as a result of the conflict.

The AFSC, the American Friends Service Committee, has won a Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts towards humanity. Their focus is on service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world, including Palestine, Iraq, and Africa.

I mentioned about Ten Thousand Villages in my post about the history of Fair Trade. They are a fair trade organization and of course have found a niche for fair trade in the Middle East, in addition to the many countries around the world they are support, their focus being in Egypt and the West Bank. They profile the artisans they support and share about their stories and handcrafts on their website. It is a very creative way to present the products, such as the beautiful olive wood carvings in Bethlehem.

Here is a very in depth article about the economic hardship the Palestinians face because of the Israeli occupation and talks about the many organizations selling fair trade Palestinian Olive Oil under the umbrella of the Palestinian Fair Trade Organization that was opened in 2003 in an effort to boost revenues for the Palestinians as well as the price of their oil. It lists the websites of the companies that sell this organic fair trade olive oil. They also plant thousands of olive trees.

A list of websites of fair trade producers in the Middle East:

This is an amazing article about fair trade between Israel and Palestine. Another product they trade is za2tar.

In addition to oil and za2tar, Palestinians are also selling fair trade produce. Here is an article about the involvement of Palestinian representatives at a fair trade meeting in UK.

http://www.ameinfo.com/148198.html This is an article update on the topic of the FREE trade situation in the Middle East with regard to the GCC.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

History of Fair Trade

For my second project with Equilibrium, I am to research on Fair Trade to put together information as a reference for our clients.

The term Fair Trade was first used by Michael Barratt Brown in 1985, during a Trade and Technology Conference in London, although during the early days some other names existed: "Alternative trade", "Alternative commerce"... and some of them are still in use.

Principles and ideas related to fair trade and incorporating morals/ethics into commerce have been around for a long time, even before capitalist institutions began, dating back to at least the 18th century. Specifically, farmers and the poor were given consideration in different ways. One example of the system in this era would be the concept of the "old moral economy." However, the structured organizations supporting and promoting fair trade similar to what we see today began emerging much later, after World War II.

Political and religious Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) were the first groups to formally attempt to market goods from marginalized producers. The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and SERRV International were the first, in 1946 and 1949 respectively, to create supply chains based on fair trade in developing countries. The products they commercialized were sold mostly by volunteers in "charity shops" as a way to raise charitable funds.
For example, in 1946, a volunteer from the Mennonite Community in the United States, founded what is now "Ten Thousand Villages" organization that began by buying quality linen needlework from Puerto Rico producers and selling them in the states, cutting out the middle man.

The fair trade movement we see today was first developed in Europe in the 1960s and served as a political statement by radical students against imperialism. During this time, the ideals where all producers are given fair and equal access to the markets, gained in popularity as the mainstream knew little about the realities of so-called "sweat shops"and the conditions under which products were made, they were very disconnected from the realities of where their products came from.

Soon, the first alternative trading organization was formed under the slogan "Helping by Selling," called British NGO Oxfam. Soon it m
oved from "helping" to empowering, by realizing the merits of workers' cooperatives and artisans' societies and fostering this. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the fair trade movement worked to find markets for products from countries that were excluded from the mainstream trading channels for political reasons. The message through these movements to the public and politicians was: "give disadvantaged producers in developing countries a fair chance on the world’s market, and you support their self-determined sustainable development." The movement gained in popular support and soon thereafter dozens of Alternative Trade Organizations were established. However, in the 1980's, the handcraft products that were being sold began to lose their marketability and this forced the fair trade supporters to rethink their approach and their goals.

Another factor that became an increasingly significant issue to fair trade supporters during this period was the impact of the fall of agricultural commodity prices on poor producers. Many believed it was the movement's responsibility to address the issue and to find innovative solutions to address the ongoing crisis in the industry. So they shifted from a focus on crafted goods to agricultural products such as coffee and tea, and then later fruits, cocoa, spices, and nuts, all of which which became a renewable source of income for the the producers. Coffee sales quickly became the main source of growth of fair trade. In 2005, coffee made up 25-50% of total revenues from ATOs.

Handcrafts are still considered the theme product of fair trade although they only appeal to a small segment of the market and the niche market who buys products typically gets these products for the story behind them. Agricultural products reach a much larger amount of buyers.

Another problem facing fair trade was that the products were not mass-produced and were only offered in small "worldshops" around Europe and in some parts of North America. As more people learned about the fair trade movement, the challenge was to find a way to expand distribution without compromising consumer trust in fair trade products and in their origins. Labeling products as fair trade goods allowed the products to spread to mainstream stores and locations around the world for increased exposure to the market. This would allow customers to be more inclined to purchase these products that before was not worth the opportunity cost of going to a market off the beaten path just for one good.

In 1989, a sharp crisis on coffee prices pushed growers to poverty in spite of being producing a nice coffee, well above average quality. Max Havelaar was working in Chiapas (southern Mexico) at the time with his father Franz Vandelhoff when they had the idea of differentiating their coffee, charging the final customer a little more, cutting off the middlemen and providing farmers a fair wage. They created the first Fair Trade certification label, or mark. It was launched under the initiative of Nico Roozen, Frans van der Hoff and Dutch ecumenical development agency Solidaridad. The labeling and consequent broader reach of the fair trade goods increased the sales significantly. The labeling also allowed consumers to trace where their products came from and whether or not the producers at the end of the supply chain were making a profit from them.

The initiative was a great success and was replicated in several other markets: in the ensuing years, similar non-profit Fairtrade labelling organizations were set up in other European countries and North America, called “Max Havelaar” (in Belgium, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway and France), “Transfair” (in Germany, Austria, Luxemburg, Italy, the United States, Canada and Japan), or carrying a national name: “Fairtrade Mark” in the UK and Ireland, “Rättvisemärkt” in Sweden, and "Reilu Kauppa" in Finland.

Initially, the Max Havelaars and the Transfairs each had their own Fairtrade standards, product committees and monitoring systems. In 1994, many of these labeling organizations merged into TransMax working group, culminating in 1997 in the creation of Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International. FLO is an umbrella organization whose mission is to set the Fairtrade standards, support, inspect and certify disadvantaged producers and harmonize the Fairtrade message across the movement.

In 2000 Garstang (Lancashire, UK) became the first Fairtrade town in the world. Now, some other 250 have followed.

In January 2004, Fairtrade Labelling Organizations International was divided into two independent organizations: FLO International, which sets Fairtrade standards and provides producer business support, and FLO-CERT, which inspects and certifies producer organizations. The aim of the split was to ensure the impartiality, the independence of the certification process and compliance with ISO 65 standards for product certification bodies.

Today, even big corporations set on profit-making now specify minimum standards of working conditions when they buy clothes and other products in low-income countries and labeling initiatives now exist in 20 countries. Global fair trade sales have soared over the past decade. The increase has been particularly spectacular among Fairtrade labelled goods: in 2006, these sales amounted to approximately €1.6 billion worldwide, a 41 % year-to-year increase.[16] As per December 2006, 569 producer organizations in 58 developing countries were FLO-CERT Fairtrade certified and over 150 were IFAT registered..[17][18]


History of Fair Trade by Transfair

History of Fair Trade by A Fair Trade Hub

History of Fair Trade - Wikipedia

How Fair Trade Hit the Mainstrean - BBC

A Great Source on Fair Trade Information

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


For my next task, I am to start compiling resources on fair trade, including the history of the concept, the main organizations, the products available throughout the world (in groups like coffee, cotton, etc..) the arguments for and against, are there sources in the region? etc...
I must also outline the advantages and disadvantages facing an organization that wants to deal in fair trade goods, looking at it both from the perspective of an environmentalist as well as from the perspective of a businessperson who's main concern is profit etc.. and how they would approach selling the idea to each type of person. I am very excited about this project. I remember when I had my first experience with fair trade, before fair trade was even called "fair trade." A friend of the family loved my country Guatemala, and he had started in the coffee business while at the same time giving back to the people who were producing the coffee, mainly the Guatemalans at this time. He was the founder of Seattle's Best Coffee, before it became part of Starbucks Corporation. At any rate, I really admired how he did his business through developing relationships of trust and through this getting a quality product but making sure the producers not only got fair pay, but he also did community development projects for them. At any rate, he gave me some good insight about fair trade just recently that I want to share with you.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

First Project - Waste Management

My first task as intern for Equilibrium is regarding waste management. On the surface, waste management does not sound like the most exciting topic in the world, or even a desirable one to work with, but you will soon see how significant this topic is for us and our future.

When I began the project, what I knew about waste management in Kuwait specifically was that I never once saw a single recycle bin anywhere. I also noticed that the residential garbage bins are always overloaded because they are so small. I observed a lot of people throughout the Middle East tend to just throw garbage on the ground without thinking where it might go. I saw a lot of waste along the shores of the beach when I would go jogging there. I knew waste management was an area that needed attention in Kuwait and I knew that along with waste management comes many opportunities to develop innovative ways to reduce and recycle waste, which in turn brings in economic opportunity.

So in short, I was aware of the connection between waste management and the business world and how waste can affect the environment. At any rate, my first task required that I collect data regarding waste management in Kuwait. Equilibrium was looking to assess how serious the waste management problem is in Kuwait and what is currently being done about it. I was asked to seek out a couple doctors at Kuwait University who might have some research data on the subject. It took me two weeks to finally track down one of the two doctors. But it was worth the effort because she was very helpful and cooperative. She had answers to all of my questions with regards to landfills and waste management. She informed me that the landfill situation in Kuwait is very bad. Usually, landfills are lined so that the waste cannot seep directly into the soil.

However non of the Kuwaiti landfills have lining or any system for classification and dividing of different types of waste as it comes in to the landfill. Everything gets dumped together in one place with the exception of medical waste. This can be a recipe for disaster. Additionally, anyone can dump anything, including companies who want to get rid of their industrial waste without any worry of being monitored. This is just a small part of the overall problem with regards to landfills in Kuwait. This is also found in other Middle Eastern countries, not just Kuwait.

The good news is that this doctor has actually come up with a low cost and efficient way to assess how deep the waste goes in the landfills and what type of waste is found in them, as that information is currently unknown. She has offered to let me work with her on her project so that will be a great learning opportunity. The information she gave me I forwarded to my boss and now we are preparing for the upcoming waste management conference which should also prove to be very interesting.

How Can Sustainability and Social Responsibility Contribute to the Future of the Middle East?

With their potential for economic growth and their financial wealth, Kuwait and the rest of the Gulf countries have the potential to become front runners in the Middle East in considering the environment and social responsibility, and I hope to help them to start that foundation.
The Middle East is a fascinating place with so much cultural richness and financial prosperity. People of the region are increasingly growing aware of the changing climate of business and of the world as a result of globalization and as such there is growing potential for development here. We can see already a substantial amount of growth and innovation in a very short period of time through the example of Dubai. Unfortunately, one area that still lacks a greater awareness is the environment and how it is being impacted by the current practices of companies and individuals. This problem affects all aspects of life from physical health to the natural beauty of the region. This problem however can also be viewed as a treasure box of opportunity for those who have vision and initiative and wish to consider sustainable concepts and how they can adopt them in their businesses.

I chose this cause because I love the Middle East. I am originally from Latin America and study in the University of Washington and I am studying abroad in Kuwait. I had so much success here and fell in love with the region so much that I was looking for a way I could give back to a place that had given me so much. I realized quickly that the region overall had great issues with regards to the environment. The beautiful beaches of the gulf were littered with garbage, there were little if any recycling programs, no awareness campaigns and lesson plans for the schools with regards to the environment, all of the landfills were unplanned and unlined and the waste seeping into the soil and polluting the storm water drains. Yet I could not understand how such a wealthy country with the financial means to take care of this issue and with a government committee assigned to the environment was allowing this to be this way. I decided I would try to see how I can help make a change for the better just as many countries have also done with regards to such issues as waste management such as the UK.