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!

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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.