Green, profitable, sustainable: Ecuador showcases ideas for transforming societies

By Matilde Mordt, UNDP Resident Representative Ecuador

From August 21 to 24, the city of Guayaquil, Ecuador was the environmental capital of Latin America and the Caribbean. Since 2013 the Latin American Green Awards, have taken place here. This initiative recognizes the best sustainable development projects in the region and to serve as a showcase for initiatives promoting a green economy.

This event convened 2,334 initiatives where experiences were exchanged and hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors, environmentalists, journalists, representatives of national and local governments, communities, and private sector were connected. It is a motivating and empowering space for those who work towards a profound transformation of our society.

The data confirm the need for this change. According to the United Nations, since 1970, humanity has lived in a permanent ecological excess with the annual demand for resources that exceed what the Earth can regenerate each year, known as its biocapacity. Today humanity uses the equivalent of 1.5 times the biocapacity of the planet. This means that we need a year and a half to regenerate what we use in just one. At the same time, the effects of climate change have intensified.

How can we promote prosperity, inclusive business and wealth creation, especially for poor people, while we are destroying the nature on which we depend for our productive capacity? Undoubtedly, it is urgent to promote new patterns of production and consumption and have a different relationship with the planet and its resources.

Beyond public policies and major international conventions, civil society and the private sector are providing solutions to achieve development that is in harmony with nature.

This is the case of ‘Wenu Mapu: Earth Friendly Paper’. This project, one of the award winners  this year,  comes from a young man who designed and manufactured a machine to produce 100 percent recycled paper. He is recycling a ton of paper every month and paying four times more to the basic recyclers than current market prices. He sells various products such as school agendas that include information on environmental care and even ‘seed paper’ that can germinate a plant.

This and other experiences have been recognized in Latin American Green Awards, which, as always, show an inspiring diversity of initiatives and commitment among the societies of the region to change.

UNDP has accompanied this effort to raise awareness and open opportunities to develop new green goods, products, and services. Nowadays, and with four UN agencies, it is promoting the Partnership for Action on Green Economy(known as PAGE), which helps countries to move towards green and inclusive economies. It also generates international discussion  about the opportunities that provides a change of paradigm, such as the the High Level Dialogue on Green Economy and Sustainable Development, held within the framework of the award.

Events such as the Latin American Green Awards are showing opportunities that are emerging mainly from the private sector and civil society in renewable energy and ecological and efficient transport systems, and water and waste management. A study reveals that the projects had an average increase of 70 percent in their sales after participating. Similarly, 71 percent of the projects have obtained additional resources, 10 projects have made their community actively involved in the development of their initiative and employability has been increased by 16 percent.

Latin America and the Caribbean is a ‘superpower’ in biodiversity and should seize this opportunity to improve livelihoods and resilience and reduce poverty and inequality. Reforms in public policies and governance can make livelihoods based on environmental assets more profitable.

If we really want to change established models, transform the reality of the region and the planet and build inclusive, peaceful and prosperous societies, we must pay more attention to the impact that humanity is having on the environment. We have resources, knowledge, and capabilities to change production models and ensure that each person lives with dignity and is not left behind.

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