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Students Visit Costa Rica to Learn About Sustainability


Students listen to a Florida Ice & Farm representative during the tour of the facility. Students listen to a Florida Ice & Farm representative during the tour of the facility.

Jan. 9, 2014 – Students registered in the class WOOD 3954 Global Issues in Sustainability visited Costa Rica from March 4 to March 12 to learn about sustainability in a developing country. The Spring course semester, under the leadership of Drs. Henry Quesada and Joe Loferski, has a goal to learn how natural resources are used for economic development in a sustainable manner. Before the field trip, students learn the theoretical concepts that support the concept of sustainability and the field trip experience is the opportunity to learn how theory is put into practice. This time the field trip included visits to national parks, biological research stations, community-managed ecotourism projects, small and large industries, and lectures from Costa Rica Tech’s professors on various topics.
Sustainability should be a holistic approach that includes economic development, the environment, and the society. It was very rewarding for the students to learn how small and large businesses in different sectors such as hospitality, food, and wood products have embraced the so called “triple bottom line”. Business organizations that were visited understand that they can only be sustainable in the long term if their environmental and community goals are aligned with their business strategy. For instance, the students visited Florida Ice & Farm, a $500 million dollar beverage private-owned company.


Panamerican Woods’ farm tree manager explains the tree cloning process. Panamerican Woods’ farm tree manager explains the tree cloning process.


This local business has implemented sustainable program to become water neutral, carbon neutral and to recycle or reused all of its waste. This sustainability program has triggered an innovation process where the company has developed creative ways to measure its impact, implement best cleaner production practices, and to work very close with local communities to compensate for water and energy usage. The work with communities and suppliers involves the transfer of cleaner production practices and education related to sustainability and it is critical to secure its supply of raw materials, educate the new generations, and to promote the company’s sustainability efforts.


Students posing in front of the National Theater of Costa Rica. Students posing in front of the National Theater of Costa Rica.

Another example was Panamerican Woods, a vertically integrated wood products company located in the Northwest region of Costa Rica. Students learned during their visit on how tree farms are managed and how plantation trees are logged, processed, and marketed. Interesting for the students was to learn about the concept of vertical integration, meaning that the company manage and control the whole supply chain of operations from tree cloning to wood products commercialization. This company has been very successful in developing innovative techniques to decrease growing times, increase the quality of trees, increase raw material utilization, and develop engineering products that are mostly exported to Europe and United States. The company also works very close with the community and suppliers in order to educate and secure its supply of raw materials and promote their sustainability efforts.
Field trip and study abroad experiences are critical activities when learning about sustainability. An articulated learning process includes description of experiences, analysis and reflection on learned issues, and ultimately an engagement process where the students will put into practice what they have learned. This course is important for all students in the College of Natural Resources and Environment (CNRE) that are looking to understand theory and practice of sustainability and how they can use their learned experiences to engage in sustainability projects.



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