Sustainability in Costa Rica

With constant talk about climate change and the ongoing impacts of humans’ actions on the environment, sustainability has become one of the biggest buzzwords of our generation. Although I’ve always been peripherally aware of its significance, I didn’t fully grasp how important it is until learning about how it touches every aspect of our lives. Sustainability, by definition, is the ability to continue doing something indefinitely. Therefore, it is pretty obvious that we should strive for sustainability in society, the economy, and the environment. For example, any business wants to continue its practice for as long as possible, so it essentially wants to be a sustainable business. When you begin applying this logic to everyday life, it quickly becomes clear that without sustainability, our world cannot function. Based on my understanding of the importance of sustainablility, I was extremely impressed to learn that Costa Rica has consistently been named one of the most environmentally sustainable countries in the world. In my opinion, protecting and preserving the environment is one of the most important goals of our time, so the fact that one of the most biodiverse countries in the world is able to achieve such a high level of sustainability is somewhat reassuring. However, what impresses me more than anything is just how far Costa Rica has come in the past several decades to achieve that designation. Between 1940 and 1987, Costa Rica’s forest cover dropped from 75% to only 21% due to deforestation for agricultural land. Yet finally, in the 1990s, the government recognized and addressed this problem by starting several programs that promoted sustainability.

Three of the biggest programs for sustainability in Costa Rica are the Certification for Sustainable Tourism (CST), the Bandera Azul (Blue Flag) Ecological Program, and the Payments for Environmental Services (PES) program. The CST program focuses on helping Costa Rican businesses become and remain sustainable by ranking them on how well they use certain sustainable practices. This ranking can then be used by consumers so they can make educated decisions when buying the business’ products. The Bandera Azul program is more centered around Costa Rica’s communities and ensuring they are healthy, safe, and clean. It awards communities that meet their requirements with a “Blue Flag”, which works as an incentive for people to improve their community. Finally, the PES program pays landowners for maintaining healthy land. When landowners use practices that aren’t harmful to the environment or the surrounding communities, they can receive payment from the government through this program. Although all of these programs target different branches of sustainability, it is interesting to note that the common denominator is that each program finds a way to incentivize sustainability for its target population. This could be an important factor in Costa Rica’s high overall environmental susatianability.

While learning about Costa Rica’s efforts in becoming as sustainable as possible, I was interested to learn that agriculture, which was once the cause of deforestation, is now becoming one of the most sustainable areas in the country. One of the most fascinating agricultural practices was that of Doka Estate Coffee. This coffee estate has taken a unique approach by growing coffee under the shade of the trees that are already in the area. It is truly the perfect system because coffee plants grow best under the shade, so the method is both environmentally and economically sustainable. In addition, they are working toward phasing out the use of harmful pesticides; another move toward sustainability. Through simple yet effective tactics like these, coffee growers are helping Costa Rica in maintaining sustainable agricultural practices.

Honestly, I am excited about every aspect of my upcoming trip to Costa Rica. I know that whether I’m speaking Spanish with my host family, tasting exotic fruits, or learning more about sustainability in the coffee industry by sampling some fresh brews, I’ll be having the time of my life. After studying Spanish for more than six years, I’m particularly excited to immerse myself in the language and culture throughout the trip. Será una experiencia inolvidable, y por eso estoy emocionadísima. ¡Pura vida!

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