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Volunteer Brainstorm: How to Jumpstart Action Toward Sustainability?

In the casa principal of Sustainable Bolivia, a group of staff and volunteers gathered to share pizza and ideas about how to become more active toward sustainability goals. The meeting started with a brainstorming session: imagine SB in one year from now as the most sustainable organization in Bolivia, and list on post-it notes what changes have been made.

“eat less meat”

“solar energy for SB houses”

“rooftop gardens”

“recycling in every house”

“walking, bus usage, and bike rental”

“workshops about local culture and practices”

Erin Beasley, co-organizer of the meeting and assistant national director at SB, grouped the post-its into categories. Ideas ranged across the board, from transport to water usage to food source sustainability to waste treatment. “For some of these topics that you’ve identified, we’re already moving in that direction, and for some of these other ideas, we’d like your feedback on how we can leverage your time at SB as an opportunity for learning,” said Erin.

J.R. Killigrew, SB’s first sustainability intern, also organized and led the meeting. He will be here for three months, and his project is to add transparency and accountability to SB’s impacts by developing a system of sustainability reporting. “The goal of our first sustainability meeting was to engage the creativity, enthusiasm and intelligence of SB’s volunteers to help create a more responsible and sustainable Sustainable Bolivia. By engaging our collective brainpower, we were able to come up with some incredible ideas to be executed in the coming months and years. One of the most important aspects of sustainability is stakeholder engagement and through meetings like these, Sustainable Bolivia can raise awareness, responsibility and transparency to its sustainability mission.

JR and Erin framed the discussion by describing the three pillars of sustainability – environmental, socio-cultural, and economic. While many of the post-it ideas about sustainability were concerned with the environmental aspects, the need to consider all aspects was soon made clear.

In a room full of people like this one, forward-thinking people who have rerouted their travels and even their lives to contribute toward a better and more sustainable Bolivia, informed opinions run strong. The agendas of economic sustainability and environmental sustainability came to a head around the paradox of consumerism. Decreasing consumerism or offsetting environmentally harmful behavior is better for the earth, yet increasing consumerism by spending money locally and mindfully can be more beneficial for local people. A debate emerged: start gardens or buy local produce? Buy carbon offsets for flights or spend more on locally produced goods?

Another point of discussion was a reevaluation of the three pillars of the sustainability, and the need to understand sustainability in the local political and legal context and to sustain the cultural heritage/indigenous peoples (how can SB be more active in solidarity with Bolivia’s indigenous populations?)

In the end, the meeting was re-focused toward action. Based on volunteer ideas, Erin and JR outlined a calendar of activities that will raise awareness and create some pause about our own habits, both at home and abroad. Of course, the activities will also include elements of fun and community.

Here is the list of upcoming sustainability activities to look forward to over the next few months:

  • a no-waste, solar-powered dinner with 100% locally sourced ingredients
  • a citywide trufi (local transport/minibus) scavenger hunt to learn more about the local transportation system
  • a group field trip to the landfill to see the harsh reality of waste treatment in Bolivia
  • a group field trip to the cancha, one of South America’s largest open-air markets, to buy local goods


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