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Costa-Rica’s biodiversity efforts

Deforestation rates in the tropics are soaring. According to a report by Frontiers in Environmental Science, ‘the world’s forests, particularly those in tropical areas and climates, are being degraded at an alarming rate. Tropical rainforests contain half of all biodiversity, regulate global climate, purify air and water, and serve as a source of resources for local communities, therefore are incredibly crucial to the health of the planet.’ The loss of biodiversity and species diversity is catastrophic, leading to lowered ecosystem productivity, extinction of species and threat to human life.  

But efforts to replant trees and encourage forest recovery are starting to turn the tide. Particularly in certain countries – take Costa Rica as a case study and it should make you realise that with the right ambitions and intentions, we can all, as individuals even, take steps toward a better future. 

After suffering some of the highest rates of deforestation in the world in the 1970s and 1980s, Costa Rica has regrown large areas of its tropical rainforest. Between 1940 and 1983, Costa Rica, lost approximately, 50% of its original forests. It’s now the only tropical country to actively stop, and reverse, deforestation. The small country really has set the bar when it comes to climate action and protecting biodiversity. 

As an incredibly environmentally progressive country, since 2014, Costa Rica sourced 98% of its energy from renewable sources, has reforested large amounts of degraded land and utilises strong constitutional rights such as the human right to a healthy environment to increase sustainability. Costa Rica also has one of the greatest percentages (26%) of protected land in the world. It’s no surprise then that, in 2019, the country was named Champion of the Earth by the United Nations for its contributions to fighting climate change and protecting nature. 

Perhaps most impressive, though, is this way in which it has regenerated lost forests and habitats. As the report by Frontiers continues, ‘Costa Rica successfully reversed deforestation by restoring forest cover from 24.4% in 1985 to >50% by 2011 through implementation of national environmental protection policies in the 1990s that included a portfolio of Pas (Protected Areas), PES (Payments for Ecosystems Services Programs), and ecotourism.’

So, how exactly did they achieve this increase in forestation? In recognising that the situation in Costa Rica was pretty unique, the tourism ministers knew that they could and should target ecotourism as a means to improve and protect their biodiversity.

Although small, the popular tourism destination houses more than 6% of the world’s biodiversity, drawing people in from all corners of the globe to see such a natural phenomenon. Using the four pillars of sustainable tourism (sustainable management, socioeconomic impacts, cultural impacts, and environmental impacts), the government ensure that Costa Rica’s tourist attractions are centered on respecting the environment. Travellers are therefore offered opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint and contribute to sustainable tourism and volunteering programmes – most often directly supporting reforestation. Earlier this year, the Costa Rica National Forest Financing Fund launched a carbon-footprint calculator for tourists to understand the impact of their travels and offset in a way they see fit. Donations and contributions to this program are used to strengthen forest conservation efforts in Costa Rica.

With nearly 50% of Costa Rica’s biodiversity found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve, it’s a fine example of the aforementioned ecotourism focus coming in to play. Established in 1972 by a coalition of scientists from the Tropical Science Centre (TSC) and Quakers from the local community to protect one of the last tracts of pristine Cloud Forest in Central America, the Preserve is a pioneer and progressive conservation and ecotourism model based in biodiversity research and education. 

As a feature by Treehugger quite rightly drew attention to also, ‘an example of sustainable management in the community [is] locally owned Arenal Observatory Lodge [which] maintains 270 acres of natural forest and 400 acres of reforestation areas.’ Many hotels and resorts across the country, like Arenal Observatory Lodge, focus an incredible amount of their attention on reforestation, and have access to a brilliant support system from the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) and the Certification for Sustainable Tourism, which provides tourism companies with guidelines to manage their business sustainably. 

But it isn’t all down to ecotourism, and direct sources of income for locals and farmers have been a large part of the solution. Known as FONAFIFO, a financial mechanism for the recovery and conservation of forest cover, locals are encouraged to restore forests. Although this doesn’t often lead to them making profit, they can then utilise ecotourism (many will charge a fee to guide biologists, ecologists and sustainable tourists around their land) and PES from the government. 

As well as the government scheme, non-profits such as Reforest the Tropics has planted 356 hectares of forest since it’s founding on the ground of Costa Rica in 1996 and creates a direct source of income for many struggling farmers. According to Borgen Magazine, they ‘create the equivalent of one full-time position for every 15 hectares planted but also require many more short-term workers during the initial stages of planting. Most of these workers come from the local community.’ 

Clearly, innovation, pioneering attitudes to economic solutions and moving quickly on sustainability initiatives are central to the success and progression seen in Costa Rica. It’s about experimenting, working together as a community and recognising the need for urgency.  

A recent National Geographic article shone a spotlight on how researchers are experimenting and have tested whether coffee pulp could also contribute to bringing Costa Rica’s rainforests back to life. The findings were published in the journal Ecological Solutions and Evidence and showed a dramatic improvement from the coffee over the course of two years. This is a prime example of how experimenting and ploughing resources into sustainability campaigns can yield incredible results over short periods of time. Agricultural by-products are a great place to start when it comes to biodiversity and reforestation, and seemingly Costa Rica is, again, leading the way in its acceptance and enthusiasm to keep trying new things. 

Taking that attitude alone is something we could all do in our everyday lives. That is, if we all experimented more with ways to live sustainably and all looked for ways to improve on a daily basis, the world would slowly start looking like a much better place. The Costa Rican philosophy of Pura Vida, meaning Pure Life, is embedded in their culture and manifests in a strong connection between people and nature. As a nation, they are hyper-aware of the effects humans have on the environment and work together to preserve it. Sound like something we could all adopt?   

With Costa Rica’s President Carlos Alvarado Quesada at the helm, who recently announced his plans to decarbonise the country by 2050 and called on several world leader’s to join him, few countries can rival the efforts of the small country. Costa Rica continues to be committed to changing the course of our planet, and recently announced their updated, more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). This commits the country to taking actions that would help limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also promises a further reduction in emissions, aiming for a maximum of 9.11 million tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030.

So, when it comes to trying to live more sustainably, could we all benefit from following in Costa Rica’s footsteps? Keep their enthusiasm, efforts and President Carlos Alvarado Quesada’s progressive attitude in mind, and commit to taking small, yet ambitious, steps everyday. 

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The best of sustainable architecture of 2021

After a year and a half of spending more time at home, many people are putting plans into motion for improving their home and making it a place they want to spend time. In fact, according to figures from Powered Now, Britons have spent over £110billion on home improvements during the pandemic. 

But what could we learn from sustainable architecture, big and small, across the world? How could we use inspiration taken from larger-scale developments and ground-breaking, leading practices to help make our own homes more environmentally friendly? It’s ultimately about making choices that cut carbon, prioritise longevity, and utilise materials that are not harmful to the environment. Energy efficiency and a deliberate awareness of surroundings should be two of the major factors that go into building, renovation and extension considerations. 

In a recent article by Dezeen, as they partner with  V–A–C to produce content about Non-Extractive Architecture, they state: ‘Young architects are rejecting “cookie-cutter modernism” in favour of approaches that prioritise conserving the earth’s resources according to Joseph Grima, who has written a manifesto calling for a new type of non-extractive architecture. Space Caviar co-founder Grima argued that architects increasingly see the discipline as a “form of stewardship of the natural environment” rather than a compositional exercise, as they become aware of the damage that construction is doing to the planet.’ 

Sustainable architecture has come a long way in the last decade and, recently, some of the state of the art developments that have been completed or gone into planning have really pushed the boundaries. Non-extractive architecture looks to building without exploiting the planet, and this can be seen hugely in the growing trend for urban gardens, vertical farms, and urban forest buildings. 

So, from eco cabin offices in the woods to huge-scale green urban developments, we take a look at some of the most inspiring, beautiful and impressive recent examples of sustainable architecture.  \


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The New Cotton Project: what it is & what is means for fashion

When we consider how to combat a sustainable way forward in fashion, it’s not often the nitty gritty details that spring to mind at first. Fast fashion and throwaway style culture is something that we’re all becoming more aware of (thankfully), and often when you talk to people about being more sustainable with fashion, it’s clear that globally we are focusing on being more conscious and investing in pieces that will last and that are ethically made. 

But what does ethically made actually mean? Where are the parameters? And how often do you hear people looking into the specifics of certain everyday, common materials such as cotton? Probably not very often, but that’s where we can certainly direct some more focused attention in the fashion industry. 

After all, the textile industry’s environmental problems do mostly relate to the raw materials used in creation: cotton, fossil-based fibres such as polyester, and viscose (the most common man-made cellulosic fibre), and they are all associated with serious environmental concerns. According to the Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Make Fashion Circular report: ‘If nothing changes, by 2050 the fashion industry will use up a quarter of the world’s carbon budget.’ 

Statistics on cotton are particularly damning, with the World Wildlife Organisation stating that although the global reach of cotton is one of the widest material reaches, ‘current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production.’ 

In fact, the Better Cotton initiative shows us that ‘less than 25% of cotton is grown in a way that actively protects people and the environment.’ According to the Sustainable Cotton Ranking analysis too, ‘uptake of more sustainable cotton remains relatively low with most of the heavy lifting done by a growing number of leaders.’ Ultimately, in terms of engaging brands and companies on a bigger level in directing consumer attention to ethically produced cotton, although there has been some significant improvement in recent years, there’s still a lot of work to do. 
Step in the New Cotton Project, a circular fashion initiative involving 12 pioneering players in the fashion industry. As a world-first, the consortium of brands, manufacturers, suppliers, innovators and research institutes participating in the European Union-funded project will prove that circular, sustainable fashion is not only an ambition, but that it can be achieved today.

The fashion industry produces nearly twice as many clothes today as it did two decades ago and, despite awareness of single-use and throwaway culture rising, demand for clothing is only growing. According to research by the project, the equivalent of one garbage truck of textiles is landfilled or burned every second. 

Designed as a means to directly combat this, over a three-year period, the New Cotton Project will ensure that textile waste is collected, sorted and regenerated into Finnish biotechnology group Infinited Fiber Company’s unique, cellulose-based textile fibres. From here, the fibres will be used to create different types of fabrics for clothing. 

Crucially, and in a move not seen before, the clothing will be designed, manufactured and sold by global brand Adidas, as well as companies within the H&M Group. At the end-of-use, apparel take-back programmes will collect the clothing to determine the next phase in their lifecycle. Infinited Fibre’s patented technology can regenerate cellulose-rich textile waste into unique fibres that look and feel like cotton. It’s this regeneration and recycling element that is central – and a blueprint for larger brands with huge emphasis to join the movement. 

‘We are very excited and proud to lead this project, which is breaking new ground when it comes to making circularity in the textile industry a reality,’ says Infinited Fiber Company’s Co-founder and CEO Petri Alava. ‘The enthusiasm and commitment with which the entire consortium has come together to work towards a cleaner, more sustainable future for fashion is truly inspiring.’

The project is recapturing the valuable, raw materials in discarded clothing and regenerating them back into high-quality fibres that can be spun into new yarn, woven into new fabric, and designed into new clothes – again and again. Perhaps one of the most exciting elements of the movement, the project also aims to act as an inspiration and steppingstone for further, even bigger circular initiatives in the industry going forward. Not to mention make us, as consumers, consider the finer detail in our sustainable treatment of fashion. 

Not only can we then focus on purchasing organic and sustainable cotton products, but brands can and will start to get more involved in this also – once they’ve seen the way paved by influential brands. Watch this space.

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How regenerative agriculture connects with sustainable fashion

Regenerative agriculture is a practice that is pioneering a new way forward for both sustainability in farming, but also for the lives of farmers all over the globe. Believed to be the answer in terms of sustainable land-farming and eco food systems, it also contributes to the ethical fashion movement, too. 
According to the Climate Reality Project, ‘together with forestry and other land use, agriculture is responsible for just under 25 percent of all human-created GHG emissions.’ With the agriculture sector, then, being one of the biggest emitters of CO2, but also a huge part of the solution needed for safe and sustainable futures, it’s integral we find a way to create a sustainable soil ecosystem. 

It’s for this reason that the movement is picking up pace – it’s more than necessary for future-proofing our planet. As the Climate Reality Project points out, ‘in addition to a long list of incredible benefits for farmers and their crops, regenerative agriculture practices help us fight the climate crisis by pulling carbon from the atmosphere and sequestering it in the ground.’ 

But what is regenerative agriculture, exactly? According to Regeneration International, it’s ‘a holistic land management practice that leverages the power of photosynthesis in plants to close the carbon cycle, and build soil health, crop resilience and nutrient density. Regenerative agriculture improves soil health, primarily through the practices that increase soil organic matter. This not only aids in increasing soil biota diversity and health, but increases biodiversity both above and below the soil surface, while increasing both water holding capacity and sequestering carbon at greater depths, thus drawing down climate-damaging levels of atmospheric CO2, and improving soil structure to reverse civilization-threatening human-caused soil loss.’ 

It’s worth noting that the details are often incredibly complex (especially to anyone who doesn’t know a thing or two about rural practices and the farming industry) and are constantly evolving. It’s picking up momentum, which is brilliant, but it can be hard to pin down what, exactly, it means. The concept is simple though, so let’s start there. Essentially, regenerative agriculture is a farming principle that works to regenerate the soil, place nutrients back and replenish the earth, working with as opposed to working against nature. 

These principles and practices include something called over-cropping, whereby you plant to cover soil rather than harvest. Bare soil is bad soil, so regenerative agriculture uses cover crops to maintain living roots in the soil year-round and no gaps. Regenerative farming minimises the use of pesticides or chemical intervention, and seeks to reduce physical disturbance or intervention. It also works to increase diversity through the planting of lots of different plants and crops, so as to rich, varied and nutrient-dense soil. 

But how does sustainable farming link to ethical fashion? Agriculture is often only associated with food systems and animals, but it’s important to realise the link between this and fashion, too. Wool production, cotton creation, it’s all a part of the wider farming industry, and the fashion industry and its supply chains are intrinsically connected to soil degradation. 

Statistics on cotton are particularly damning, with the World Wildlife Organisation stating that although the global reach of cotton is one of the widest material reaches, ‘current cotton production methods are environmentally unsustainable—ultimately undermining the industry’s ability to maintain future production.’ The concerns we have around sustainable food systems, then, directly apply to the future of fashion as well. 

It’s about exploring how we can approach fashion regeneratively alongside the regenerative agriculture push, and thus, raise awareness of this also. Let’s start with Fibreshed. A fibreshed is a regional system, a specific geographical location, that defines and offers boundaries to a natural textile resource base. This allows textiles to be created responsibly, minimising waste and benefitting the environment. 

The not-for-profit Fibreshed, which started in 2010 in California, has supported over 30 official Fibreshed communities all over the world. The organisation implements climate beneficial agriculture, rebuilds regional manufacturing, and connects end-users to the source of fiber through direct educational offerings. This ethos looks at ethical fashion production as an entire system, and works towards a soil to soil concept whereby textiles are grown, created, designed, produced, worn and composted locally.

As it stands, sustainable fashion doesn’t often actively give back to the land, but in practices such as this, that could change. Reducing our consumption of fast fashion is great but it’s about making the eco-fashion movement regenerative, too. 

Carbon Cycle reports that ‘in 2011, Fibershed prototyped a “150-mile wardrobe” from regionally grown fibers, natural dyes and local labor that generated zero toxic fresh water effluent, reducing the CO2 footprint to one sixth that of conventional garments, and developing a network of over 200 urban designers and rural farmers willing to work together to build a new model for fiber systems.’ Patagonia, too, now works with regenerative organic cotton farms in India to produce clothing that actually does something good, as well as helping to mitigate a bigger problem. 

Want to know more about regenerative agricultural practices? You can actually now combine your love for travel, seeing the world and educating yourself with incredible trips and homestays that immerse you within regenerative agriculture. Agritourism is on the up, and as Evie Ramirez points out in a feature she wrote for us last year, ‘is a meaningful and effective way for the hospitality industry to educate and entertain tourists while supporting a wholesome, thriving economy. For visitors, it’s a unique, experiential learning opportunity to understand agriculture. For farmers, it’s a way to supplement income during off-seasons, gain recognition for their agricultural produce and protect their land’s natural resources and amenities.’ Look also for regenerative farming certification: find more info here.

You’ll also find that organisations such as Regenerative Travel have plenty of Farm to Table sustainable escapes on their books, too. Places such as Finca Luna Nueva in Costa Rica offer guests an insight into how regenerative farming can change the outlook of the ecosystem. As Regenerative Travel put it: ‘The essence of Finca Luna Nueva is a shining passion for a regenerative relationship with natural resources. Certified biodynamic, a farm approach of replenishing and feeding into the natural life cycle is key to a harmonious, sacred bond with the land and ecosystem.’ 

Want to do more, as well as knowing more? Let’s see how you could implement similar and simple practices in your own gardens and outdoor spaces.
Make your own compost

Collect all your food and kitchen scraps to create a nutrient rich meal for your soil.

Plant some cover crops 

Opt for planting something such as grazing rye, mustard (fast-growing and can be incorporated into the soil after a few months to boost organic production), winter field beans or peas (great for boosting nitrogen) or buckwheat.

Decrease soil exposure

This is a great one for small urban gardens as it’s relatively easy to do when you don’t have a big garden to tend to. For regenerative farming, it’s recommended to pull one crop up and replace it with another on the same day. This decreases soil exposure and increases overall yield potential.

Practice zero-tilling

Implement a permanent bed structure whereby you use the same soil season to season, instead of turning it over all the time and releasing carbon into the atmosphere. You can also use leaves or straw as mulch and use a broad fork as a minimally invasive way of loosening the soil.

Ignore the weeds

Think of them as playing a leading role in the diversity of your garden and see them as protectors of your precious plants. Only trim them when they get big enough to annoy you (once or twice a year).