SANTIAGO – Protecting the environment is (should be) a global concern. One way we protect the planet is by changing the way we do things in favor of more sustainable approaches to development. Little by little, Chile is making progress in this regard, and examples from its energy, food, and fashion industries show that environmental sustainability and economic viability are not mutually exclusive.
In Chile, as in the rest of the world, the environment has become a necessary topic. In particular, climate change has become one of the most worrisome threats to ponder, because it could lead to mass extinctions, the degradation of ecosystems, the disruption of biological cycles, and, ultimately, the collapse of humanity.
In recent years, the concept of sustainability has become more and more present in the collective imagination and in the lives of Chileans, from individuals to entities, public and private. We are all increasingly using and experiencing this concept in action.
What Is Sustainability?
Do we know what sustainability means? According to the Cambridge dictionary, it means, “the quality of causing little or no damage to the environment and therefore able to continue for a long time.” The dictionary all defines this term as “the idea that goods and services should be produced in ways that do not use resources that can not be replaced and that do not damage the environment.”
Beyond just the concept of sustainability, which has become crucial in the conscious development of the actions of Chileans and citizens of the planet, there is another important definition, sustainable development: the “integral process that demands from the different actors of society commitments and responsibilities in the application of the economic, political, environmental and social model, as well as in the patterns of consumption that determine the quality of life,” according to Chile Desarrollo Sustentable (Chile Sustainable Development), which adds that this process “meets the needs of the present without compromising the capabilities of future generations to meet their own needs.”
“Chile Is One Of The Most Vulnerable Countries In The World”
Yendery Cerda, the National Director of the National Committee for the Defense of Wildlife, told Chile Today that sustainable development in Chile is in an “emergency” state, because climate change predictions for Chile are especially grim. “Chile is one of the most vulnerable countries in the world” in this regard because of its geography, climate, urban planning, and other factors.
For example, Chile currently has 9 of the 10 most polluted cities in South America, and, at the same time, it is dealing with serious water shortages in numerous parts of the country.
This is why, Cerda explained, “Chile faces a big challenge to make deep changes,” and this is where sustainability plays a very important role, because although Chile is making progress, it is still “light years” from other parts of the world such as Europe.
As Cerda detailed, Chile relies primarily on natural resources, the main areas of development being mining, fishing, and forestry. “Therefore, if we talk about sustainability, the main questions are about practices, implementation, and incentives for these sectors,” because we should look for “more productive practices” that seek to maintain natural ecosystems. Without them, natural resources will cease to exist. And without those, Chile will cease to exist.
No Legal Framework
Cerda stressed that all of the above are compounded by the lack of presence of the state and legal regulations, because although the country has laws that help the environment and promote sustainability, as well as a Ministry of the Environment, and related courts, these instruments are not strong enough. In short, she says, a broader legal framework is necessary. Among other things, she said, we urgently need a law that protects biodiversity.
Cerda also suggested that these issues should be part of Chile’s Constitution, as they are in other countries, in which biodiversity and environmental awareness are national interests and seen as things that “must be protected.”
“In our case,” she said, the Constitution only states “the right to live in an environment free of contamination, but the problem is demonstrated when contamination has occurred.”
“This creates a risk for Chile,” she said, because having a “special geography, Chile works like an island,” where the species that are present are unique, in a “significant percentage worldwide,” and “if we do not protect them, not only will the species disappear from the country, but from the planet.”
Education Is The Key
In recent years, several laws have emerged, such as the plastic bag ban and other laws that promote recycling and environmental responsibility; and these are “advances,” Cerda said, but “there is still a lot of work to do to be sustainable and this is where education plays a crucial role.”
“As citizens we must learn to be more responsible consumers, because our decisions, even if they seem small, can have a global impact.” With the level of connection, the impacts are universal, she added.
The Positive Side
Although there is much work to be done, there are several sectors of the Chilean economy that have focused on maintaining our ecosystem and eradicating practices that are damaging to the environment.
- Friendly energy
One of the most important pieces when talking about sustainable development is energy and its use and distribution.
Within this field, a key aspect is so-called unconventional energy, with solar and wind energy as current stand-outs. These two have been developed throughout the country for a while now, to the point that Chile is considered to be a leader.
In this regard, Andrés Vásquez, Director of Business Development of Lader Energy, a company dedicated to the development of renewable energy projects in Latin America and Europe, said that Chile has a “really good outlook” when it comes to energy.
He also said that Chile has positioned itself as the top country in the world ranking of renewable energies, “Climatescope 2018,” due to “the implementation of government policies, investment and dedication for the abandonment of coal in the generation of clean energy.”
He also said that Chile was in a process of “incredibly fast” growth within the renewable energy field, and that in 2018 the non-conventional renewable energies (or ERNC) contributed 18% of the energy matrix of the country, “thus approaching the goal of 20% that the state had imposed for the year 2025.”
These advances are “of great importance to the environment,” he added, “since they do not produce waste or contaminants, thus preventing the deterioration of the environment and helping to stop global warming.” He also added that this form of energy “offers the same efficiency and quality as the [more common energy sources] used today,” which are more polluting.
- Energy efficiency
Energy efficiency is another key to sustainability. Mónica Gazmuri, General Manager of the National Association of Energy Efficiency, defined energy efficiency as “the responsible use of available energy, which guarantees productivity and competitiveness for companies and industries, while taking care of the environment.” Gazmuri explained that energy efficiency is “a concrete tool in climate action, since it allows us to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and local pollution.”
This need is “fundamental for Chile,” because the geography and polluting energies of the country result in “saturation conditions” that wreck the environment and kill 4,000 people every year. “Nature and the world are asking for changes,” Gazmuri emphasized.
- Sustainable Food
Energy is one of the most fundamental factors in a person’s day-to-day life, but so is food. It is therefore no surprise to see a sustainability push there as well.
In fact, this is how Mammaterra was born, the first healthy and sustainable fast food chain in Chile. Maximiliano Pacheco, an agricultural engineer by profession and co-founder of the brand, told Chile Today that although the idea of creating Mammaterra was born with the aim of being a healthy food alternative, along the way they found sustainability as an option, because people were “demanding” it, especially young customers “who prioritize sustainable food.”
What is sustainable food? Pacheco explained that it is food that is produced with environmentally-friendly procedures up and down the supply chain, particularly organic crops grown without pesticides.
The food and everything that adorns or accompanies it must also be sustainable, Pacheco said, the packaging, the utensils, and on and on. Pacheco said this has nothing to do with “being healthy or not,” but rather it has to do with concern for the environment.
Regarding the Chilean sustainable food scene, Pacheco said that “undoubtedly there are many attractive proposals,” which are mainly in Santiago, “Not in the food chain format, or in fast food, but restaurants have adopted the culture of becoming more sustainable.” Still, he added, it’s not enough: this trend needs to become “massive.”
- Sustainable fashion
Fashion has also begun to become more environmentally friendly—and out of necessity, because, worldwide, it is the second most polluting industry after the oil industry.
As Margarita Marin, co-founder of Kila Kila, a Chilean sustainable fashion brand established in the market three years ago, explained, today we are facing “a giant ecosystem problem,” where fashion has contributed a lot to its deterioration due to the industry’s high pollution levels.
The industry also has more ominous sustainability issue: slave labor and near-slave labor—a problem in urgent need of a solution.
For Marin, the fashion industry’s sustainability problem is primarily one of ignorance: people “do not know what happens.” As she explained, “this problem occurs on the other side of the planet, it is not seen, so people do not see how rivers are polluted and how women work in terrible conditions.”
This is why, Marin said, the solution to this problem is communication: “telling the problem over and over again to the people helps to demonstrate the problem and at the same time it causes us to start making the change that we need,” because “explaining to people is the best way to contribute to the solution.”
Sustainable design is increasingly present in Chile, but in a hidden way, Marin added. “In Chilean design there are many brands that have sustainable processes, but they do not know it,” because having a small industry “forces” a designer to have these environmentally-friendly practices.
For example, she said, “Chilean designers do not have access to the big leagues of the global fashion industry, so they have to work with what they have, and that means doing things with leftovers or with their own systems,” and this naturally makes them adopt a “sustainable practice.”
Where Do We Go From Here?
The voices of sustainability say that the future is today and that if we do not educate our citizens, (especially our children), and if we do not change our behavior in every way, from the energy we use, to the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, our future will be very short indeed.
Nelson Quiroz is Chile Today´s photographer. He also writes about youth culture and fashion, and often contributes with photo series during marches and protests.