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Pura Vida! Costa Rica, where life is so sweet

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No-one leaves Costa Rica without the above phrase echoing in their head like tropical birdsong. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of a country which sees its natural resources as an integral part of its economy and simultaneously manages them with sustainability as a core principle.

My destination for this holiday? Drake Bay, in the Osa Peninsula, nestled in the lush forests of the south-west. It’s not easy to get to, but I’ve been promised virgin-growth rainforests and more wildlife and eye-watering beaches and sun than I can shake a bottle of rum at.

The taxi driver taking me from Palma Norte to Sierpe, from where I catch my river taxi to Drake Bay, points out of the window at passing fields, while rock cristiano blasts from the tinny speakers. Despite the focus on sustainability in the eco-resorts, fisheries and banana and coffee plantations of Costa Rica, palm oil plantations (almost all US-owned) are springing up as the new crop of choice, particularly in the south west of the country.

All this, used to be bananas. Now its palm oil.”

Boats for Drake Bay leave from La Perla del Sur, sitting at the mouth of the lush mangroves in Sierpe. Run by the improbably named Don Jorge, the service and food at this restaurant is excellent and provides spellbinding views of a tapestry of forest, river and sky. I sit, enjoy my Imperial cerveza, and listen to birdsong. With the enthusiasm of an amateur orthinologist, I ask the waiter which species is responsible for the more alluring squealing sounds. It’s the fridge in the kitchen, he replies. I nod sagely, stroking my beard.

On the boat ride over to Drake Bay, I chat to Peter, a Canadian man who has lived in Drake Bay for over 20 years. He tells me about the days when ‘the Colombians’ regularly dumped packages of narcotics off the coast, where local drug runners would scoop them up and deliver the goods onwards and upwards, to the US. He is also the first of many who describes regularly catching the largest fish in the world, which he doesn’t register with the Guinness World Book of Records, in fear of attracting trawlers and sport fisherman to the bay. I can only pray that the two are not connected.

The first thing that struck me about Drake Bay is that the locals don’t really need anything here. Sure, there are amenities we in the west would scarcely be able to do without. A bank, for instance. Easy access via a functioning road is also a challenge. But this only adds to the other-worldly enchantment of the bay once you arrive, disembark, nestle your feet into the sand and are greeted with forests fading away in each direction and a couple of sleepy restaurants at the beach.

Residents, particularly ex-pats who’ve set up shop here, need little else in life apart from the tight-knit community and gorgeous wildlife at their doorstep. Life is so sweet here, that even pig feed is comprised of mangoes, papaya, melons and avocados.

I stayed at Casita Corcovado, an eco-friendly bed and breakfast, run by Jamie and Craig, an adorable couple from the States. Need to book a tour? Have a question about the history of Agujitas, the main town in the bay? Or just a question about where to eat and find other amenities? Jamie and Craig were eager to help.

The bay is the perfect base to explore Corcovado national park. The park is a 424 sq km protected reserve, often touted as the most biodiverse place on the planet. Toucans, sloths, macaws, Baird’s tapir and other-worldly species all call this place home. You can also easily spot howler, spider and pesky white capuchin monkeys. Fact is, no two walks in the park are the same. You’ll spot different species of animals and birds every trip.

Ever dreamt of swimming side-by-side with sea turtles, rays and sharks? Snorkelling and scuba diving off Cano Island can be easily arranged from Drake Bay. After a 45-minute boat ride, dive in with your tour guide and be prepared for some of the most incredibly diverse marine ecosystems on the planet, easy to explore even without scuba diving training. The rocky reefs near the island are home to a variety of marine creatures including puffer fish, parrotfish, seahorses, swordfish and rainbow wrasses.

Of all the things I’ve seen in my life, swimming through a school of fish and watching it disperse, rotate, then collapse again on itself like a slow cosmic event is perhaps the most wondrous. It’s like watching Finding Nemo in 3D, but distinctly wetter.

Cano island itself is closed off to visitors, not only to protect the indigenous wildlife, but also to conserve the mysterious stone spheres (or Las Bolas), which litter the Southern Pacific region. Costa Rica’s Stonehenge, these perfectly spherical stones, carved over 1,000 years ago, are a complete mystery to archaeologists. Locals in Costa Rica, however, wager their origin being down to one of the following three theories:

1. The stones are pre-Colombian, and natives cut them meticulously from stone tools

2. They were rolled and smoothed underneath waterfalls

3. Aliens did it

There’s so much more to see and do in Drake Bay that I couldn’t cram into three days. I never did head out at midnight to the mouth of Rio Claro and bathe in the bioluminescent algae. I didn’t have a drink at the Tureka (the ‘bird cage’).  I didn’t take a boat out to the Pacific and catch a world record-breaking mammoth of a fish. I hadn’t the time for a forest night tour with Martin “Hawk Eyes”, where you’re almost guaranteed to find nocturnal species such as poison-arrow dart frogs, snakes, exotic spiders and insects, and, if you’re lucky, jaguars.

I’ve only scratched the surface of this little slice of heaven. Now I just can’t wait to head back.

Raj Singh is a freelance writer on sustainable investment and CSR, blogging at www.esginsider.com. He was previously programme director at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), and a senior ESG Analyst at ECPI. For more information on Drake Bay and the Osa Peninsula, visit Gringo Curt’s website here.

Further reading:

Ecotourism helps reduce poverty, new study shows

ECOsta Rica?

Why tourism can be a force for good in the developing world, and why it isn’t

‘No tourism if you kill the environment’, Philippines ecotourism conference hears

The Guide to Sustainable Tourism 2014

Raj Singh is a freelance writer on sustainable investment and CSR, blogging at www.esginsider.com. He was previously programme director at the UK Sustainable Investment and Finance Association (UKSIF), and a senior ESG Analyst at ECPI. He has also worked for a boutique PR and IR consultancy for cleantech companies and investors, and had a stint as a journalist at a local newspaper in West London.

Environment

How Home Automation Can Help You Go Green

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home automation to go green

The holidays are an exciting, nostalgic time: the crispness in the air, the crunch of snow under your boot, the display of ornate holiday lighting up your home like a beacon to outer space, and the sound of Santa’s bell at your local Walmart.

Oh, yeah—and your enormous electric bill.

Extra lights and heating can make for some unexpected budgeting problems, and they also cause your home to emit higher levels of CO2 and other pollutants.

So, it’s not just your wallet that’s hurting—the planet is hurting as well.

You can take the usual steps to save energy and be more eco-conscious as you go about your normal winter routine (e.g., keeping cooler temperatures in the home, keeping lights off in naturally lit rooms, etc.), but these methods can often be exhausting and ultimately ineffective.

So what can you actually do to create a greener home?

Turn to tech.

Technology is making waves in conservation efforts. AI and home automation have grown in popularity over the last couple of years, not only because of their cost saving benefits but also because of their ability to improve a home’s overall energy efficiency.

Use the following guide to identify your home’s inefficiencies and find a solution to your energy woes.

Monitor Your Energy Usage

Many people don’t understand how their homes use energy, so they struggle with conservation. Start by looking at your monthly utility bills. They can show you how much energy your home typically uses and what systems cost you the most.

monitor energy usage

Licensed from Shutterstock – By Piotr Adamowicz

The usual culprits for high costs and energy waste tend to be the water heater and heating and cooling system. Other factors could also impact your home’s efficiency. Your home’s insulation, for example, could be a huge source of wasted heating and cooling—especially if the insulation hasn’t been inspected or replaced in years. You should also check your windows and doors for proper weatherproofing every year.

However, waiting for your monthly bill or checking out your home’s construction issues are time-consuming steps, and they don’t help you immediately understand and tackle the problem. Instead, opt for an easier solution. Some homeowners, for example, use a smart energy monitor such as Sense to track energy use in real time and identify energy hogs.

Use Smart Plugs

Computers, televisions, and lights still consume energy if they’re left on and unused. Computers offer easy cost savings with their built-in timers that allow the devices to use less energy—they typically turn off after a set number of minutes. Televisions sometimes provide the same benefit, although you may have to fiddle with the settings to activate this feature.

A better option—and one that thwarts both the television and the lights—is purchasing smart plugs. The average US home uses more than 900 kilowatts of electricity per month. That can really add up, especially when you realize that people are wasting more than $19 billion every year on household appliances that are always plugged in. Smart plugs like WeMo can help eliminate wasted electricity by letting you control plugged-in items from your smartphone.

Update Your Lighting

Incandescent lightbulbs can consume and waste a lot of energy—35% of CO2 emissions are generated from electric power plants. This can have serious consequences for increased global warming.

To reduce your impact on the environment, you can install more efficient lightbulbs to offset your energy usage. However, many homeowners choose smart lights, like the Philips Hue bulbs, to save money and make their homes more energy efficient.

Smart lights can be controlled from your smartphone, and many smart light options come with monthly energy reporting so you can continue to find ways to reduce your carbon footprint.

Take Control of the Thermostat

Homeowners often leave the thermostat on its default settings, but defaults often result in heating and cooling systems that run longer and harder than they need to.

In fact, almost half the average residential energy use comes from energy-demanding heating and cooling systems. As an alternative to fiddling with outdated systems, eco-conscious homeowners use smart thermostats to save at least 10% on heating and roughly 15% on cooling per year.

Change your home’s story by employing a smart thermostat such as the Nest, ecobee3, or Honeywell Lyric. Smart thermostats automatically adjust your in-home temperature by accounting for a variety of factors, including outdoor humidity and precipitation. A lot of smart thermostats will also adjust your home’s temperature depending on the time of day and whether you’re home.

Stop Wasting Water

The average American household uses about 320 gallons of water per day. About one-third of that goes to maintaining their yards. Using a smart irrigation systems to improve your water usage can save your home up to 8,800 gallons of water per year.

Smart irrigation systems use AI to sync with local weather predictions, which can be really helpful if you have a garden or fruit trees that you use your irrigation system for  water. Smart features help keep your garden and landscaping healthy by making sure you never overwater your plants or deprive them of adequate moisture.

If you’re looking to make your home greener, AI-enabled products could make the transition much easier. Has a favorite tool you use that wasn’t mentioned here? Share in the comments below.

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Working From Home And How It Reduces Emissions

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Many businesses are changing their operating model to allow their employees to work from home. Aside from the personal convenience and business benefits, working from home is also great for the environment. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, if employees with the desire to work from home and compatible jobs that allowed for this were allowed to do so only half the time, the reduction in emissions would be the equivalent of eliminating automobile emissions from the workforce of the entire state of New York. Considering the stakes here, it is vital that we understand how exactly working from home helps us go green and how this can be applied.

Reduction of automobile emissions

Statistics by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show that the transportation sector is responsible for about 14% of the total Global Emissions of greenhouse gases, which is a very significant percentage. If employees work from home, then the need to travel to and from their workplace every other day as well as other business trips are reduced considerably. While this may not eliminate the emissions from the transport sector altogether, it reduces the percentage. As indicated in the example above, a move to work from home by more businesses and industries cuts down automobile emissions to as much as those from an entire state.

Reduction of energy production and consumption

According to Eurostat, electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning accounted for as high as 26% of the Greenhouse gas emissions from the EU in 2014. EPA stats are also close at 25% of the total emissions. This makes energy production the single largest source of emissions. Working from home eliminates the need for large office spaces, which in turn reduces the need for electricity and heating. Similarly, the need for electrical office equipment and supplies, such as printers and computers, is also greatly reduced, which reduces the emissions from energy production in offices. Additionally, most households are now adopting green methods of energy production and implementing better ways of energy usage. The use of smart energy-efficient appliances also goes a long way in reducing the energy production and consumption levels from households. This, in turn, cuts down emissions from energy production from both the home and office fronts.

Reduced need for paper

Paper is also a huge source of emissions, considering that it is a carbon-based product. EPA stats show that carbon (IV) oxide from fossil fuel and industrial processes accounts for 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions. Working from home is usually an internet-based operation, which means less paper and more cloud-based services. When everything is communicated electronically, the need for office paper is reduced considerably. Moreover, the cutting down of trees for the sake of paper production reduces. All these outcomes help reduce the emissions and individual carbon footprints.

Effective recycling

While businesses make an effort to recycle it is not as effective as homeowners. Consider everything from the water you drink to office supplies and equipment. While working from home, you have greater control over your environment. This means that you can easily implement proper recycling procedures. However, at the office, that control over your personal space and environment is taken away and the effectiveness of recycling techniques is reduced. Working from home is, therefore, a great way to go green and increase the adoption of proper recycling.

Takeaway

Even though the statistics are in favor of working from home to reduce emissions, note that this is dependent on the reduction of emissions from home. If the households are not green, then the emissions are not reduced in the least. For instance, if instead of installing a VPN in the router to keep the home office safe, an employee buys a standalone server and air gaps it, the energy consumption is not reduced but increased. Therefore, it is necessary that employees working from home go green if there is to be any hope of using this method of operation to cut down on the emissions.

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