Conquistadors, military juntas and corrupt politicians, multinational corporations and others have long exploited the natural sources of South and Central America. But businesses in the region have responded with sustainable efforts to put that legacy into the dustbin of history, argued Harvard University Business Professor Geoffrey Jones in a recent study.
“Capitalism has created much wealth, but at the cost of massive ecological destruction,” wrote Jones. “This has been particularly severe in Latin America over the past century. Yet the last three decades have also seen a wave of businesses across sectors ranging from beauty to eco-tourism aimed at greater sustainability.”
Pointing to companies like Brazilian cosmetics giant Natura, ecotourism and labor activists among the legions of trash pickers who recycle the mounds of trash generated in Mexico City, São Paulo and other megacities, Jones’ study showed how entrepreneurs are generating wealth without harming the environment or further exacerbating the wide gulf between rich and poor in the region.
Founded in 1969, Natura has a $12.3 billion market capitalization but uses sustainable materials, operates a carbon neutral business, funds educational efforts throughout Brazil and functions as a B corporation designed to reduce its impact on the planet.
Natura is just one company in an enormous country. But Costa Rica has shifted a large segment of its economy to ecotourism, replacing cattle ranching and other industries that damage the environment with tourism that depends on keeping the jungle healthy.
The Latin American model of developing sustainably provides lessons for other countries seeking to grow without duplicating the mistakes of the world’s richest nations, Jones concluded.