Sunday, September 26, 2010

Tropically Depressed

Tropic Depression Mathew is slowly pirouetting  his way across Central America, flooding streets, downing power lines and in general putting a very big damper on life over the last few days. Here in Alajuela we missed the brunt of the storm but elsewhere in Costa Rica streets, shops and houses were lost to the wild rapids of rivers leaping their banks.

The wise choice this weekend would be to close the windows, draw the shades and hunker down until the angry gray clouds had passed. Of course the second year MBA's instead chose to round up a few buses and head off to the Monte Verde Cloud Forest. Picture a rain forest, shrouded in clouds and dangling off the side of a rain-soaked mountain along Costa Rica's continental divide. Great idea, right?

The purpose of our ill-timed adventure was to acquaint ourselves with the Monte Verde cheese factory, a shining example of Costa Rica's commitment to economic and environmental sustainability in 2010. In business school we are often often stuck reading case after case about the problems of far-off companies in the midst of foreign sustainability challenges. This trip , we had hoped, was a chance to breath life into a case on sustainability. We would speak firsthand with the employees. We would touch the operation. We would have the chance to see sustainability in action.

As it turns out, the secret of Monte Verde's success was a stinky, dirty hog farm. Obviously there was more to their grand plan that hogs and mud, but previously the most detrimental byproduct of the cheese plant had been the leftover whey they dumped into the nearby river daily. Their simple elegant solution was to start a hog farm partway down the mountain from cheese plant. Hogs will eat anything. Even whey. So the cheese company collects their milk from local farms, makes their cheese, feeds the hogs their whey byproduct, strains the hog waste for valuable nutrients and feeds it to the cows who make the milk.

This, my friends, is the nitty-gritty of sustainability. Driving 3 hours across Costa Rica and standing ankle deep in hog shit while tropical depression Mathew pours down on you from above. Awesome.

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