Monday, July 16, 2012

Let's be Greener

On top of Mt. Sneffels

I was asked to speak about sustainability at the Food & Beverage Awards Conference in Amsterdam on June 22nd. It was an initiative of The Moodie Report (, an airport retail magazine and source of information for the retail travel industry. Then the following week, I decided to join two long-time friends in their last week of a six-month sabbatical. During the week we rode bicycles for a couple of days and hiked La Plata and Sneffels peaks, two of the famous “Colorado Fourteeners.”
At the conference I talked about the sustainability approach we adopted since introducing organic coffee cultivation in Costa Rica. I made a few really basic points:

Companies are not accounting for the environmental costs we might be imposing on our children and grandchildren. These costs are not showing up on our profit-and-loss statements. I explained that the general well-being of future generations is not taken into account in business decisions guided by a short-term incentive system. We are in fact imposing a lower quality of life on future generations.

The regulations will keep tightening. Eventually, accountants and environmentalists will get together. Governments will require that all companies certify their carbon footprint. Excess carbon emissions will have to be included on the P&L statement as a cost or expense, and companies will have to “pay” for it somehow (via a tax or a set of required environmental activities equivalent to the cost of the emissions). I have talked about this with an accounting expert, and he thinks that including the environmental costs on the P&L statement is an innovative idea that can be done through the boards that govern the International Financial Reporting System (IFRS) and the US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (US GAAP).

In the meantime, companies have an opportunity to excel at voluntarily taking a comprehensive approach toward sustainability. I described some best practices that airport concessionaires like Britt apply nowadays and suggested that much more can be done to include the customer as part of the solution – i.e. teaching how to recycle using practices already in place at airport shops and restaurants.
Finally, I urged business leaders to do more, maybe just one more action in favor of the environment at their companies.

Then I took off to Colorado. I had arranged for a two-day bike trip, traveling on bike trails between Avon, Glenwood Springs and Aspen. During those two days the big fires burning in several areas of Colorado were all over the news. By Tuesday, 346 homes had burned near Colorado Springs, two people had been killed, and over 30,000 people had been forced from their homes. A Forest Service official declared that a warmer climate had extended the fire season into the spring months, and that we were feeling record high temperatures in Colorado.

The next days we climbed La Plata Peak (14,336 ft) and Mt. Sneffels (14,150 ft). Both were good hikes. I had to keep up with my missionary friends who happen to be expert hikers and climbers. I cannot describe with words the beauty and magnificence of those mountains. We climbed Sneffels through the Blue Lakes trail. Along the way we saw flower-filled prairies, three deep-blue lakes, glacial moraines, singing birds, squirrels, chipmunks, marmots, massive rock formations, melting snow feeding white-water rivers… pristine beauty, worth preserving at all costs.

And up there, I remembered the fires in the news, the smoke I saw from the plane arriving into Denver, and the threat to these mountains. On the news, they talked about the failure of a new fire-preventing software that was not completely in place. They described the difficulty of using budgets from different counties or states to mobilize the resources needed to fight the fires, and reported on the excess fuel available for the fires due to unnaturally thick growths of trees in some areas. The reporters did not question why the fire season had extended, what the causes of climate change might be, nor what we all should be doing to change the situation.
Maybe it is because scientifically we cannot prove that climate change is caused by human action. Scientific proof is fine, but many times modern society falls in the trap of requiring scientific proof for taking action. Sometimes we live under the illusion that everything is scientifically proved. We forget that science cannot prove something as fundamental as the existence of love, and it has a hard time even trying to prove the existence of time. But we all love and we are all aware of the importance of time. Even though science has not yet proven that human action is causing climate change, shouldn´t we walk a safer “trail” and take decisive action in favor of the environment?

I ended my airport industry presentation with a question: Did we want to be remembered as an irresponsible, money-making, earth-destroying generation? I love my kids, and I hope to have grandchildren someday. They deserve to enjoy nature as I am doing it!
Iced dive

I feel compelled to do more for the environment, lead an even greener Britt, and become a greener person. I hope you do, too!

¿Questions or comments?
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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Colombia, Shakira, the Presidents and the missing picture

About six months ago I received an email from something called "CEO's Summit of the Americas." Attached was a letter from Juan Manuel Santos, president of the Republic of Colombia. My reaction was, "Yeah, right. The Colombian president doesn't have enough problems to solve and decided to send me a letter."
I receive about 200 emails a day, and there's always some spam that makes it through the filter and into my inbox. But the email didn't look 100-percent spam, so I kept it. Some weeks later I received an original letter from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) with the invitation in printed format. Everything looked legitimate, and one week later I received the call from the Colombian embassy. The event website had a video of President Santos inviting 250 business people from the Americas to be part of a CEO's Summit that would take place at the same time as the Presidents' Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia, April 12-14. So I was one of the lucky two Ticos who were invited.
But why has Colombia become important for us? Well, last February we won two bids to operate gift shops in the new El Dorado Airport Terminal in Bogota, Colombia. This building will be the largest Latin American airport terminal so far. It's scheduled to open this coming August. I have been traveling to Bogota, and our team has been to many regions in Colombia searching for handcrafts, coffee and chocolate. A team of six people toured the country last March for a week as part of the scouting trip — our method of discovering what a new Britt country has to offer to visitors — to gather information to develop products, souvenirs, T-shirts, etc.
I have met three times with the Colombian Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism in San Jose, Bogota, and Cartagena, and have met key business people from that beautiful country. Britt was in El Tiempo, an important newspaper of Colombia, three times in the same week when the news of the new airport concessions broke out. We have received hundreds of emails from suppliers and people offering their services to us. And yes, we have already tasted some of the best coffees from the most representative regions of Colombia. In a future newsletter I will try to describe them for you, they will be part of our collection of Café Britt coffees from Colombia.

So, there I was. In addition to the 250 business people from the Americas, the government picked about 100 key Colombian business people to attend the Summit. We heard presentations from CEO's from global companies, like Marriott and Pepsico, who have a strong presence in the region. Other speakers included representatives from NGO's like "Un techo para mi país" (A Roof for My Country), a non-profit organization with presence in 20 countries in Latin America that last year listed 125,000 volunteers who helped build houses for the poor. Even Shakira, the famous song-writer, singer and global pop star, spoke to us. Shakira has been helping poor children for 20 years already, building care centers for young children in many countries. She spoke to an auditorium filled with some of the most influential business people in Latin America, and called for more decisive action. She preached the philanthro-capitalism concepts as practiced by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who have each committed to give half of their wealth to non-profits. Shakira supported her talk with the concept of Shared Value, as proposed by Harvard's Michael Porter. She made an impression, certainly a strong one.
I hadn't realized that most of the presidents would come to speak to us. I enjoyed Mexican President Felipe Calderon's presentation. He was funny, spontaneous, and delivered a no-nonsense pro-commerce presentation that was worthy of a high-level economist. With figures, graphs and unusually simple terms, he showed that our countries need more business, that the government does not create wealth, and that we need to work to improve the competitiveness of the companies operating throughout Latin America.  We also heard U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deliver an insightful presentation on connectivity in Latin America, and how the U.S. will try to help connect our cities and improve conditions for marginal communities. We had Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla, who impressed the auditorium according to several people from different countries, by simply explaining Costa Rican history. It looks like our recipe of no-army, a focus on education, universal health care, and care for the environment, is really powerful and needed these days. That evening we went to the historic Castillo de San Felipe, Cartagena's signature colonial castle within the walled city. And, yes, we had dinner with the 20+ presidents (about 1,000 people total), including President Barak Obama, and listened to traditionally vibrant vallenato music. Everyone was relaxed. The organization throughout the conference was perfect. Colombians are the best hosts in the world. They truly make you feel at home. On the second day things looked different at the Hilton, where the conference took place. This time the security checks were carried out by Americans, and you could "feel" the security level going up to the sky. You felt scanned, videotaped, controlled. The 500-seat room was full. Hurried people in dark suits invaded the mostly white guayabera/linen dressed business people. The dress code was informal. The guayabera shirts are traditional in many parts of Latin America.   And there they were. We had President Dilma Rousseff from Brazil, now the 6th economy in the world and #1 in Latin America, President Santos from Colombia, and U.S. President Obama. First, President Rousseff talked in her paused, strong, easy-to-understand Portuguese about the economy.
She blamed "some" developed countries for creating a "Monetary Tsunami" — by printing money like crazy — that was affecting the competitiveness of Brazil and other emerging economies by causing their currencies to appreciate in value, thus making their exports more expensive. President Obama looked serious and a bit uncomfortable, maybe because President Rousseff was right. She was right in her reasoning, and I was positively surprised she spoke with a good handle of economic and business concepts.   President Santos started with an ice-breaking joke that had secondary effects. He said he was in the midst of "two titans," and looked first to his right at Mrs. Rousseff, and then turned left to make eye contact with Mr. Obama, who didn't laugh. He talked about the drug issue. One of the big issues at the presidential conference was a discussion about drug legalization, which the U.S. opposes strongly. President Santos spoke about analyzing the topic, because what we've done for the last 40 years has created many dead people and an increasing drug trade. He was diplomatic toward the U.S., saying that maybe legalizing the drug trade is not the answer, but calling for a serious analysis of the current situation, and the harm that mainly U.S.-based demand is causing throughout Latin America.  The secondary effect of President Santos intervention, in my opinion, was that somehow in the auditorium and the conference, the U.S. looked about the same as Brazil in terms of importance. And I think Mr. Obama didn't like that sense of being at the same level as Brazil.  Then it was President Obama's turn. I have to say he has a great personality, but I think he felt somewhat uncomfortable. I was eagerly expecting some of his jokes. He just made one. He said that he was tired of going to conferences around the world, especially in Latin America, where the U.S. is to blame for all that is wrong in those places. He made a facial expression as if taking offense, but in a friendly, almost funny way. People laughed. But that was it. He basically responded. He didn't propose. He said, "We are mindful of our responsibilities." He gave a definite "No" to legalizing drugs, and not much more. Maybe my level of expectation was too high. Or the U.S. doesn't have a coherent and decisive focus towards Latin America.
In my opinion, Colombia was the big winner at the conference. Colombia looked positive, competent, progressive, and with execution ability. This is a country with warm people, a great culture, the best music, good food and great coffee!! I heard the event cost them $20 million U.S. dollars, and Cartagena looked at its best.  There were no security incidents, and all this will help boost tourism. The day I was leaving Colombia and going to Brazil, I had some time to relax. I was at a beach resort and went jogging along the beach. Then I saw a group of local people playing soccer. For someone that grew up playing soccer (not much else to do after school), soccer at the beach is one of the best things in life. So I stopped for a second to watch the match. Six, 10-to-20-year-old kids, shirtless, were playing against a group of shirted older guys. I was lucky enough to get invited to play, and since I was shirtless, I played with the sun-bathed, brown-skinned athletic kids. No one asked me what I was doing there. I just crossed a couple of words, took off my running shoes and spoke the universal language of soccer. Shirtless, shoeless, I loved it! I didn't score but we won. Without my iPad I could not take a picture, but believe me, from the whole trip, if I were able to repeat one activity, it would be that one. The warmth and hospitality of Colombians is incredible. With them, this country will succeed!!

Monday, February 13, 2012

COSTA RICA - PURA VIDA -- Qué nos falta?.

Segunda de dos partes -- 14 de Febrero, 2012

En el mes de Diciembre les compartí mi punto de vista alrededor de algunos valores que tenemos en Costa Rica sobre los que pienso debe basarse la estrategia del país.

Mencioné tres temas:

1.      El valor del respeto a la ecología
2.      El valor de ser pacifistas
3.      El valor de ser demócratas y abiertos a la gente

Este país aún tiene muchos temas pendientes en los que debe enfocarse para alcanzar un desarrollo económico, social y ecológico como el que los costarricenses anhelamos.

Infraestructura para ser competitivos

A pesar de que en una reciente encuesta mundial sobre “Marca País”, Costa Rica aparece en primer lugar entre los países de Latinoamérica, en el tema de infraestructura, especialmente en puertos marítimos y carreteras, Costa Rica aparece normalmente en los últimos lugares de la tabla. Hasta hace pocos años los huecos en las calles llamaban la atención de los turistas. En una ocasión mientras yo manejaba mi auto con un visitante japonés, pasamos por una calle con tantos huecos que sentí que de algún modo debía disculparme ante mi invitado japonés, y le dije que en Costa Rica el gobierno no había encontrado la clave para mantener bien las carreteras, a lo que él me dijo que no me preocupara, que eso se solucionaría en poco tiempo, que esa fue la experiencia en Japón. Cuando pregunté que en qué época las calles japonesas estuvieron en tan mal estado él me respondió: “después de la segunda guerra mundial”…

La falta de infraestructura tiene su principal causa en la incapacidad del gobierno de construir y operar obras de gran magnitud, el país está apenas adquiriendo el conocimiento para licitar y manejar obras dadas en concesión a operadores privados, ya los dos aeropuertos internacionales del país están operando exitosamente bajo este modelo, y este camino ha resultado exitoso en otros países de la región.

Educación para la Innovación

Recientemente los estudiantes de secundaria de Costa Rica participaron en una competencia mundial llamada PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), organizada por los países de la OCDE para medir las habilidades de los estudiantes de 15 años en lectura, ciencias y matemáticas. Ya existen muchos países de Latinoamérica que también participan. Los resultados para Costa Rica, fueron buenos si nos comparamos con países latinoamericanos, pues los estudiantes ticos quedaron segundos en matemática y ciencias, y cuartos en lectura, la mala noticia es que estos resultados están por debajo del promedio de los países desarrollados de la OCDE. Más allá de estos resultados, necesitamos que nuestros estudiantes aprendan a aprender, que las clases en la escuela estimulen su curiosidad y su inventiva para que una vez adultos puedan desarrollar todo su potencial creativo.

Salud universal de calidad

Sólo una pequeña nota sobre salud. En Costa Rica existe la seguridad social universal y esto permite al 100 por ciento de la población tener acceso a los servicios de salud. La esperanza de vida del costarricense es de 78.8 años, comparable con países desarrollados. Sin embargo el reto es poder mantener la calidad de los servicios con recursos limitados.

Apoyo internacional en seguridad

Como comenté en la columna anterior, la principal fuente de inseguridad en Costa Rica proviene de las bandas internacionales que trafican la droga que se produce en Suramérica y se consume en Norteamérica. Para combatir a estas mafias internacionales se requiere de un esfuerzo coordinado entre todos los países. Aunque se han hecho algunos esfuerzos, estos no se equiparan a la magnitud del problema.

Liderazgo que exprese esta visión

Finalmente, creo que esta es la carencia principal para que este pequeño país se desarrolle. Lamentablemente nuestro sistema político no incentiva a que la mejor gente acepte puestos de liderazgo altos en la función pública. Las reglas para garantizar un manejo ágil del país, algo muy necesario en medio de un mundo tan cambiante,  no existen hoy en día. Padecemos de un exceso de reglas burocráticas, que impiden que los gobiernos ejecuten sus planes estratégicos.

El país requiere de líderes que puedan convencer con la palabra, delinear claramente la visión de país que la gran mayoría de costarricenses anhelan, y ganarse el respeto para cambiar aquellas reglas obsoletas que sólo frenan el avance del país.

Espero que mis tres hijos, y los nietos que vendrán, puedan vivir en un país más sostenible en el ámbito no sólo económico, sino social y ambiental, y que la ruta que Costa Rica decidió tomar, pueda iluminar a otros países que también han comprendido que la ruta de la paz y el equilibrio ambiental no son opcionales.

Hasta la próxima, pura vida !

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COSTA RICA - PURA VIDA Hacia un modelo de país con liderazgo.

Primera de dos partes--  Diciembre, 2011

Hace pocos días hablé de Costa Rica en un panel llamado Amcham Competitiveness Summit, una conferencia de alto nivel sobre la competitividad de este país. Me gustaría compartir con Uds. algo de lo que dije, y que aquellos de Uds. que han visitado Costa Rica y conocen el país de primera mano me escriban para ver si lo que voy a mencionar tiene sentido. Y si Ud. no ha visitado Costa Rica, le recomiendo que lo haga y espero que este artículo le ayude a formar su opinión de este pequeño y lindo país.

Mi contribución giró en torno a los valores que deberían sustentar el modelo de desarrollo económico “tico”.

1.      El valor del respeto a la ecología

Costa Rica debe continuar su desarrollo en torno al respecto por el medio ambiente. Recientemente el país detuvo una concesión para la explotación de una mina de oro a cielo abierto. El Tribunal Constitucional de Costa Rica determinó que la empresa minera no obtuvo todos sus permisos usando criterios técnicos válidos. Pero este fue sólo el final de una serie de cuestionamientos y protestas que se dieron en todo el país debido a que el lugar donde se iba a realizar esta explotación minera es un bosque tropical húmedo con gran biodiversidad. El país celebró la cancelación de esta concesión como un gran logro en favor del medio ambiente. Este tipo de cosas pasan en muy pocos lugares del planeta, y uno de ellos es Costa Rica. El respeto por el medio ambiente y la “ética ecológica” que Costa Rica ha desarrollado son testimonio para el mundo, y son un activo con que el mundo cuenta. Este pequeño país ha logrado proteger en parques nacionales y otras formas de protección de la biodiversidad, aproximadamente un tercio de su territorio.  El modelo llamado “Pago por Servicios Ambientales” mediante el cual los agentes privados se comprometen a conservar bosques para que no sean explotados, ha sido reconocido mundialmente.

2. El valor de ser pacifistas

Hace 63 años Costa Rica abolió el ejército. Este hecho no ocurrió en una región tranquila donde no era necesario defender al país, ocurrió en Centroamérica, que forma parte de Latinoamérica, en momentos en que la democracia era la excepción en la región. En estos 63 años Costa Rica ha visto a sus vecinos envueltos en guerras, hemos tenido dictadores a ambos lados de nuestras fronteras, y al día de hoy la zona Norte de Centroamérica es una de las regiones más violentas del mundo. Pero precisamente Costa Rica, en medio de tanta convulsión, dijo al mundo que prefería vivir sin un ejército, y propuso un modelo de defensa de su país y sus ciudadanos
basado en la palabra, en la argumentación, en los acuerdos multilaterales, en la civilización, y no en la guerra.

Hoy en día, los principales retos del país en materia de garantizar la seguridad están comprometidos por el rentable tránsito de las drogas que se producen en Suramérica y se consumen en Norteamérica. Estas redes han vulnerado la seguridad de muchos países de la región, y aunque Costa Rica continúa siendo el país más seguro de Centroamérica, se necesita el apoyo de la comunidad internacional para luchar contra un fenómeno que atrae a las mafias transnacionales. En medio de tantos problemas regionales, los niños ticos aprenden en la escuela que es mejor estudiar que hacer la guerra, que la solución está en las  palabras y no en las armas. Les confieso que este aspecto de Costa Rica es lo que más satisfacción me causa de mi país. Costa Rica puede predicar la paz al mundo, porque ha apostado su existencia como país independiente en ella.

3. El valor de ser demócratas y abiertos a la gente

En Costa Rica no hubo grandes riquezas minerales ni grandes cantidades de población indígena, de manera que los conquistadores españoles más ambiciosos nunca se establecieron en estas tierras. Los españoles que decidieron habitar Costa Rica, tuvieron que trabajar junto a sus familias, y labrar la tierra ellos mismos. Así, durante la colonia, Costa Rica era la provincia más pobre y alejada de Centroamérica (la capital era Guatemala, y Panamá pertenecía a Colombia en Suramérica).

Esto creó un pueblo abierto a los extranjeros, inmigrantes y visitantes. El turismo es sólo la última etapa de una historia de apertura de los ticos hacia los visitantes. Incluso, en los últimos 30 años el país recibió inmigrantes principalmente nicaragüenses que hoy suman entre un 12% y un 18% de la población de Costa Rica. Los ticos nos quedamos espantados cuando en las noticias se muestran barcos de africanos en condiciones infrahumanas a los cuales no se les permite desembarcar en Europa porque la inmigración se ve como un mal que hay que evitar a toda costa. Costa Rica es diferente, es un país abierto y también puede predicar sobre tolerancia con el ejemplo.

Recientemente según una encuesta mundial de “marca país”, Costa Rica sale en primer lugar como el país de Latinoamérica con la mejor marca país, por encima de países tan grandes como Brasil y México, y de lugares con mayor crecimiento económico como Chile y Panamá. Además, según varias encuestas de “felicidad”, los costarricenses encabezan la lista como el “país más feliz del mundo”.  Sin embargo, Costa Rica enfrenta retos crecientes y en una próxima columna analizaré estos retos, y hablaré sobre otros valores que considero son vitales para sustentar un modelo de desarrollo único en el mundo, el modelo “Pura Vida”.

Les deseo una época de navidad llena de bendiciones, y un año nuevo muy próspero.

Hasta entonces,