As evidence of environmental crises grows, so does the need for practical solutions to build and live in harmony with the planet. In a small office in downtown Escazú, west of San José, sustainability consultants at EcoDepot are ready to help. Their mission is to assist developers, hotel owners and homeowners in achieving a more sustainable and energy-efficient lifestyle by making green technology and products affordable and available in Costa Rica.
Founded in 2008 by Jean Bernard DuPoux, 33, a native of the U.S. state of New Jersey, EcoDepot provides consulting services for green building technology, sustainability certification, renewable energy systems and sustainable products for everyday life.
DuPoux focuses on green building and sustainable systems for homes and hotels, while Costa Rican Laura Soto, 27, EcoDepot’s agricultural engineer, specializes in sustainable living, organic farming and biodegradable cleaning supplies (see box).
DuPoux sees sustainability as a holistic philosophy that is socially, environmentally and economically responsible. While “sustainable living” sounds nice, most developers don’t know how to get their project from point A to point B. EcoDepot aims to bridge the gap between good intentions and real results.
One of several companies selected to join President Oscar Arias’ Peace With Nature initiative to help the private sector achieve efficiency and lower its ecological footprint, EcoDepot offers goods and services provided by local fair-trade companies that prove true sustainability, with efforts in environmental protection and reduction, recycling and reuse of natural resources.
The intention is to create a chain reaction that spurs the creation of eco-friendly jobs and sustainable economic growth for Costa Rica, especially in ecotourism and real estate development.
The company also facilitates certifications for the Ecological Blue Flag Program, the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism, and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certifications from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Sustainability consultations start with preliminary project planning, which includes an assessment and a solution proposal. From there, the EcoDepot team works with clients to create intelligent system design, walks them through contracts and budgets, oversees installation and test runs, and finally trains clients for proper use and maintenance of their sustainable technologies.
While EcoDepot encourages all its clients to remodel and update their investments for maximum sustainability, it stresses the importance of starting from the drawing board.
“It’s important to start at the beginning with a whole system versus trying to fix a conventional project at the end,” Soto says.
Whole system design requires developers to think of the entire cycle of a product, including transport and energy use. This means keeping production local and efficient. EcoDepot promotes products made out of local, recycled or natural materials. An imported product, as natural as it may be, is not sustainable if it is shipped in from across the globe using fossil fuels that pollute the atmosphere.
For a project to be sustainable, it also needs to be energy-efficient.
“An inefficient building that poorly manages power resources is not set up for alternative technology,” DuPoux says.
For example, solar power doesn’t make sense for an inefficient home or hotel that uses huge amounts of power. But an efficient home that uses minimal energy is a prime place for this type of bright technology. Even in large-scale buildings, compartmentalized renewable energy can substantially reduce energy consumption. DuPoux estimates that 60 percent of hotel energy is spent on hot showers, so solar-heated showers make a lot of sense.
EcoDepot provides developers with alternatives to conventional materials, including nontoxic building materials for commercial and residential projects. Some of their most popular products include 100 percent natural concrete sealers and paints, high-quality local stone veneer, bamboo from an organic farm on the Caribbean slope and recycled-plastic “wood” building material.
It promotes modest fixes that make a big difference: water filters and softeners, luxury low-flow showerheads, faucet aerators and biodegradable packaging for restaurants. The company also facilitates bigger projects such as porous pavements and garden grids, gray water recycling systems, solar power generation, recycling and composting centers and biodigesters that produce biogas from animal waste.
EcoDepot helps clients select the most logical method to harness and use renewable energy such as solar, wind and hydroelectric power. In solar power alone, EcoDepot provides systems and solutions in water heating, electricity, photovoltaic-battery emergency backup power systems, food drying, cooking, on-the-grid solar combinations and off-the-grid, stand-alone solar power systems.
DuPoux says the biggest barrier to businesses buying into sustainable technologies is initial cost. Yet most green technologies actually save money in the long run.
“Sustainability is a sure investment with long-term returns,” he says. “It protects your investment because is makes buildings last longer and decreases the negative health impacts of toxic substances for your family, employees and guests.”
DuPoux and Soto say more and more developers are going green, not just because it’s trendy, but also because sustainable buildings save money by decreasing maintenance and energy costs. Developers, tour operators, hotel owners and real estate agents are realizing that their buyers, especially in Costa Rica, are going green as well. Clients are no longer satisfied with conventional construction, and want to make sure their home abroad is responsible to the planet.
“They don’t want to be just another developer who slashes and burns,” DuPoux says.
EcoDepot’s client list includes Villa Mango hotel and the recently inaugurated Blue Spirit yoga resort in Nosara, Finca Las Brisas sustainable community in Sámara and Hotel La Finisterra in Playa Hermosa, all in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. The company is also working with Infinity Retreat in Montezuma, on the NicoyaPeninsula, and the Palacio in Jacó, on the central Pacific coast.
EcoDepot’s main office is in Plaza Real Escazú, 300 meters north of Banco Nacional. For information, call 2228-7272 or 8373-8491, or visit www.ecodepotcr.com. EcoDepot products are also available at 3G-Green Sustainable Development in the Guiones mini-mall near Nosara (2682-0661, [email protected]).
Supplies for Sustainable Living
Costa Rica is particularly vulnerable to harsh cleaning chemicals because of global economic trends, according to EcoDepot’s Laura Soto, a graduate of EARTHUniversity near the Caribbean-slope town of Guácimo. When toxic chemicals in household supplies are banned in North America and Europe, they may be shipped to Central America, where regulations are less strict, for a quick sale. The effect on Costa Rica’s environmental and human health has been devastating, Soto says.
“Everyday substances like paint and cleaning products have lead and volatile organic chemicals, which will slowly kill you,” Soto explains. “In Costa Rica, the biggest problem is water pollution.”
Soto says cleaning supplies such as bleach are so ingrained in the habits of Costa Ricans that people disregard how toxic they are.
The Florex company is a prime example of the type of company EcoDepot supports. Based in San Ramón, northwest of the capital, Florex produces biodegradable cleaning products manufactured in a “bioclimatic” factory that utilizes natural ventilation, sunlight, gravity, rainwater and recycled water systems to maximize efficiency.
Its products use less fossil fuel because they are concentrated and take up less space on shipping trucks. Its biodegradable industrial-strength disinfectant, for example, is the size of a hotel shampoo bottle.
As an authorized distributor of Florex, EcoDepot can outfit any home or hotel with biodegradable cleaning supplies, an easy, affordable first step toward a green lifestyle.
“Sustainable living starts with everyday life,” Soto says. “We have to understand that every little thing we do has an effect.”