Lessons to be Learned from the World’s Greenest Country

This year I was fortunate enough to spend the holidays exploring the lush ecosystems of Costa Rica. It was a trip full of jungle hikes, snorkeling adventures, bird watching, and wildlife viewing in one of the most biologically intense ecoregions of Central America. Visiting this green country inspired me to think about the ways in which Costa Rica has become one of the most sustainable nations in the world.

Through rigorous advancement of environmental policies, Costa Rica has created a nation devoted to green energy, local food production, wildlife conservation, and sustainable economic growth. Outlined below are a few lessons that we could adopt to further promote sustainability and conservation in our own society.

Costa Rica's textured elevations and aqueous qualities provides vast opportunities for the use of hydro power.

Costa Rica’s topography and aqueous environment provide vast opportunities for the use of hydro power. Image via SSU.

1. Clean Energy

The rich landscapes and climates of Costa Rica have given this small nation a plethora of resources, particularly the tremendous amounts of rainfall, active volcanism, and exceptional wind speeds. All of these renewable resources are utilized for energy production in Costa Rica, especially in the use of hydroelectric power, which accounts for nearly 76% of electricity production.

Astoundingly, 93% of electricity in Costa Rica is generated via renewable energy resources; this is an exemplary standard that we should also strive for. Additionally, the government of Costa Rica has committed to being carbon neutral by 2021. It may be a small nation, but the giant steps Costa Rica is taking to be completely renewable-based are superlative.

2. Nature Reserves

Roughly 27% of land in Costa Rica is set aside as protected nature reserves and national parks. This percentage is about double that of protected land in the U.S.; this disparity may be due to the fact that Costa Rica has extremely effective legislation when it comes to environmental issues, specifically deforestation. For example, in the late 1900s the government enacted a ban on any land-use change on forested land throughout Costa Rica.

Another reason conservation has been so successful in this country is due to the creation of the Payments for Environmental Services Program (PSA), which gives landowners monetary incentives to conserve their forests rather than convert them for other uses. Such strict regulations for protecting biodiversity would be a wise lesson for our own society. We do devote a substantial amount of land to national parks and reserves, but a larger budget may be necessary to sustain biodiversity in a changing climate.

A Busy Farmer's Market in Quepo, Costa Rica. Image via Adrian Black.

A Busy Farmer’s Market in Quepo, Costa Rica. Image via Adrian Black.

3. Localized Food Production

While driving through the mountainous countryside of Southern Costa Rica, I passed dozens of produce stands offering local goods such as pineapples, mangoes, citrus fruits, and bananas. These fruit stands represented the small-scale local agricultural presence throughout the nation. In addition to tropical fruits, coffee is another crop that is grown sustainably in Costa Rica. Coffee farms usually belong to regional co-ops that help boost local economies and communities.

The government of Costa Rica favors small community development and promotes localized food production. Small-scale local agriculture is a smart solution for the environment as well as for consumers and producers because it minimizes waste, reduces the amount of energy used for transportation and lowers costs. We should encourage more development of small-scale sustainable food production in our own society to lessen our dependence on pesticides as well as mono-cropping.

Though Costa Rica may be considered the greenest country in the world, these are but three of a great number of sustainable living practices, seen in countless regions across the world, that can be explored and adopted in our own lives.

Featured Image: Misty jungles in Costa Rica. Image via Katy Weaver Photography.

About The Author

is a recent graduate of the University of Oregon where she earned a Bachelor of Science in environmental studies and a minor in business administration. Growing up discovering the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest gave her a passion for both conservation and sustainability. She hopes to expand her knowledge of climate change by earning a Master’s degree in environmental science and specializing in biogeochemistry. As a foodie, her interests lie in cooking and baking, as well as traveling, camping, and exploring the outdoors.