San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Eco-friendly Costa Rican businesses earn coveted Blue Flag

On International Water Day Costa Rica awarded its Blue Flag awards to communities, beaches, businesses, conservation areas and other organizations demonstrating a commitment to protecting the country’s natural resources.

“Costa Ricans, since the 1960s, decided to have a … social pact with nature, and that is what we are fulfilling today,” President Laura Chinchilla said Thursday at the Blue Flag awards ceremony at Casa Presidencial in the southeastern Zapote district of San José.

At the ceremony, Chinchilla also signed a new law to protect the country’s hydrological resources and a sweeping anti-smoking bill.

In the ’90s, the National Water Laboratory – an office of the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) – began promoting development in local committees with conservation and protection of natural resources as a goal.

In 2011, some 1,400 organizations participated in the Blue Flag Awards in seven categories, including protection of beaches, community development, educational centers and protected areas. The initiative also sought to mitigate the effects of climate change, protect hydrological resources and promote public health.

Of the 1,400 organizations that participated last year, 857 were awarded this week with at least one of five possible stars indicating the level of commitment to environmental protection.

Of 106 beaches that competed, 80 were awarded at least one star. Punta del Madero, near Tamarindo in the northwestern Guanacaste province, and Playa Blanca de Punta Leona near Jacó, on the central Pacific coast, were the only beaches to receive five stars for 2011. Bahía Junquillal, in Guanacaste, and Manuel Antonio National Park, on the central Pacific coast, both received two stars.

EARTH University, Reserva Conchal and La Fortuna de San Carlos each earned four stars in the “communities” category. Of 44 communities that participated last year, 25 earned one star, 10 earned two stars and two earned three stars.

Schools and educational centers also got in on the 2011 eco-friendly action. Of 849 schools that participated, 531 received at least one star in efforts to cultivate in students attitudes that value environmental conservation.

Of 45 protected areas, 33 received at least one Blue Flag star; 21 reserves and refuges received 3 stars, and none received four or five. The Punta Leona Wildlife Refuge, EARTH Forest Reserve and the Nosara Civic Association Reserve, among others, all earned 3 stars.

In terms of watershed protection, the Quebrada Guayacán watershed committee was awarded four stars.

Costa Rica’s own Coopedota – the world’s first certified carbon-neutral coffee collective –received five stars in 2011 for its efforts to confront climate change. The coffee cooperative recycles and treats all wastewater from its processes and uses all parts of coffee been waste to co-generate electricity at its plant.

The Los Santos area, a coffee producing region south of San José, which is home to Coopedota, received three stars in promotion of public health.

Environment Minister René Castro praised the dedication of participating organizations and committees, saying the steps they have taken to shrink their environmental impacts are not easy, but their efforts improve the country’s “eco-competiveness.”

“These steps lower costs, improve [an organization’s] relationship with the environment and improve social development in their communities,” Castro said.

Castro also unveiled plans to create a national watershed registry with sensors capable of monitoring changes in hydrological resources in real time. The Environment Ministry, Castro said, will now dedicate some 20 percent of its resources to policing and managing water resources in the country, and will also start a campaign of shame including publishing online names of individuals and businesses known to be polluting water sources.

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