Sustainable Economic Development:

Saving Patagonia’s Northern Lakes

With Fernando Coz, Co-founder and Executive Director of Fundación Chile Lagos Limpios


Natural beauty does more than entrance, it inspires. Chile and Argentina hold one of the planet’s most breathtaking regions: Patagonia, a place that has captured the imaginations of and inspired countless visitors. 

Just shy of Antarctica, Patagonia proudly possesses an array of natural landscapes, from grasslands and deserts to glacial fjords and rainforests. Patagonia’s vast and remote nature doesn’t deter visitors. Instead, tourists flock to the edge of the continent to visit the famous Torres del Paine National Park, the crystal clear Chilean lakes, and other places of natural splendor. 

But with it’s growing popularity, this vibrant area is changing. The rising population has led to a shift in land use—to keep up with the basic needs of the people there, more developers are building up and agricultural land is expanding. 

To ensure that the biodiversity, environmental quality, and accessibility of Chile’s Northern Patagonian Lakes remains strong for both inherent environmental value and tourism, Chile Lagos Limpios (ChLL) is bridging the gap between the community, developers, and the local government. 

ChLL uses data to coordinate the strategic decision-making needed to develop the area in a sustainable way. Through sustainable economic development, ChLL hopes to preserve the lake system before encroaching development harms the socio-economic welfare and pristine wonder of the natural environment.

What Is Sustainable Economic Development?

Sustainable economic development is a framework that fosters economic growth without a cost to the environment. In other words, it’s a way for the economy to prosper without compromising the current or future needs of the planet. 

What Are the Three Pillars of Sustainability?

The first definition of sustainable development emerged in Our Common Future, a book published by the United Nations in 1987. It concluded: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” 

people planet profitThis distilled definition gave way to three key areas that must be balanced in order to achieve long-term sustainability: the economy, society, and the environment. When conscious businesses speak of the triple-bottom line, they’re talking about using strategies to run their business in a way that prioritizes these three concepts in equal weight. 

  • Economic pillar: The generation of revenue through creation of goods and services. The economic pillar can refer to entire industries too, like technology or tourism. 
  • Social pillar: Prioritizing wellbeing, public health, and equality for every human regardless of their identities or geographic location. 
  • Environmental pillar: The conservation and protection of the planet’s natural bounty, beauty, and resources. 

When properly balanced, the environmental impact of economic activity can actually be quite beneficial to the land and communities. In contrast to other companies that release greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants or refuse employee healthcare for the sake of profit, some are actually implementing practices that work to enhance environmental and social welfare. Whether a company is buying carbon offsetting credits to mitigate their carbon emissions, implementing renewable energy and increasing energy efficiency to reduce fossil fuels, or striving towards B Corporation standards, they’re achieving corporate accountability while still generating revenue.

The Sustainable Development Goals

Sustainable Development GoalsThe United Nations has been integral in advancing sustainable economic development among member states. In 2015, all member states committed to reaching life-altering targets by 2030. 

There are 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) for both developed and developing countries. These goals seek to “promote prosperity while protecting the planet.” Here are just a few of the SDGs that people all around the world are addressing to make our shared planet a safer, healthier place for all. 

  • Clean water and sanitation 
  • No poverty or hunger 
  • Gender equality 
  • Sustainable cities and communities 
  • Responsible consumption and production 
  • Climate action 

Many social enterprises and nonprofits have been founded to address these goals. Sian Conway, an ethical marketing strategist, encourages her clients to consider the SDGs when evaluating their businesses. By using these as a framework, businesses are more likely to have a positive impact on the planet and advance social equity. 

Why Is Economic Sustainability Important?

Sustainable development initiatives and economic sustainability are important because they ensure that change is happening from the ground up. In other words, it’s being initiated by grassroots movements, by people on the ground in their own communities who live and breathe solvable issues each day. (This is actually the secret sauce of the social entrepreneur too!) These are people who understand the issues so intensely that they’re able to address them in the most sustainable way possible. 

Economic Sustainability ImportantUnlike conventional development, sustainable economic growth doesn’t come at the cost of people or the planet. It incorporates each sector equally to ensure long term environmental sustainability, economic wealth, and social equality. Many economists agree that using a framework that incorporates sustainable development provides valuable metrics for change and can help save money in the short-term and long-term. 

Sustainable Economic Development Examples

A truly sustainable business considers the triple bottom line. Take a look at how these institutions are balancing environmental protection with revenue and equity. 

The Caprock Group

A key driver in the evolution of capitalism, this isn’t your typical wealth investment firm. This firm invests for impact by allocating their clients’ funds into companies that are changing the world through business. As a founding member of the B Corp community, Caprock is facilitating an equitable distribution of wealth with the goal of addressing the most pressing issues of our time. 

The Regenerative Organic Movement

The future of agriculture is reliant on practices that utilize the triple bottom line. Regenerative agriculture is all about working in conjunction with the land in order to provide economic benefit, safe workplaces, and ensure environmental protection. The ROCTM ensures that agro-businesses can grow and expand without sacrificing the health of the earth, its peoples, or the business’ profits.

Chile Lagos Limpios: Informing Action, Policy, & Planning

chile lagos limpiosAs a non-governmental organization, ChLL’s mission is to work with all stakeholders across sectors to balance the economic development, community, and ecosystem conservation of the 23 Northern Patagonian Lakes. To accomplish this, they use a science-based and collaborative approach that is solutions-oriented and rooted in data. 

Through education, advocacy, and environmental science, ChLL informs how the environmental health and economic welfare of these lakes is handled by advising policy decisions. Tourism accounted for roughly 3.3% of the gross domestic product (gdp) in Chile in 2018, but the degradation of natural wonders like those found in Patagonia threatens the industry. At the same time, ChLL acknowledges that without the development of the area and room for tourism, the entire region would suffer economically. ChLL works to strike the delicate balance between development and conservation.

Fernando Coz, Co-founder and Executive Director of Chile Lagos Limpios

fernando cozArmed with a diverse background in sustainable economic development, Fernando joined two friends to found ChLL in 2019. He is also a member of the board of Fundación PLADES Frutillar, a public-private partnership that designs and executes urban development projects in Frutillar, Northern Patagonia.

Prior to ChLL, Nano worked at Fundación Chile as a Sustainability Leader, working on projects to address renewable energy and climate change. Nano holds a BSc in Business Administration from Universidad de Los Andes in Santiago and a MSc in Environment and Development from The University of Edinburgh. 

The common ground is the lake, is the water. And everyone needs for the water to be clean and healthy in order to use it, have their operations there, and enjoy it.”

Supporting Sustainable Development

As a consumer and human on planet earth, you can make impactful choices that support the Sustainable Development Goals and promote sustainable economic development. 

  • Ditch Plastic: The negative ramifications of our plastic consumption are felt around the world. By removing plastic from your life where you can, you can help tackle the issues plastic pollution places on ecosystems and human health.  Swap your plastic straws for reusable ones and try to go zero-waste in the bathroom
  • Get Loud: Use your voice to speak with your government representatives about your feelings on climate change, racial inequality, and social injustice. Vote during elections and be an active citizen. 
  • Pause Before “Add to Cart”: Conscious consumerism is a great way to reduce your environmental impact. Do you really really need that thing? Is there an alternative to that thing that’s better for the planet? Check out the new Buy Ensemble Directory to find ethical alternatives to everyday consumptive products. 
  • Eliminate Food Waste: Roughly one third of the food we produce on this planet is wasted, even with people across the globe going hungry. Try new recipes, start a backyard compost pile, and use food scraps for vegetable broth to help reduce your individual food waste. 

Closing: The Future of Sustainable Economic Development

From the lakes of Patagonia to the national park systems of the United States, the ultimate goal of sustainable economic development is to enhance the quality of life for all people, while protecting our natural resources. Put simply, it makes a ton of sense, right?

As COVID highlights the inequalities that exist and the climate clock in New York’s Time Square continues to countdown, consumers are only becoming more aware of our planet’s need for tangible change. 

Businesses and nonprofits alike are rising to the challenge by creating movements around the Sustainable Development Goals and incorporating the triple bottom line. Chile Lagos Limpios is making waves of change in one of the most magnificent places on earth by protecting its natural treasures and advancing its communities. 

We all have a connection to the land we share, so what can you do today to help protect our shared planet and oceans for generations to come?

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