SEKEM in Brazil: Sustainable Engagement without Borders

Nowadays, the consumer behavior plays a crucial role in influencing business strategies, at the same time it can hugely contribute to realizing a sustainable economy. Brazil is among many countries that have adopted this notion and proved its validity. A “Solidarity Economy” came up there promoting sustainable consumption and production after the recession had hit the country’s economic situation in the 90’s.

Being exemplary, made Brazil the venue of the fourth symposium on the future of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), held by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). In Curitiba, the capital of the southern Brazilian state of Paraná, 16 education specialists, philosophers, environmental and economic experts from around the globe attended the symposium. For SEKEM, Mohamed Anwar, ESD specialist and Assistant Lecturer at Heliopolis University traveled to Brazil. Besides representing SEKEM School, which is a UNESCO-affiliate since 2015, Anwar also introduced Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development into the symposium, which has its own department for Education for Sustainable Development.

Promising collaboration with Brazil

On the sidelines of the symposium, 20 high-profile business persons, who stand for promoting green markets met up with the 16 participants. Among them was Paulo Muro, a consultant in the area of sustainable business management who had been a guest at SEKEM around one month prior to the UNESCO symposium. In Brazil, with Katia Puchaski, he organized several visits for Mohamed Anwar, among others a presentation to International Business students at the Brazilian University PUCPR (Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Paraná). “That opened the door to a prospective cooperation and I hope that we will be able to initiate student exchanges with Heliopolis University soon,” Mohamed Anwar reveals.

Mohamed Anwar with Paulo Muro and Katia Puchaski during their tour in Curitiba.

Sustainable business models in Brazil

The two-day-UNESCO symposium also included excursions to successful sustainable business models in Curitiba. One of them was to Boticário, the second biggest Brazilian cosmetic company that operates in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. Mohamed Anwar had found there many similarities with SEKEM: “Boticário fosters gender equality and women empowerment among its co-workers and implements a closed value creation by always considering ecological values – exactly how we do it in SEKEM.”

Besides, he visited the “Green Exchange” program, an innovative waste management program in Curitiba. In this project, people living in slums are encouraged to collect organic and recyclable waste, separate it, and deposit it at the nearest waste stations. In exchange for this work, people receive food, bus tickets, school books, and other useful items. The Green Exchange’s innovative solution has helped remove waste from slums and surrounding areas and increased awareness on waste. It has generated a number of employment opportunities which bring in more tax revenue so that the city benefits too: “A brilliant project that contributes to solving many ecological and even economic challenges. It would be fantastic to implement such a program in Egypt as well,” Anwar hopes.

The symposium participants at a waste sorting center, a part of the Green Exchange Program. (©UNESCO/Mariana Alcalay)

“Investors and producers should consider ecological ethics, as they will be of increasing importance for economic growth too,” Mohamed Anwar, SEKEM’s ESD Specialist

Within the framework of discussing how ESD should address upcoming challenges, the symposium emphasized the role of education in supporting responsible consumers. “We should work on raising the awareness of consumers towards sustainable choices by helping them realize that our world is of limited resources,” says Anwar. “Likewise, producers and investors should consider the ecological values in their business activities, especially as that will be of increasing importance for economic growth too.”

Supporting sustainable consumer behavior

During the meeting discussions, Mohamed Anwar presented SEKEM’s recent ESD projects. For instance, the “Training of Trainers” sessions (TOT) which are provided to teachers and principals of UNESCO-affiliated schools in Egypt. “We aim at spreading the message of sustainable education among the teachers, as well as the students in public schools,” he says. “Thereby, the young generation should realize their responsibility towards the natural resources, and it will raise their awareness when it comes to sustainable purchasing and consumption.” The TOT sessions, as well as the ESD-kits provided by Heliopolis University to the teachers, are a part of the EduCamp project that brings schools and universities together in a structured mechanism. The projects work is aligned with the UN Decade Education for Sustainable Development, and the Egyptian Education Reform Policy.

The participants of the fourth UNESCO symposium in Curitiba. (©UNESCO/Mariana Alcalay)

SEKEMs ESD specialist also highlighted to the attendees the meaning of a healthy lifestyle that SEKEM promotes among its members. Every day, SEKEM resides a fresh and warm nutritious meal for all its co-workers and students. “The students start recognizing the impact of eating healthy food – also in regard to their performance in the classrooms,” says Mohamed Anwar. “After a special awareness campaign on lunch boxes, our pupils started, for instance, to bring their snacks in these boxes instead of using plastic bags.”

100% Circular economy in SEKEM by 2050

SEKEM is striving to implement recycling and cradle-to-cradle manufacturing in all its activity fields. Hence, for instance, the biological waste products are used in compost and the wastewater is treated and processed by biological methodologies. Until 2050, SEKEM aims to run all its activities by a 100% circular economy and to encourage the transitioning of other enterprises to a green and sustainable business model.

Noha Hussein

Education for Sustainable Development in Slum Areas
SEKEM and HU support Education for Sustainable Development in UNESCO affiliated Schools
SEKEM and Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development at UNESCO World Conference on ESD