Paving the way for sustainable business in Latin America

Many years ago, when I first began doing research for Forbes billionaires, I ran across Swiss billionaire Stephan Schmidheiny. He had inherited his fortune, but had taken his thoughts on business to the next level after starting businesses in Latin America and seeing their environmental impact. He started the World Council for Sustainable Business Development by personally travelling around and getting fellow CEOs to sign up to be a part of developing sustainable programs for their companies. Check out the website, it’s a great resource.

I was more impressed with his idea to dedicate the profits of his GrupoNueva business to his non-profit, Avina, and create a symbiotic relationship with the goal of promoting sustainable development in Latin America. What does that mean? Is it more than words and nice websites? I wrote about it in my piece, “The Bill Gates of Switzerland.” Up to $30 million in profits from GrupoNueva is transferred to Avina annually and dedicated to developing leaders in Latin America who are striving for solutions to the continent’s problems.

I spoke with Martin Burt, Executive Director of Fundación Paraguaya, for the piece and he told me a story about Schmidheiny that never made it into the story. Burt had met Schmidheiny when he came to open an Avina office in Paraguay’s capital, Asuncion. He went with him to the Mburicao stream which flows into the Paraguay River. Slaughterhouses (Paraguay is a beef producing country) were dumping untreated water full of blood into the river. “There were falls of red water. It was grotesque,” Burt told me. He recalled Schmidheiny stepped into the pools of blood, and started to brainstorm ways to solve the problem. Eventually he helped support the eco-efficient solution to take the dried blood and export hemoglobin.

Avina has granted upwards of $400 million to date finding such solutions. GrupoNueva also does its part, not only by funding Avina, but also by acting in a socially responsible way.

I asked Roberto Salas, the new CEO of GrupoNueva, to write about what he sees as GrupoNueva’s goal and message, and you can find that in this week’s Speakers’ Corner. A nice way to end our Business of Green month!

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