Costa Rica, the land of PURA VIDA is situated in Central America, as a bridge of land between North America and South America with a population of around 5 million. However, Costa Rica as many countries, is struggling to find ways to solve the waste problem and to move towards sustainability.
Let’s Do It World Costa Rica leader, Karla Chaves, and her business partner Lucilla, have over 25 years of business experience in communications, marketing and PR. Across the years, they have worked with around 100 companies, many of which are concerned with sustainability and social responsibility.
The two entrepreneurial-spirited partners, with connections to all these companies and stakeholders, decided to bring them together under one initiative. Ecoins is a programme to encourage the recycling of waste—recyclers collect Ecoins and use them to access discounts or promotions. Ecoins is an excellent example of a Let’s Do It World initiative, as we aim to focus on projects that will have a significant impact on the future.
Clean, dry and separate waste
Separating waste at home is one of the first and most important steps in the Ecoins process. When you take this separated waste to a recycling center, you earn an Ecoin. Ecoins can be added to your digital wallet and used to receive product discounts or to participate in promotions. After cleaning, drying and separating the waste, the programme consists of three stages: deposit, win, save.
Karla and Lucilla started Ecoins project around four years ago. The Ecoins initiative, which places a clear emphasis on sustainability, aims to help people satisfy their desire to do better. Ecoins helps people rediscover the importance and value of raw materials. To retain the value of the material, separating the waste at home a very important part of the business model. Ecoins is a resource ecosystem that functions like a virtual coin, but includes many companies and stakeholders in its system.
Recycling and the circular economy are highly integrated within the Ecoins initiative. Karla Chaves doesn’t consider Ecoins to be only about environmental impact, but also aims to make the initiative an important part of the economy.
Ecoins aims to communicate as a brand that leaves a positive impact on consumers. They try to look at the issue from a positive angle, focusing on rewards rather than punishment—because in addition to the financial gains, our future and our children will gain a better environment. At the same time, thanks to the positive effect on the economy, the private sector will also benefit from this initiative. However, the most important aim of the project is to nudge people towards a recycling mindset in a positive way—for the benefit of the planet.
While aiming to retain the environmental value of the recycled materials, the project also contributes to the economy through a number of stakeholders and companies. The main issue and main message of Ecoins is value. The value of protecting the environment, the value of the material, the value of people working in the industry—the project aims to ensure that all these types of value are recognised by consumers. Ecoins tries to do this right from the start, alongside educational initiatives.
The biggest challenge is a lack of full cooperation
The current economy is based on competition, but Ecoins is operating in a collaborative environment. Karla and Lucilla have found the biggest challenges to be lack of time, lack of of cooperation, lack of responsibility, lack of awareness and lack of trust to try new things. People don’t trust that the system is long-term and is working for the welfare of society.
As Ecoins is about influencing people’s mindset, methods for communicating Ecoins need to be different in every country. Karla and Lucilla have developed a franchise system—because every country and every city knows how to adapt it best to their own context. Through the franchise, Ecoins has expanded into Nicaragua, Guatemala, Argentina and Honduras.
Don’t put all the eggs in one basket
The main learning point for Karla has been to avoid “putting all the eggs in one basket”. It is important to divide up costs, responsibilities and participation. All stakeholders should be engaged—and know that what they do for this business will have a significant impact on our future and our environment. Motivating the team is also crucial. Karla and Lucilla faced many challenges and rejections in the beginning, but they carried on without losing motivation or consistency. As a result, Ecoins is now a family of 100,000 people.
Tips for similar projects
To others setting up similar projects, Karla advises that the most important thing is to get to know the local context and make as much impact as possible. Things that can be done in Costa Rica cannot necessarily be done in other countries. Although there are Ecoins units in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Argentina, it would be impossible for Ecoins to manage them alone. Because expansion is costly, Ecoins charge a fee for the brand, social media materials and promotional materials, which they provide to NGOs, foundations or group to start the initiative in their own country. Ecoins trains them from the basics and works in collaboration with them, but they are leading the initiative in their country. This is not a money-driven franchise. It’s a franchise that focuses on impact, social and environmental issues.
Ecoins supports Sustainable Development Goals 8, 12 and 17, Ecoins is not only something new, but also something important, it's not just a matter of financial reward, it's a matter of survival.