Focus Area: Energy & Climate Change
Commitment By: Daniela Ochoa Gonzalez and Mitchell Harrison
University Name/Major: Cornell University, MPA in Environmental Policy and City and Regional Planning
Partners: Curitiba Environmental Department, local government
Geographic Scope: Morelia, Mexico
Ochoa Gonzalez and Mitchell Harrison of Cornell University are
launching an innovative waste management program in Morelia, Mexico,
which will allow residents to trade recyclable materials for fresh,
locally grown produce. Inspired by a program pioneered in Curitiba,
Brazil, called Cambio Verde — or Green Exchange — Ochoa Gonzalez and
Harrison plan to distribute 180 tons of locally produced foodstuffs to
more than 6,000 active participants, who will have recycled 720 tons of
glass and metal. If they achieve their goal, at least 5 percent of the
town’s residents will have been affected by their positive efforts.
Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison will receive $10,000 in funding from the 2009 CGI U Outstanding
Commitment Awards sponsored by the Wal-Mart and Tillman Foundations.
With these funds, they will be able to purchase and distribute the
locally produced food required to jump-start this initiative. In
addition, Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison are working with the local
government of Morelia in an effort to scale up their model so that
similar initiatives can be incorporated into the environmental policies
of the surrounding region. Their efforts aim to demonstrate that the
Cambio Verde model can be successfully replicated throughout other
CGI U recently had the opportunity to talk to Ochoa Gonzalez and Harrison about their CGI U commitment.
Q. What is the mission of your commitment?
commitment works to exchange food for collected recyclables to address
poverty alleviation and environmental cleanup. Cambio Verde will be a
multi-faceted program where one kilogram of locally cultivated seasonal
produce is traded for every 4 kilograms of recyclable materials
collected from the city streets.
Q. How have you developed the model for your commitment?
We began working on our commitment by gaining the interest of
stakeholders through sharing information about the Cambio Verde program
that has already been successful in Curitiba, Brazil. We are also
gathering relevant information from Morelia’s landfill manager, public
works department program officer, the staff of the rural farmers
development branch at the state agricultural department, and the city
council principal. We have developed a logic model and business plan
outlining the potential impact of the program in Morelia during the
first year. The mayor and the city council will receive this business
plan as well as a copy of Daniela’s thesis, translated into Spanish,
during an informative session that will serve as a kick off meeting for
the project in August 2009.
Q. What inspired you to engage in this commitment, and to choose Morelia as your focus?
Daniela grew up in Morelia, and I have visited there many times since
high school. We both have a wide network of contacts and friends that
would make it easier to strengthen support and recruit sponsors than in
other cities elsewhere in Mexico. Cambio Verde was first conceived in
Curitiba, Brazil, in the late 1980s. While doing an internship in
Curitiba’s environmental department, Daniela investigated how Cambio
Verde’s solid waste management strategies could be replicated in
Morelia. We found that the Cambio Verde program is the most feasible as
a first step in exploring our goals of starting a toxic waste treatment
facility, determining procedures for clinical waste disposal, and
achieving the ability to separate and recycle household waste. Cambio
Verde’s model is cheaper than other similar programs and it is able to
capture the most attention for promoting awareness.
Q. What challenges or difficulties have you encountered in the implementation of this exchange? How have you addressed them?
The biggest challenge we could face is the potential resistance of the
informal garbage and recycling collectors in the community to a formal
waste management program. To address the resistance we have designed
contingency plans that rely on the strength and support of our board of
directors and our regional networks. The city council representative
Daniela de los Santos and the landfill director Juan Pablo Guerrero
suggest soliciting the involvement of local and regional private sector
organizations. Informal collectors depend directly on their good
standing with society and strong dependence on local industries, and it
is proven that they do not undermine projects that are sponsored by big
private sector firms. By co-branding ourselves with the organizations
supporting the program, we may be able to gain support of the community.
Q. How Cambio Verde will work with the private sector and local government in order for your commitment to be successful?
Because Cambio Verde was initiated by the local government in Curitiba,
Brazil, it is crucial to involve the local government of Morelia from
the beginning. Even if in Morelia’s case the idea comes from us, it
should be a multi-party commitment where the government is aware that
the private investment. We have already heard from the Morelia city
council representative Daniela de los Santos that there is a
possibility to include Cambio Verde input and investment within the
annual local budget once the program is launched. This is the way our
commitment is meant to work. Actually, Morelia receives federal money
specifically assigned for food allocation among the less favored
quintile of the population, this mechanism would help Morelia to better
allocate these resources and to legitimize distribution while promoting
recycling and reducing its operational cost.
aspect of our program is securing food for the exchange. It is
essential that the department of agriculture have a presence on our
board of directors to negotiate with farmers and to help plan for
contingencies for poor crops or weather problems that interfere with
We also face the challenge of the lack
of a fully installed market and industries to absorb the recyclables
collected. Cambio Verde can help the government allocate the
recyclables to the industries located within a 300 kilometers of the
program. Our board of advisors can help us identify and negotiate with
potential buyers of this recyclables. In the future the Board can also
take part in promoting the creation of recycling factories within the
Finally, the contingency plan to tackle the change
in administration also involves our board of advisors. As the board
includes representatives from the different public dependencies related
with the program, the ability to create strong and stable relations
with this representatives and the amount of enrollment and commitment
they take on it, will help the program take priority among their agenda
of initiatives to be maintain and preserve through the next
administration. Whatever the tendency or the party inclination of the
new administration, the presence of the private sector in the board of
advisors, provide them with an opportunity to remain in good standing
and strength their own connection to them. For this reason even if
after the third year the private sponsors provide a minimal part of the
program budget, it is crucial to count with their name and relevance
for the program to assure stability and continuity.
Are you currently seeking other resources or partnership opportunities
to expand this initiative in Morelia or in the surrounding area?
some of this potential sponsors detected in the region are Lumen,
Consortium Tres Marias, Cinepolis, Juaninos, Cinepolis, Juanito’s,
Sistos y Ruiz Hardware Stores and more. Once the main project document
is completely translated (thesis + business plan) we will presented to
each of the potential sponsors that compile with our interest and
standard of being directly related to the local community and who want
to contribute to society through our project this coming August. Later
on, a second and, we hope final, round of sponsors will join in the
month of November where a stand with an exchange truck of recyclables
for food will be presented in the main industrial fair in the Region:
Expovall. This fair will give the program exposure to most of the
investors of Michoacán (Morelia state) and surrounding states. The
stand will actually exchange recyclables for local harvested produce
and we expect to complete our budget at this point.
addition we are putting together other grants applications for the
Spanish government foundation to take advantage that they are investing
heavily in Michoacán state.