Is it possible to achieve sustainable development? Many have written about the topic. Projects and programs reflect good theories and intentions, but it is seldom possible to see the high community participation and consistent positive change to the extent the ITAIPU Binacional Hydroelectric Power Plant has achieved. Its hundreds of community initiatives in Brazil and Paraguay have been possible thanks to the implementation of a successful program called “Cultivating Good Water”.

The program, designed for active community participation, follows a method inspired in the teachings of Brazilian theologian and writer Leonardo Baff and Brazilian educator and philosopher Pablo Freire. It is also based on national and planetary values and documents such as the Earth Charter, Agenda 21, Global Pact, Eco Rio 92, the Kyoto Protocol, Water for All, Water for Life (UNESCO), the Brazilian Water Resources Plan, Ethics of Care and the Treaty on Environmental Education for Sustainable Societies and Global Responsibility.

Cultivating Good Water has been introduced in 29 cities of the Parana River basin since 2003, educating and training over 170,000 people to serve a population of around one million in an area of 8,000 square km. “It has been an opportunity to trigger a positive change of attitude to empower all levels of society”, said Nelton Miguel Friedrich, coordinator and environmental director at ITAIPU. “As a hydroelectric our main goal is to supply energy. But such a passive role, where companies only look at the technical and economic aspects no longer works. An hydroelectric needs water to operate and people and every living organism also needs water. Cutivating Good Water implies a change of paradigm, taking a systemic approach and understanding that to change anything we want, we need to start changing ourselves”. Politicians, entrepreneurs, teachers, students, retired people, those who have and those who have not are all part of a community and therefore they all have a say and an active part to play.

The program starts creating awareness of the closest water basin that surrounds the community. There is no paternalistic approach. “In a matter of days a community can go through a transformation from a Cartesian to a sustainable vision and mission”, said Mr. Friedrich. “It is an amazing process to experience”, said Jair Kotz, superintendent environmental management. “People’s life takes place in a micro-basin. The process starts with reflexion and understanding how every individual action within the micro basin affects the group and the environment, how everything and everyone is connected and interdependent. The idea is to empower the community to find local responses to global problems and to take charge improving their quality of life. “It implies a change of values and behaviour, becoming more conscious about our actions as consumers and how these affect our physical and social environment”, said Mr. Friedrich.

People talk about global warming, climate change, waste and pollution of our water and natural resources, decreased biodiversity, but it is not easy to make a direct connection to our own behavior and what each of us can do to mitigate these global challenges”, said Rubens de Souza, technical assistant at ITAIPU. The basin management implementation has seven stages and aims to change people as they experience sustainability while they are be, feel, live, produce and consum. The results achieved in just 10 years are impressive: putting up fences to protect the water bordering vegetation (1.321,83 km), planting seedlings (3.562.416 units); sustainability of roads (716,22 km); soil and water conservation with cultivated areas under no-tillage systems (20.433,63 hectares); proper disposal of pesticide packaging (446 tons) installation of community water supply facilities (158 units); supply of organic fertilizer distributors (172 units). Between 2003 and 2013 over 69,000 farmers have diversified their operations with increased income generation and 840 fishermen are involved in the first modules in Brazil for aquaculture. There are over 900 farms producing under organic methods and 300 currently under conversion, 34 agro-industries that support family agriculture have been certified and those in beekeeping are selling their goods to the local and export markets. The Latin American Integration University UNILA is one of the ambitious projects ITAIPU will offer to 10,000 Brazilians and students from other Latin American countries interested in undergraduate and graduate programs.

The “Cultivating Good Water” program has won national and international awards and in 2012 was qualified as the “ best socio-environmental action in Brazil of the decade”. Delegations from different countries including Argentina and Italy have visited ITAIPU. Currently there is a cooperation project to export this method and “know-how” to Guatemala.