How is Uruguay becoming the most renewable country in Latin America?
Over the last 10 years, Uruguay has reduced its carbon footprint dramatically. Today, 90% of the country's energy comes from clean sources. The small South American country, wedged between Argentina and Brazil, is increasingly known for its progressive politics, amazing countryside, and high quality of life. One of our favorite trips in 2017 was to Uruguay to explore the current energy situation in the country and related impact on diverse residents, and we can’t wait to return again.
In Uruguay, we have explored the environment, government policies, and public-private partnerships in order to question how sustainability becomes embedded in a country’s ethos. The most fascinating question for us is how the progressive policies of Uruguay’s government reach people in very different ways. From the capital city of Montevideo to ranches in Northern Uruguay, we have had students conduct field research to understand how daily life and regional policy have impacted the environment in the country.
Arriving in the eco-friendly airport, we were able to immediately start taking notes on sustainability in Uruguay’s capital city. During our time here we researched energy usage in the city through field interviews and meetings with the Uruguayan government. We explored the Old City to gather ideas on sustainable urban living and heritage.
Colonia del Sacramento
Next we traveled to Colonia, the most famous stop in Uruguay, where we wandered the streets of its Barrio Historico, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Colonia is just across the river from Buenos Aires so along the riverbanks you can watch the sunset and just make out the skyline of Argentina’s capital. While Colonia is a bit touristic, the old city provides an interesting perspective on the past and lifestyles there. Colonia also offered an opportunity to interview tourists from around Uruguay, South America and abroad. By researching the connection between historical and modern Uruguay, we reached a better understanding of how history shapes relationships with the environment.
Since 90% of Uruguay’s Land is used for farming and livestock, we left city life behind to experience rural Gaucho lifestyle in both Florida and Minas. During our time we met ranch hands and local farmers, helped with the Parilla, learned about energy production at an eco house, and made friends (while practicing our Spanish). We also took a day to visit turbines and the main station of one of the country's largest wind power plants. Our time in the center of Uruguay was an amazing chance to see how sustainability reaches people in different ways and the way people connect to energy.
La Paloma and Cabo Polonio
We finished our trip along the coast in La Paloma. We learned about the natural interest in sustainable lifestyles in the area as we visited the old town, fishing villages, and the lighthouse. We took a day trip to visit one of the most spectacular places in the country: Cabo Polonio -- a seaside village built on the sand dunes of a national park. We explored the beach and the narrow streets of this off-grid city to round out our research. We ended our trip with a last day in Montevideo before heading back home.
We look forward to returning to Uruguay, and can easily adapt a trip to the country to touch more deeply on the emerging start-up system in the country, the meat-heavy food system, or even connect into regional issues in neighboring countries. We think Uruguay would be an amazing place for a user-centered design trip exploring energy and sustainability (in Spanish) or even a business or VC program to find opportunities and inspiration in one of Latin America’s emerging hubs.
Spanish Language Learning:
Uruguay is a Spanish speaking country, and many of the experts and residents we will meet speak only limited English. While we can work with translators and hold many of our meetings in English, we can also design the trip to strengthen Spanish language skills. We thinking undertaking a research project in a foreign language is an incredible way to improve your skills in a real-world way with a clear objective and need beyond just language learning. The project can thus include elements of immersion and we can enhance this in the trip too. While we won't include traditional home-stays on our programs, the Estancia/farmsted stays possible in Uruguay can also allow a deeper language immersion experience.