Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sounds easy, right? Many companies give lip service to the words eco-friendly, sustainability, and social responsibility, but the team at Itaipu Binacional is living it. On my press trip to Iguazu Falls, I was able to go behind the scenes at the world’s largest generator of renewable clean energy and witness firsthand some of their earth-friendly initiatives.
As my guide Edivaldo drove me around the plant in our electric vehicle(charged by the dam of course!), he shared the story of Itaipu. “Itaipu Binacional started at the junction of the Iguaçu River and the Paraná river, with construction beginning in 1974 in response to rising oil prices and the search for renewable energy sources. A few years later, the concreting of the dam began at a pace of one 10-story building per hour.” That’s a lot of manpower! Finished in late 1983 with its initial electricity generation by mid-1984, Itaipu is still going strong. In fact, just during December 2017 the dam produced 9.2 million MWh of hydraulic energy – enough to power Brazil for six days or the city of São Paulo for three and a half months. Wow!
Since its start, Itaipu has been a leader in ecofriendly practices. And it has the awards to prove it! In 2015, the United Nations gave Itaipu the “Water for Life” award for their “Cultivando Água Boa”(Cultivating Good Water) program which beat out 40 similar initiatives from all around the world.
Additionally, in 2010 the British magazine The New Economy, responsible for the Clean Technology and New Energy awards, recognized Itaipu as a “leader in developing renewable energy sources”. And it doesn’t stop at green energy! In 2006, Itaipu was awarded the first Pro Gender Equality Seal by the United Nations Development Fund for Women for its equal employment and labor practices. Awesome!
Whether it’s water conservation, education outreach, animal protection, or gender equality, Itaipu has been winning awards since its start. Walking along the dam’s edge, Edivaldo told me about one of their local farming programs to help low-income communities. “Itaipu has donated over 70,000 acres of soil for crops and safe farming practices, including equipment and tanks.” The result of Itaipu’s efforts? The sustaining of over 34,000 families that have benefited from this land, as well as the proliferation of food from Itaipu’s donation of chickens, goats, and hogs, ensuring everyone has enough to eat.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” -Maimonides, Spanish philosopher
This quote couldn’t be truer than with the work at Itaipu. Besides just feeding the local communities through the farming program mentioned above, Itaipu has a structured intern program for low-income youth. Known as the “Leading a Working Life” program, this work experience gives 15-17 year olds a chance to learn about the power plant’s initiatives and continue their education in technical fields that will lead to job placements upon graduation.
Standing above Latin America’s largest generator is easy. Taking in the vast views of Brazil, Paraguay and far off Argentina will hold you in awe. Going inside is where the wonder and a bit of hesitation take over! As Edivaldo led me inside these sixty-something storied turbines, my knees did get a little weak as I heard the whirring of electric energy all around me.
Driving over to our catamaran for the sunset tour, my crew and I talked about what we could do to help with our own conservation and recycling efforts back home. A conversation about recycled water bottles prompted Edivaldo to talk about Itaipu’s outreach with local trash pickers in Iguaçu Falls. “Itaipu helps the pickers that work in dangerous conditions by donating equipment, uniforms, carts, and scales as they remove recyclable material from the streets. The company website states, ‘They are genuine environmental agents helping protect nature [and] they substantially decrease the amount of recyclable materials dumped in the environment’.” It’s true! This successful community program is now moving to other cities in Brazil like São Paulo and Belo Horizonte.
Cruising along the gorgeous river, I was mesmerized by two of nature’s energy sources – the sun and water. I thought about all the families using this energy to power televisions, refrigerators, and of course smartphones all across Brazil and Paraguay. Wrapping up my tour back at Itaipu headquarters, I thanked Edivaldo for the amazing visit and enlightening education about some truly inventive initiatives around social responsibility and green tourism. Taking care of our natural energy sources will be something that we will all be dealing with in the years to come.