Peter Hartmann

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Fellow since 1996
This description of Peter Hartmann's work was prepared when Peter Hartmann was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1996 .


Peter Hartmann is working to transform a slogan, or label, which communities in southern Chile have used to attract tourism and businesses to their localities, into an effective instrument for encouraging public participation in decision-making on environment-related issues and stimulating sound environmental policies. He envisages the development of a "certification process" that will limit the use of the label, "Life Reserve," to communities that meet a rigorous set of standards in their environment-related policies and practices.

The New Idea

In 1984, while working on a development plan for Aysen, a small city and neighboring region in southern Chile, Peter Hartmann coined the phrase "Aysen, Reserva de Vida" ("Aysen, Life Reserve") to evoke the image of a healthy, vital community. Aysen's mayor liked the phrase so much that it was officially adopted by the city government, emblazoned on a large sign at the city's entryway, and prominently featured in promotional materials used to attract tourism and business to the region. Other communities, with governments of varying political perspectives, have been similarly drawn to the "Life Reserve" slogan and have begun to use in their own promotional campaigns.Peter is now engaged in a bold effort to give meaningful, substantive content to the increasingly recognized "Life Reserve" label and to use it as a vehicle for stimulating citizen engagement in decision-making processes with important environmental implications, and pressuring regional and local authorities to take appropriate actions to incorporate the essential elements of the concept in development plans and relevant laws and ordinances. He is focusing current citizen efforts on the Aysen region, but he plans to extend the process to other parts of Chile and to Argentina as well. He also plans to develop an accreditation procedure or certification process that would confine the use of the "Life Reserve" designation to communities that meet a well-defined and demanding set of standards.

The Problem

Stretching from five degrees north of the Tropic of Capricorn to the southern tip of South America, Chile comprises five sharply contrasting geographic zones. With some 14.3 million people and a territory of 757,000 square kilometers, the country enjoys a relatively low population density. But each of its varied ecosystems is exceedingly fragile, and each is under serious threat.Three of Chile's most important natural resources are its mines, its offshore fisheries and its extensive forests. But each of those resources is being exploited with little concern for environmental protection and sustainable use. Mining operations impose increasingly heavy tolls on water and soil quality. In some regions, overfishing has resulted in drastic reductions in fish populations. And the timber industry is making deep inroads into the country's remaining native forests, employing harvesting and reforestation practices that have devastating environmental effects.In recent years, political and economic factors have abetted and exacerbated the process of environmental deterioration in Chile. The military/authoritarian regime that ruled the country from 1973 through 1989 showed little concern for environmental protection, and its repressive policies impeded effective action by concerned citizens' groups. In addition, its "free market" and export-oriented economic policies enabled private interests to pursue environmentally destructive extractive practices with few effective restraints from the national government. Since the restoration of democratic government in 1990, the political climate has improved, and citizens' groups are freer to press for environment-protecting policies at the national, regional, and community levels. But economic policy-making continues to be dominated by "free market," "laissez faire," and export-earnings concerns, and effective national environmental safeguards are still largely lacking.Environmental threats are particularly notable in the Aysen region in southern Chile, where Peter lives and works. With an area of more than 100,000 square kilometers (most of it mountains, glaciers and rocky islands), Aysen was not colonized until the early part of this century, and there are still only 85,000 people in the region. The region boasts the "purest air and cleanest water in the world." But unplanned human settlements are marring its beauty, ill-chosen agricultural and forestry practices are contaminating its streams and lakes, and its fragile ecosystem is further endangered by plans for a nuclear waste dump on the nearby Argentine-Chilean border and for the construction of a huge mineral smelter in Puerto Aysen.

The Strategy

Building on growing public recognition and embrace of "Life Reserve" slogans and on the desire of Aysen and other communities to be perceived as meriting that "seal of approval," Peter is engaged in an imaginative array of concrete actions aimed at stimulating the adoption of environment-protecting planning, policies, and actions that are consistent with the "Life Reserve" label and endorsement.Drawing on the assistance of a diverse group of "Defenders of Aysen, Life Reserve" (like-minded community activists, with backgrounds in business, education, health, law, and other sectors), Peter is now laboring to define the essential ingredients of the "Life Reserve" concept and to develop a detailed list of criteria and standards that must be met to merit certification as a "Life Reserve" community. With the help of academic researchers in various disciplines, Peter and his colleagues are codifying specific approaches to resource management and infrastructure development that are appropriate, and others that are unacceptable, in a "Life Reserve" setting.Simultaneously, making effective use of existing community groups, public fora, and communications media, Peter is broadening and deepening popular support for the "Life Reserve" concept (and the standards that it entails) and encouraging more vigorous popular participation in public decision-making processes with important environmental implications. Among the many tools that he is employing in that effort are "town hall meetings" featuring prominent guest speakers on environmental topics (e.g., protecting water resources, sustainable forestry and waste management), a regular newspaper column and a weekly radio program.The next step in Peter's strategy is to incorporate the definitions, standards and specific approaches to resource management and infrastructure development that he and his associates are developing in specific "Life Reserve" proposals for Aysen and other communities. The proposals will provide public officials and concerned community groups and individuals with the tools that they need to advocate and devise the laws, ordinances and other legal measures that will give full substance to the "Life Reserve" label. The proposals will be accompanied with well-argued assessments of the social costs of unacceptable practices (e.g., clearcut logging), and members of the "Defenders" group will offer related training and counsel to community groups seeking additional guidance.The "Life Reserve" proposals will then be used to initiate public debate and, ultimately, to stimulate the adoption of laws and ordinances, by regional and local governments, that embody their principal recommendations. In addition, when specific actions with adverse environmental consequences (e.g., the proposed nuclear waste facility or the construction of a minerals processing plant) are brought before such bodies, the "Life Reserve" proposals will be used as a set of informally codified standards against which the proposed actions will be measured. Most of Peter's and his associates' efforts have been focused up to now on the Aysen region. But the "Life Reserve" concept is attracting growing interest in other parts of Chile and in neighboring Argentina as well. At a later stage, when the concept has sunk deeper roots and come into full blossom in the Aysen setting, Peter and his associates will develop a concerted effort to bring other communities into a "Life Reserve" system and to make a clear delineation of the standards to be met, and the procedures to be followed, before the system's "seal of approval" is granted.Complementing this several-stage strategy, Peter is also testing and demonstrating sustainable development practices on his own land in Aysen. The project combines organic gardens and innovative water usage and waste disposal systems with renewable energy technologies developed by Ashoka Fellow Pedro Serrano. When it is sufficiently advanced, the project will be open to visitors, and Peter hopes that it will help make some of the concepts that underlie the "Life Reserve" idea come alive to community activists, schoolchildren and others in the Aysen community.

The Person

Born in Germany, Peter has been a resident of Chile since 1974. He was trained as an architect and received a degree in that field from the University of Chile in 1982.Since completing his university studies, Peter has worked on development, infrastructure, and housing plans for eight communities in various parts of the country. In 1983-1984, he coordinated a study for CODEFF, a Chilean non-governmental environmental protection organization, to determine an appropriate water use policy for Lake Chungara in northern Chile. He later served as an architect for the Department of Urban and Infrastructure Development and as Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and Urbanization in an administrative region in the southern part of the country.In 1990 Peter returned to CODEFF's employ as director of its Committee for the Defense of Flora and Fauna in the Coyhaique-Aysen region in southern Chile. In that role, he has organized campaigns to defend ancient forests, mobilized community engagement in a continuing controversy over the establishment of the proposed nuclear waste dump in the region and led a fight against the construction of a major aluminum smelter in the area.Peter is also deeply engaged in environmental awareness and education activities. He coordinates a project on women's roles in environmental protection, has developed and hosted a series of radio programs on environmental issues and has also conducted seminars on "Nature Tourism" in Aysen. Peter lives what he preaches and teaches–lovingly nurturing, on his own land in Aysen, a model sustainable development initiative (which is described more fully above). Highly regarded in his own community, he is also a frequent participant in international panels and workshops on environmental planning and sustainable development issues.