Martín relies on the power of experimentation, innovation and community experiences as drivers to install a new approach to sustainability in formal and non-formal education in Latam.
The New Idea
Instead of teaching sustainability content through classroom projects, Martín and his team propose the construction or renovation of innovative school buildings, using bioclimatic architecture and sustainable materials, with the participation of the entire educational communities and local and international volunteers. The constructions are carried out in 45 days and are co-designed with the educational community following key principles of sustainability, such as the use of materials from the environment surrounding. In this way, school buildings are transformed into pedagogical devices that are used by teachers and families, creating a strong connection with learning and sustainability. To expand this learning modality, Martín promotes the creation of a Latin American Network of Sustainable Schools composed of each school built and other schools interested in the educational approach. To date, 4 sustainable schools, 5 sustainable classrooms have been built in 5 Latin American countries.
For Martín and his team, activating local capacity is a key piece of the approach. In each community, they develop and work with local partners specialized in four areas: sustainability, bioclimatic construction, education and art. In this way, TAGMA, Martín’s organization, facilitates a new vision of sustainability education and equips local players for co-designing, implementing and giving continuity to the experiences in time. In each territory, Martin's model has achieved the endorsements of the Ministries of Education and Municipalities. With the support of regional corporate partners such as Disney and Directv, in 2023 they will be expanding the experience to more than 150 schools. Martin's goal is to transform the educational curriculum by including sustainability, environmental education and self-management as an integral part of the region's public education system. His model achieves a powerful and diverse articulation of actors, where everyone is a protagonist. In order to expand the outreach, Martín and his team are carrying out an important documenting work composed by more than 100 videos and didactic materials that is delivered through their network and social media.
In addition to working with schools and expanding sustainability beyond formal education, Martin is developing a Center for training, experimentation and production in sustainability and regeneration in Uruguay. The CAMPUS, is his latest innovation and is a 56-hectare land that functions as a training, experimentation and production center for sustainability and regeneration for organizations and individuals in Latin America. CAMPUS is organized in seven thematic axes (environmental education, regeneration, food sovereignty, natural raw materials, construction, culture and health) that are concentrated in specific spaces, equipped with adequated infrastructure. Within each of these areas, Martín is developing a curricula with entrepreneurs and organizations such as FADU (School of Architecture, Design and Urbanism of the University of the Republic), N4VE, Colectivo Guardia Vieja, among others. In the near future, they will develop customized experiences and training for companies around sustainability, which will also allow them to work on changemaking skills such as teamwork and innovation. The new content developed in CAMPUS will also be used for future school constructions in other territories and to nurture the educational platform of the Sustainable Schools Network.
In recent decades, consumption of goods and services has been massively instilled in societies reinforced by media and publicity. According to data from Global Footprint Network (GFN), on August 8, 2016, the planet entered what is known as an ecological deficit: Earth Overshoot Day, which means that humanity consumes natural resources faster than the planet is capable of generating them. In recent years, the economic system has developed at the pace of human behavior and its link to consumption, permeating all facets of human life. Today, humanity would need 1.6 planet Earths to satisfy its demand for natural resources and cultural and educational incentives to change habits among people are still absent.
A part of society has already reacted and has begun to advocate responsible management of natural resources and the environment, but the damage has already been done. Accelerated climate change is one of the most urgent problems of our time. Since 1880, the average global surface temperature has risen by 0.8 to 1.2 degrees Celsius. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 40% to 70% by 2050 to comply with the 2015 Paris Agreement and avoid the worst effects of climate change (Source: GEO-6). While the need for a radical transformation is present in the public and media agenda, there is still a need to introduce the topic in the educational and business spheres more effectively. In this context, and as a consequence of the "unsustainable" development model, a social and cultural problem is observed, where there is no ecological perspective that integrates human beings with their environment, increasingly reinforcing environmental problems.
The most widespread educational models in public education in Latin America do not incorporate a comprehensive approach to sustainability in the curricula. When they exist, these contents are part of specific projects, such as a vegetable garden workshop or a rainwater harvesting system but are not integrated into the educational program daily. Furthermore, in rural areas, the quality of education in many cases is compromised by difficulties in accessing schools, poor conditions and low maintenance of infrastructure, high teacher turnover and lack of support and backing from the education system; problems that have been amplified even more after two years of the pandemic.
The public sector, far from being able to offer change for rural communities, operates in a centralized manner, focused on well-established bureaucratic structures, with little room for innovation and limited budgets. This trend is reinforced by the lack of a long-term public policy culture, which focuses mainly on day-to-day projects that do not aim for a systemic approach to sustainability.
In 2016, Martín and his team created, together with the community, the first Sustainable School in Uruguay and Latin America, inspired by the constructive model of Michael Reynolds. This school served as a beacon for creating two new schools in Argentina and Chile and creating a Network of Sustainable Schools in Latin America. Martín aims to transform educational experiences by constructing sustainable buildings that function as pedagogical devices integrated into the public school system and empower schools by equipping them with self-management and community integration tools. Martín chooses to work in rural and semi-rural public and primary schools because of their great impact on children and the educational community from an early age, and because of their scope in the whole community.
Martín’s model uses the development of school buildings to help communities design a new concept of sustainability education through a community participatory process that contemplates a learning cycle that begins with the design of the building and the school's educational project, follows with the construction and continues through the maintenance and use of the spaces as a lever for the community's educational processes. His vision is to develop sustainable educational communities in Latin America, formed by schools constructed by TAGMA, other schools that adopt the approach and methodology, social organizations, companies and public education systems. Unlike other approaches on the subject, Martín goes much further than isolated school projects such as vegetable gardens or specific recycling projects. The buildings themselves are self-sufficient spaces based on seven principles that combine the different pillars of sustainability: water capture, water treatment, renewable energy, waste management and use of recovered materials, food production, passive thermal conditioning, and human sustainability. The building requires specific use and maintenance, which is developed by families and teachers and becomes part of the educational process. In addition, during the project's first year, they train local people in trades related to building maintenance, and developing local capacity, for example, regarding the use of alternative energies.
In addition to the schools and to help accelerate change, Martín developed the concept of Environmental Education Classrooms, spaces that are attached to existing schools' buildings and that fulfill the same educational function (reuniting and demonstrating the sustainable principles of Martín´s approach through construction and the building itself) as Sustainable Schools but are developed in more agile and economic processes. The classrooms are strategically located (for example, in teacher training centers), have a high traffic of teachers and interested people, and are built following the TAGMA principles of sustainability that best suit the chosen community. The first classroom was installed at the Agustín Ferreyro Center, a training center for rural teachers in Uruguay through which 1,700 teachers pass three times a year to get training. Long before construction begins, TAGMA works with the local community, teachers, and principals to develop a plan to integrate the educational curriculum with the building. To date, they have constructed 4 sustainable public schools and 5 environmental education classrooms in 6 Latin American countries and have already started the process for a new school construction in Brazil in 2023.
For contributing with the dissemination of the model and to reinforce community appropriation, Martin designed public visits to schools and environmental classrooms. They are carried out during the construction period and are then permanently maintained. These visits are coordinated by commissions made up of parents and teachers, which in turn allows commitment, interaction, and generates meeting points between families and teachers. For the construction processes, the 20 most committed volunteers are trained to fulfill the role of ambassadors for the project. The interest in sustainable schools in the different communities means that, to date, they have had around 75,000 visitors among the built schools and classrooms, helping to build demand for these initiatives in other communities.
In order to work on public education transformation, in each new country, Martín and his team reaches out to the Education Ministry to select the school to be constructed from scratch or reformed, inspiring and committing educational authorities with TAGMA´s approach. They have developed a selection process within the Education Ministry in Chile that focuses on the relevance of the project for the community and influential capacity. Each project begins with six face-to-face meetings where they define which educational community they want to support, and what their main needs and challenges are. The architectural project is the result of those definitions with the principles of sustainability. During the construction stage, they carry out workshops for children and families and together they elaborate the contents for the dissemination of the model. The children also actively participate in the recovery of materials for the building; they are consulted regarding the use of the spaces and they guide visitors of the project on Sundays. This active participation empowers children and transforms them into natural ambassadors of the project.
The communities and schools are united by the Latin America Sustainable Schools network that TAGMA is developing. Up to date, they have been gathering best practices and new content based on the experience of the different network members from the sustainable schools and classrooms developed. In 2023 they will propose a series of annual activities around five axes (community impact, preventive maintenance, management, communication, and educational impact), which contribute to the vitality of the project in each community and strengthen the teachers for the continuity of its social impact. The main activities will be: activities for community integration, follow-up for community projects, training on systems maintenance with specialized technicians, articulation with government authorities and local organizations, monthly summaries updating activities and impact, teacher´s training and pedagogical tools and videos. The Network is supported by local partners such as civil society organizations, and government and private companies such as DirectTv and Disney. Also in 2023, they will engage 150 new schools in the educational platform leveraging the outreach and impact significantly.
A team with extensive experience in communication for social impact documents the processes in each community and creates useful training content for companies, organizations, and schools. They have developed a digital repository of content, divided into 3 categories: Guides, Worksheets and Videos. Each category revolves around a series of learning and experiences developed in 6 Latin American countries through the constructions achieved based on different sustainability principles and are created to guide teachers, families and individuals into projects and activities for the different principles.
After creating the first three Sustainable Schools in Latin America, Martín decided to develop his own space, the CAMPUS, a training, experimentation and production center for sustainability and regeneration for organizations and individuals in Latin America, that will help broaden the scope of sustainability transformation beyond the formal education system. In this 56-hectare land they are developing a curriculum organized in seven thematic axes (environmental education, regeneration, food sovereignty, natural raw materials, construction, culture and health). In October 2022, TAGMA launched the first seven courses, including bioarchitecture, biomaterials, regeneration and interpretation for conservation. They will also offer training in trades in self-sufficiency systems, production systems aimed at regeneration, recovery of materials, and environmental education. The target audience for these trainings are public officials, volunteers for the Sustainable Schools project, general public interested in the fields and in a near future companies interested in developing their employees in areas of sustainability, innovation and community experiences.
Teachers and students' testimony that institutional life is completely transformed in the four first communities developed. School teachers transform their curricula, kids develop new skills and care attitudes, and families internalize new habits. As an example, the survey of school families in Uruguay revealed that the number of family gardens grew from 4% to 80% after the start of the project. In that school, the Ministry of Education approved the creation of a new position, which allows the principal to have school time to attend visits to the school and offer an enriching educational experience. The schools of Uruguay and Argentina had a notable increase in enrollment, with the incorporation of new families who chose the educational proposal. In Uruguay the increase was 100% and in Argentina 300%, having to incorporate a second shift to meet the demand. In turn, sustainable schools generate an economic impact by saving energy in buildings, which reduces energy costs in each school, since they produce a surplus of almost 50%.
The impact of sustainable schools already has the desired “contagion effects.” As an example, Amartya, the civil association with which they promoted the project "A Sustainable School'' in Mar Chiquita, created the Mar Chiquita Sustainable Schools program in 2019. With the support of the Ministry of Education and the government of Mar Chiquita they imparted content and experiences to the 64 schools of the region, using the sustainable school built by Martín as a reference. Along the same lines, FUSUPO and Solidagro, their partners in Argentina and Chile, both received requests from different municipalities to construct sustainable public spaces. TAGMA also gives free training for key public officials to achieve articulation with public policy so that sustainability is incorporated into the bidding processes for public buildings.
In the near future, Martín plans to strengthen the work of the network of schools to generate public advocacy processes, empowering them to lead these processes with the support of specialists in education and sustainability convened by TAGMA. In addition, they seek to position CAMPUS as a reference center in the region in sustainability and regeneration, expanding the educational offer to bioarchitecture and maintenance trades in sustainability that provides services to schools. And within CAMPUS, they will create a specific proposal for companies around sustainability and changemaking skills.
Martín grew up in a middle-class family in a Montevideo sector where relationships were very much centered on money and appearances. Martín did not feel much in tune with that lifestyle, and when he finished high school, he got his first job and went to live outside the family home. From a very young age, Martín began questioning the world to make sense of it.
With a very restless spirit, at the age of 18, together with his group of friends, he created a podcast about culture, music and current affairs that continued for the next four years. At 19, he started working in an advertising agency while studying communication and gastronomy. The podcast was Martín's first venture, in which he discovered his passion for learning by doing, and this learning method has since been applied to all his initiatives. At the advertising agency, he led different projects while recognizing discomfort with the accelerated consumerism he observed around him and a growing interest in applying his knowledge and skills to improve the ways of inhabiting the planet. This stage of Martin's life was marked by reflection and questioning existing development models while searching for his deeper purpose.
While continuing his work in the advertising field, he began to volunteer for social projects. In this way, he joined the Movus initiative, which succeeded in stopping a mining megaproject in his country that had serious consequences for the environment. This movement began as a local process and soon became a national movement. For three years, Martín collaborated with the movement's campaigns and communications with external audiences and the communities where it worked. He also led the communications area of Socialab founded by Julián Ugarte, Ashoka Fellow in Chile, after it started an operation in Uruguay and led communications at Camino Verde, a civil association dedicated to promoting healthy food and eating habits.
Martín’s entrepreneurial spirit is in his DNA. Before the creation of TAGMA, he founded and directed the technology and sustainability fair MUTA in the Eastern Region of Uruguay. Also, he promoted the development of the coworking space "Startup Cowork Cafe" in Punta del Este to spread the philosophy of collaboration; this space soon became a cultural center in the area.
In 2009, Martín had a major breakthrough while watching a documentary about the life of Michel Reynolds, who dedicated his life to building self-sufficient housing. The documentary inspired him so much that he invited Reynolds to participate in the idea he had been developing to bring sustainability concepts to Uruguay's public education. Martín worked on the project for five years, gathering allies, developing the idea and mobilizing the necessary resources to make it a reality. Reynolds responded to his call with interest in the project. In 2016, the first experience of building "A Sustainable School" was launched. This experience would be the cornerstone of a much larger project to revolutionize environmental education and sustainability in Latin America, through experiential projects that connect people with the environment and its transformative capacity.