Margarita Barney helps companies, rural communities, and societies change their perceptions about the environment and her demonstration centers increase awareness; showing the wide range of options that are compatible with their production, lifestyle habits, and the environment.
Margarita’s organization, Grupo para Promover la Educacion y el Desarrollo Sustentable, A.C. (GRUPEDSAC) or the Group to Promote Education and Sustainable Development, does not promote specific technologies, but encourages communities to interact with their environment, facilitating a change in perception and then through demonstration and advice, helps each community to incorporate the appropriate ecotechnologies for their needs.
For over fifteen years, Margarita’s determination has enabled her to address diverse audiences and convince them of the need for change—using a variety of ecotechnics to demonstrate compatibility.
Mexican society lacks awareness about its substantial environmental problems, their consequences, and their solutions. As a result, few participate in the solutions. For example, we lose 500,000 forest hectares every year, 70 percent of the water reserves are polluted, and 154 million hectares are affected by some level of erosion.
For Margarita, this is a loss of natural capital that contributes to poverty. If soil becomes eroded, it will not produce food. Poor management of the forests leads to the misuse of products derived from it, causing an impact on nature and the economy. If a community decides to change a tree into firewood, not only does this contribute to global warming, but it may also cause health problems for those inhaling the smoke, as well as losing one of Mexico’s nature assets. Water shortage and wasteful agricultural practices that do not use simple techniques for irrigation manipulation prevent water reserves from reloading and do not take advantage of rainwater. If they did, many families living in extreme poverty in rural communities might cultivate their own healthy food and not be undernourished. The need to change the perception about our relationship with the environment, and to incorporate technologies that enable this to happen, is not a task for one sector of society; but involves companies, rural communities, and consumers.
Though many solutions to live harmoniously with our environment are simple to incorporate, they are often not implemented due to a lack of awareness, or the inability to select what is appropriate for a specific need. Margarita emphasises that though the majority of the population is aware that rainwater can be used for cultivating, for example, a family vegetable garden in distant rural zones, and that water-saving techniques exist; or that it is possible to economically build homes with local construction materials; there is a misconception that ecotechnics are complicated, expensive, or inadequate for consumers, companies, or the rural community.
Margarita is convinced that education, demonstration, and follow-up for integral solutions are vital. She also believes that working with other groups in society, such as governments, educational institutions, companies, and citizen organizations (COs) is necessary to produce change.
GRUPEDSAC has two demonstration centers, in Estado de Mexico and Oaxaca, with varied ecotechnologies. The centers have very different climate conditions and ecotechnologies have been developed for each specific place. The centers were built using self-sufficient ecological technologies. They were constructed with local resources such as packed earth, straw, cob, and bajareque. The center in Oaxaca is lit using solar energy, and rainwater is collected and heated with self-made solar heaters.
Margarita designs demonstration courses and activities in her centers according to the needs of the visitors, and offers follow-up on the correct implementation of the ecotechnics. She has advised government employees from Estado de Mexico about water treatment plants; developed camping trips that include educational workshops for school children; offered training courses to the youths of rural communities to become environmental protectors and prevent behaviors that pose environmental hazards; provided integral assessments to mining companies to establish sustainable communities in their extraction plants; and trained urban companies about capturing rainwater and residual water treatment.
Margarita has a very active strategy for training people and advising them at her demonstration centres. Each center trains 2,000 people a year. With universities and schools she establishes agreements to annually receive students. Private schools are charged to support public schools without funds. Rural community leaders who wish a visit to the centers are helped by receiving resources and come to the center to complete an interactive diagnosis and then decide what projects they want to carry out. GRUPEDSAC then advises and partners in these projects. Margarita’s group also conducts direct visits to government agencies and companies to invite them to change their attitudes and behaviour towards the environment. The centers constantly update technologies for implementation, and every year a high-profile course is offered.
When government employees expressed interest in environmental issues, Margarita created alliances with the state governments. She collaborated with the Government of Estado de Mexico to advise them on how to best develop their environmental campaign. Most people working on education and advisory topics for the Government of Estado de Mexico related to the environment have been trained in her centers.
The success of her demonstration centers was key in attaining sponsorship from the Kellogg Foundation to develop their work. This sponsorship has enabled Margarita to reproduce her work in eight-teen Latin American counties.
A native of Chihuahua, Margarita was raised in a wealthy, conservative family. A student of the Montessori system in Mexico, her educational experiences taught her respect for individuals and nature, provided her with a wider life panorama and enabled her to take her first actions as a social entrepreneur.
She later moved to Mexico City with her husband. She was shocked by the pollution and the lack of interest by anyone to do something about it. Without an environmental background, she organized cleaning up dumps and reforesting—involving everyone in the local area. The movement grew until it received the attention of the municipality and the community organization participated in numerous environmental campaigns. In time, Margarita began her training in environmental topics, taking courses and seminars.
She decided to make environmental issues the focus of her work and created GRUPEDSAC. She developed the demonstration centers to reach the greatest number of people and found that the centers were the best way to win over sceptics and promote change.