Posted on October 05 2017
Grønn means green in Norwegian; in Guatemala it stands for the best glasses in the world, and for the women who elaborate these glasses, Grønn signifies a green light of opportunity. Norway is a leader in implementing sustainable policies, they set a global precedent in being green. Guatemala is a Central American country where this idea of sustainability is just starting to take form thanks to local leaders like Aarón & Stacy, founders of Grønn, who are taking their inspiration of a sustainability and applying it to the complex Guatemalan context.
Last week we had the opportunity to sit down and speak with Aarón who shared with us the story of Grønn; its origins, history, goals and why what they are doing is so important for Guatemala.
In 2012 Aarón & Stacy were part of an exchange program with Fredskorpset Norway during which they spent 5 months in Norway. Upon their return to Guatemala Aarón saw his home country in a new light. “The most clear memory that I have is when I returned to Guatemala, disembarked the plane, exited the airport and saw a man with no legs begging for money on a skateboard in order to move himself, there were slums and settlements full of people without opportunities, and everyone was throwing trash in the streets,” explained Aaron. His return to Guatemala was a reverse cultural shock which propelled him into looking for a way to help others, to change his country for the better, to start Grønn.
“It shocked me, that Guatemalans are so accustomed to see all of this as normal, pollution and poverty, people without opportunities.” ~ Aarón.
Grønn has developed as a social enterprise dedicated to reducing poverty and pollution by bringing sustainable social and environmental initiatives to one of the most conflicted parts of Guatemala. The company is situated just 3 km from the Relleno Sanitario, the dump, in a neighborhood known as La Verbena, a dangerous Zona Roja or Red Zone in the heart of Guatemala City (Guate). This is where they are starting their work to create a sustainable future for Guate.
Red Zones manifest situations of poverty, violence, contamination, and inequality. The inhabitants of Red Zones experience discrimination, lack basic services, and are constantly confronted with crime, gang violence & propaganda, and nearly no formal employment opportunities. La Verbena is the 5th most dangerous neighborhood in Guate and being so close to the dump the context of this neighborhood is unique, heartbreaking, and yet full of hope.
The Guatemala City dump is the largest in Central America; it receives over 3,000 tons of trash everyday despite the fact that it reached it’s maximum capacity in the early 1990’s. Over 7,000 people work in the dump, most as Guajeros, people who sort through and mine garbage looking for anything of value that they can re-sell. Here’s a bit of context into what life is like in and around the Relleno Sanitario and La Verbena: The minimum wage in Guatemala is just $385 per month, weekly that is about $96, $13 a day, $1.72 hourly. Most people who work in this area don’t earn the official minimum wage, and women regularly earn 50% or less of the minimum wage for more than a full days work.
This is the norm that Grønn wants to change, this is the context in which they are working. At first the problem seems defeatingly big but when you start looking at the different actors who are working in the area you start to see how you can form alliances, collaborate, and little by little change the context.
It is within this ecosystem that Grønn was created. Their office is located in what used to be a school on a street bustling with people, tuk tuks, broken down cars, and street stands selling everything from used clothing, cell phone accessories, fruit, and meals. Their product facilities create work opportunities for women from the neighborhood where they will earn a fair wage. While these women did not work at the dump, they are all connected somehow to the Guajeros who make their living at the dump. Grønn specifically decided to work with women because they experience prejudice on the sole basis that their address is within the La Verbena neighborhood.
“Grønn is a business based on sustainable development. We are looking to create a positive social and environmental impact. We wanted to build it not just to be financially sustainable but also to help the people.” said Aarón, and that is exactly what they are doing. To date Grønn has collected over 115,000 bottles and counting, they have created full time, meaningful & reliable, employment opportunities for women who now, with their own income, can better provide for their children and pay for schooling and are even starting to dream of being able to send their children to university. They are generating an awareness of what is sustainability in Guatemala especially as it relates to waste management and recycling. By 2020 their goal is to have recovered 1,000 tons of glass and to directly impact 25 families in La Verbena through their work. Early on, an idea for Grønn was to sort trash into it’s recyclable components with a focus on glass as it is the easiest material to clean and reutilize and up until this year there has not been any successful recycling services in Guatemala meaning the majority of the people here throw everything into the trash which ends up at the dump. From the idea of recycling came the idea of up-cycling, of cutting glass bottles into drinking glasses. Now Grønn makes a variety of products and has built a system where they collect recyclable glass from restaurants and bars around Guatemala City, using what is functional and selling the rest to a factory who recycles and produces bottles.
We know that this dedicated team will achieve their goals, and you can be a part of their success story. Spread the word about this incredible company and the work they are doing to make Guatemala a sustainability success story by sharing this post with friends and family or better yet talk about it with loved ones over drinks while sipping from any one of their beautiful sets of drinking glasses. Shop their entire collection of glassware on UTZ Market.