Summary - Cultivating Good Water:  A Closer Look at Itaipu Binacional's Sustainable Projects

By Matteo Ceurvels

Authorities running Latin America’s largest hydroelectric dam are working on a variety of sustainability efforts in Brazil and Paraguay.


  • Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa, Consul General of Brazil in New York
  • Maria Beatriz Martins-Costa, CEO, 2A2 Marketing and Events / Planeta Orgânico
  • Nelton Friedrich, Itaipu Binacional Coordinator and Environmental Director - Brazil


On October 7, AS/COA hosted a luncheon discussion focusing on sustainability in the Itaipu region of Brazil and Paraguay. Panelists discussed the overall positive impact that the Itaipu hydroelectric dam has had in the region through environmental programs. In 2003, Itaipu Binacional launched a series of sustainable projects to address international concerns about climate change and access to water. Among these projects, the Cultivating Good Water Program consists of 20 programs and 63 initiatives dedicated to issues including environmental education, watershed management, biodiversity, sustainable rural development, medicinal plants, fish production, and fish farming.

Background: The History of Itaipu

Brazilian Consul General Luiz Felipe de Seixas Correa opened the discussion by commenting on the historical background of Itaipu. The word itaipu means “the sounding stone” in the Guarani language. In addition to the first steel plant built in Rio de Janeiro after World War II, Itaipu was the second major component of Brazil’s industrialization. The initial plan to build this hydroelectric dam was born out of negotiations between Brazil and Paraguay in the 1960s. But it was not until 1973 that an official treaty between both nations was inked after seven years of negotiations. Once enacted by both countries, early construction on the hydroelectric dam began.

Seixas Correa noted that Brazil has been a major player in promoting sustainability. The country hosted the 1992 Rio Conference on Environment and Development and more recently, the Rio+20 Conference in 2012. Brazil has also made progress in controlling the devastation of the Amazon, though the consul noted the need for cooperation between various sectors of society to achieve this objective.

A Closer Look at Itaipu Binational’s Sustainable Projects

Maria Beatriz Martins-Costa of 2A2 Marketing and Events/Planeta Orgânico explained how the Cultivating Good Water project works. First, she gave some context to environmental concerns on the Brazilian side of Itaipu. In Brazil, 28 million people have left extreme poverty and 29 million people have joined the middle class. Brazil is now experiencing a period during which two-thirds of its population is concentrated in the productive age bracket, from 15 to 64 years of age. This phase, called the demographic bonus, grants the country “unique conditions for development,” she said. In the 1970s, approximately 30 percent of Brazil's population lived in urban areas with 70 percent in the countryside. According to current projections, 70 percent of Brazilians will be living in cities and 30 percent in rural areas by 2014. In addition, Brazil has the most biodiversity in the world. The country is home to approximately 23 percent of the planet’s biological resources, over two million different species of plants, animals, and microorganisms, and has one of the most fertile soils on the planet.

Martins-Costa honed in public policies that have been implemented in the region. The first policy she highlighted was in regard to sustainable public purchases. On average, public purchases represent a substantial proportion of the economy of a country, roughly 8 to 25 percent of GDP. In Brazil, these purchases amount to about 10 percent of GDP. Next, Martins-Costa explained the School Meal Law, enacted in June 2009 and intended to make changes to school meal services. Rather than buying from a middleman, at least 30 percent of the food served in school meals must be bought from family farmers in the same local area as the school. This initiative allowed children to eat healthier food and to contribute to the overall sustainability of the region. In addition to the 36 million students served at present, the School Meal Program will also cover secondary school students, which will bring the total to 43 million students served.

She concluded by commenting on the Cultivating Good Water program, comprised of 20 initiatives and broken down into 65 interconnected and jointly structured projects. The program involves the local governments of the 29 municipalities located in Paraná Basin 3, as well as universities, companies, cooperatives, non-profits, and public authorities.

The Cultivating Good Water Program

Nelson Friedrich of Itaipu Binacional started off by noting the diplomatic effort between both Brazil and Paraguay that resulted in successful administrative and engineering ventures. Rather than one country claiming to own more of the resources than the other, the two nations agreed to divide everything evenly. In addition, Itaipu’s administrative board members consist of six Brazilian nationals and six Paraguayans. Since the dam began operating, both countries received approximately $4.2 billion in royalties, of which 45 percent went to the state, 45 percent to the municipality, and 10 percent to federal agencies. If it were not for the energy that the hydroelectric dam provided, Brazil would have to use approximately 548,000 barrels of oil a day in order to keep up with the country’s energy demands.

Cultivating Good Water includes a variety of projects, such as building the Itaipu Technological Park, designing an electric vehicle, and constructing a new electric light rail. Founded in 2003, the Technological Park facilitates the creation and dissemination of knowledge, putting technology at the service of development. The electric vehicles designed by Itaipu have traveled over 250,839 miles and helped save up to 74.5 percent in fuel costs. Each of these environmentally friendly vehicles would only require 31 trees to be planted in order to compensate for its carbon dioxide emissions. Finally, the first Light Rail Transit will contain an electric motor from Brazil with a new 100 percent recyclable sodium battery.

In addition to these new technologies, the Cultivating Good Water program also has made great efforts in improving the overall quality of life for locals. Since the project’s philosophy is based upon shared responsibility, environmental education is key. Some of these initiatives include implementing organic living and improving social inclusion.  Friedrich pointed out that the medicinal industry has begun to use 35 different types of plant species as an alternative to traditional medicine. There are now 38 health centers throughout the region with over 10,300 people trained in this field. Through the program’s recycling project, more than 2,400 informal recyclers of solid waste received uniforms and collection equipment, including electric carts.