When I first saw Down to Earth pop up on Netflix, I knew I had to watch as I love travel and had a Zac Efron obsession back in the High School Musical 3 era. However I thought it was a general travel series, and was pleasantly surprised to see it focused on another more recent passion of mine too: sustainability.
Very few of the projects he and Darin Olien, his co-presenter, visited I had actually heard of so I jotted them down in order to do a bit more research on them. There were plenty of great initiatives featured in the series, as well as some amazing restaurants, so I’d recommend watching the full series. However I have included below what I would say were the top 6 sustainability initiatives from the series that really got me thinking.
“When everyone tries to do a little, a lot can change.”Zac Efron, Down To Earth
Svartsengi Resource Park, Iceland
I haven’t been to Iceland before, but I’ve always wanted to go to the Blue Lagoon. I had no idea that it was part of a larger resource park, which is home to lots of other businesses including an energy company, carbon recycling company, a hotel, health spa and fish farm. In the first episode of the series, the founder (Albert Albertsson, best name ever!) describes how the clinic there utilises the water from the lagoon to help naturally treat people with skin conditions such as psoriasis. The resource park has a simple but extremely effective ethos: to foster a “society without waste”. Iceland as a whole seems extremely advanced in its sustainability efforts (watching them cook bread and eggs in the ground using the natural heat is incredible!), and I hope to visit there one day.
Eau de Paris, France
I’m not sure if this public water supply initiative was in place when I last visited Paris (which was years and years ago!). However I think it is really great that the city is leading the way in making clean water available to everyone, particularly the homeless, and are committed to working in a sustainable way to protect water, biodiversity and the climate. Instead of buying plastic bottles of water in vending machines, you simply buy a reusable one instead, and then fill up with water (still OR sparkling!) from the many fountains around the city. There is even an app to help you find the nearest fountain. As someone who pretty much always has a bottle of water with me wherever I go, I would absolutely seek these fountains out next time I visit.
La Ecovilla, Costa Rica
This place sounds like a paradise and this video doesn’t even fully do it justice! The community, which has only 44 lots available, houses a school, community centre and kitchen, yoga space, multi-use sports court, saltwater pool, organic permaculture gardens (with each resident getting a share of the weekly garden harvest!), ponds and a river. The community is made up of members from 28 different countries, and children study at the local school which has a strong focus on nature and letting the children’s interests guide their education. The roads are made from 100% recycled plastic, and they have a biodigester to process sewage and produce methane gas to fuel the kitchen. La Ecovilla is aimed at those “in search of a better life with a lighter ecological footprint” and despite being in a rural paradise not far from the beach, fibre optic broadband is still available too, so it really does have everything!
Tree Box Living Walls, London
I love seeing living walls and I only wish there were more of them. When I looked more into the Tree Box Living Walls company featured in Down to Earth and discovered they were based near me, I had to include them in this post. They design and install plant walls for both homes and commercial premises. Not only do these walls look great, especially in urban environments, but they have a host of benefits including increased biodiversity, air purification, protecting buildings from UV damage, noise reduction and dust suppression, as well as having positive effects on people’s health and wellbeing.
World Central Kitchen, Puerto Rico
I didn’t know such an organisation existed, and it warms my heart that it does. World Central Kitchen is a not-for-profit organisation, with a team that travels to countries in the wake of natural disasters to provide meals for local communities. It was founded in 2010 by celebrity chef José Andrés after the earthquake in Haiti, and has served more than 40 million fresh meals to people impacted by natural disasters and other crises around the world. They have been working in Puerto Rico since the earthquake there in 2017, and have remained there to implement their Plow to Plate initiative – helping to strengthen local food systems and food security by providing funding, training and networking opportunities to farmers and small food businesses. They are doing so much good that I’d recommend checking out their website to fully grasp the impact that they have had so far.
International Potato Center, Lima
Yes, there really is a place called the International Potato Center, and it’s been around since 1971! Their website shares some fascinating facts: While food demand is expected to rise by 60% by 2050, every 1°c of warming is projected to cause an estimated 5% reduction in crop productivity. Without action, potato yields could fall up to 32% by 2060. This episode really educated me on the nutrition of potatoes, and also the lengths the Center is going to to deliver innovative solutions to enhance access to this affordable food, as well as drive the climate resilience of potato, sweet potato and andean roots and tubers. Seeing lots of potatoes stored in test tubes in rooms with high security was rather eye-opening (you can see this in the background of the video above too!).