A Sustainable Company—The Power of the Human Element

Nicaragua People - Chris Schultenover blog-edited
At Viridian, we have a strong focus on sustainability—it is at the core of everything we do. Over time, our socially responsible practices will be what truly makes us successful, as our Customers, Associates, partners, suppliers and the communities we serve all trust in us more. For all constituencies there is a triple-bottom line effect: economic, social and environmental. Viridian takes it even further by pushing the human element. The work we do through the 7 Continents in 7 Years program is impacting lives globally on a human scale—most recently in Nicaragua on a very personal level.

Portrero Platanal is a small, remote village in the mountainous region of Boaco in Nicaragua that is off the grid and inaccessible by car. In partnership with our project partner GRID Alternatives, Associate leaders and corporate staff worked closely with 40 local families to install clean, reliable solar power in their homes. I worked with a small team of four on four individual families’ homes over our three-day experience.

Our team’s first home was known as house number 4 on GRID Alternative’s map. To our surprise, it was the furthest home in the village from the community’s center, and we had already hiked a mile uphill earlier to get to the village. We hiked up and around hills for a mile and a half, following the homeowner and his son. They walked sure-footedly through the narrow, often rocky cow paths, sometimes on the sides of cliffs, while we wobbled our way along, adjusting to our new surroundings. At one point the father ran ahead, and this young boy of 5 or 6 years of age continued to lead the small pack of strangers, hands swinging proudly side to side as we walked along the winding path. He often looked back with a sense of responsibility, making sure we were still following, until we arrived safely at his home.

“Bueno!” we all yelled as we arrived. The rest of the family quickly greeted us from their doorway. We were invited into the house to see their home and to ask where they would like the power box, light switch, electrical outlet panel and ceiling light all placed. We then quickly began our work surrounded by curious eyes and anticipation, watching the work we were doing on the roof installing the solar panel and inside wiring together the electrical components. To show their gratitude, we were served some of the most flavorful coffee I’d ever tasted as we took a short break from the afternoon heat and sun—the sun that would soon light up their world.

On day two, we conducted two more installations. In our second home, we worked among a larger, extended family and met the boy we nicknamed “Hollywood” (because he always showed up wearing someone’s sunglasses); and we shared lunch prepared for us over their open fire pit—tortillas with rice, beans, a “secret” sauce and cheese, with homemade lemonade. While we sat inside, taking in their home and imaging their lives, we saw empty canisters of dirty butane used to somewhat light their homes at night. We knew they would never have to ignite and use this dangerous source for light ever again.

In the afternoon on day two, we were onto our third house—a newly built home for a young couple, who met us there. The core beams in most of the homes were made of blackwood, which was unforgiving to hammers, nails, drill bits and fingers. I was drilling holes for the electrical switch box and one of the brothers saw me struggling to make progress. He jumped in and added some extra “lean-in” force to drive the drill bit into the wood. We all laughed together while smoke was releasing from the intensity of the drill bit in friction with the wood. As we left, you could sense gratitude and happiness was abundant, and I thought, their children will never know a home without light.

Our final house installation occurred on the third day. This family’s home was of the same materials, but had more rooms and furniture than others we had experienced thus far. The view was breathtakingly beautiful. By this time, we had the installation process down to a science. What we did not prepare for was the scorpion who paid us a visit. One might find it odd to see a rooster, hen and chicks under a dining table. However, that rooster came in handy as he dove in for the kill. That scorpion did not stand a chance. And without any further thought, moments later, we stood in a circle with the family, watching as they flipped the switch and saw light shine in their home for the first time. As we left, I wanted one last look. As I stepped back in through the house doorway that final time, I saw their eldest son flipping the switch on and off while watching the light. This is a visual forever engrained in my memory—happiness is as simple as flipping a switch on and seeing light.

In a land where there is no such thing as downhill, where the mode of transportation is by foot or horse along winding, uphill paths, where homes are made from the most basic of materials available, where their legs, backs and hands are used for their work, where every home opens to breathtaking views and air rights have no meaning, where the air smelled mountain fresh without the help of Glade air fresheners…each of these families is forever changed economically, socially and environmentally. In this land with these wonderful families, I believe we learned far more from them than they learned from us, at least most immediately. Either way you look at it, we all benefited from the power of the human element. Together we built unforgettable memories and trust.

Nicaragua - scenic_work1992 ChrisSchultenover interacting_community1828 chrisSchultneover-group_work0660