Sustainability courses at the CSU Todos Santos Center

Educating students and community members about sustainable practices in tourism, agriculture, and other subjects has become a cornerstone for Colorado State University’s Todos Santos Center in Baja California Sur (BCS), Mexico.

Since opening in 2015, the Center has hosted a wide range of educational programs focused on sustainability, including courses and research opportunities for CSU students in sustainable agriculture, sustainable tourism, and environmental conservation. The Center also leads community initiatives to support and advance sustainable infrastructure for BCS residents around solid waste management, food preservation, and more.

“Sustainability is important for the Todos Santos Center because it represents an educational entity and as such it has a great responsibility and commitment for engaging, modeling and sharing sustainable practices that contribute to the overall health and well-being of the local ecosystem and its inhabiting communities,” said Dr. Aines Castro, director of the CSU Todos Santos Center.

Providing a platform for faculty and students from U.S. and Mexican universities to engage with BCS residents around sustainability initiatives has become a priority for Castro and the Todos Santos Center team. Partnerships with local companies and organizations have made the Center a sustainability hub for visitors and surrounding communities.

Building bridges, going green

CSU recently established the Institute of Ecotourism Studies at the CSU Todos Santos Center in collaboration with the Autonomous University of Baja California Sur (UABCS) and local businesses to deliver educational workshops and research presentations with the goal of supporting local workforce development. The Institute received funding through a 100,000 Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund grant, sponsored by the MetLife Foundation, as well as in-kind and programmatic support from Todos Santos Eco Adventures.

Daniel Bowan, assistant professor of Recreation & Outdoor Leadership at CSU-Pueblo, was instrumental in bringing to life the Institute’s vision. Bowan also leads two courses through the Institute in Todos Santos: Ecotourism (REC 291) and Sustainable Travel & Alternative Tourism (REC 491).

“The growth and development of the tourism industry in Baja California Sur has led to significant impacts on the region’s natural environment, social systems, and cultural resources. As such, the need for sustainable and responsible planning and management is imperative to the region’s overall health and survival,” said Bowan. “Through the development of the Institute of Ecotourism Studies, the CSU Todos Santos Center is committed to supporting responsible travel to Baja California Sur that promotes education, conserves the environment, and sustains the well-being of the local people.”

In May 2018, the Institute hosted its inaugural Ecotourism Symposium to explore and address the region’s ecotourism issues through educational workshops, roundtable discussions, keynote speakers, clinics, and research presentations. The Institute plans to continue and expand the annual event with support from local partners and participants.

Sustainable agriculture is another area of curricular focus at the Todos Santos Center. Over the past four years, five student groups have visited the Center from the CSU College of Agriculture Sciences’ Department of Soil and Crop Sciences to evaluate agricultural challenges, assess land conservation needs, learn about regional best practices from resident agronomists, and assist with erosion control projects. Students helped design and build a solar food dehydrator to preserve produce and prevent food waste. Applications are now being accepted for the sixth iteration of the course, which will be held at the Center in Spring 2019.

The Center also hosts experiential learning opportunities for CSU students including the semester-long Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology program, allowing students and faculty to learn about marine, island, shore, and desert ecosystems, which are markedly different from ecosystems near the University’s campus in Fort Collins.

Small steps, big impact

A cohort of CSU Interior Design students took a service-learning trip in Spring 2018 to the Todos Santos Center to research and brainstorm strategies to promote recycling and increase the use of Punto Verde, the only recycling facility in Todos Santos. Recently, the Center has partnered with local schools and businesses to support and promote #Desplastifícate, a regional awareness campaign to reduce single-use plastics in BCS: straws, plastic bags, and Styrofoam containers.

Beyond its growing portfolio of sustainability-focused courses, programs, and initiatives, the Todos Santos Center staff strive to conserve water through a set of community norms: using buckets to capture shower water as it heats, to then use for flushing toilets; using drip irrigation systems in gardens; landscaping with native plant species; and regularly monitoring toilets and faucets for leaks. 

To conserve energy, the Center equips all exterior lights with timers and requires staff to check facilities regularly for any lights, appliances, or other electronics that may have been left on. 

Sustainable practices like these are shared and reviewed with all visitor groups during the Center’s orientation upon arrival.

About the Colorado State University Todos Santos Center

Located in Baja California Sur, Mexico, CSU Todos Santos Center serves as the University’s international hub, providing research and educational opportunities in alignment with existing University curricula.

Advancing CSU’s mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach, the Center collaborates with Mexican universities and organizations, and provides workshops and programs for visitors and local residents.

CSU’s vision in Todos Santos is to cultivate generations of global citizens and to partner in the creation of thriving communities through experiential learning and the exchange of knowledge.

For additional information, visit todossantos.colostate.edu.