Two EARTH stories, one about an accomplished alumnus and another about a committed donor.
For Alfonso Martinuz Gerrero (’97, Nicaragua), environmentalism is a passionate personal philosophy.
“I’ve sought to be a light of change in everything I’ve done, positively influencing colleagues and promoting sustainable agriculture and care for Mother Earth,” he said.
Alfonso has always had a strong interest in understanding the ways in which agriculture, economics and environmental sciences connect. After completing his degree in agronomy from EARTH University, he began his career at Chiquita Brands International, and later conducted research on organic banana and pineapple production at EARTH. Alfonso then served as a consultant on numerous sustainable agriculture and environmental economics projects for nonprofits, before returning to school to earn a master’s in environmental economics at CATIE in Costa Rica and a doctorate from Bonn University in Germany.
For Alfonso, the fight against climate change is a daily focus. The EARTH graduate currently works as an international consultant and technical coordinator for a program – funded by the Inter-American Development Bank, the Nordic Development Fund, and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation – that aims to reduce the vulnerability of rural Nicaraguan populations impacted by climate change. In his role, Alfonso leads a team of approximately 50 people and manages the program within the Nicaraguan Ministry of Environment. To date, their efforts have reforested more than 50,000 acres of land and implemented approximately 50 public works projects to reduce the potential impact of increasing natural disasters on rural communities – improving the lives of more than 400 farmers, and many others, in the process.
Alfonso credits EARTH with having strengthened his core values, such as honesty and transparency, and building his leadership skills and work ethic.
“EARTH changed my life in all aspects,” Alfonso said. “Not just in improving my income, it has transformed me into a professional with an environmental and social conscience.”
Rooted in sustainability
When you hear the name “Ray Anderson,” does a tiny solar-powered bulb in your mind light up? It should.
Anderson was a pioneer in corporate responsibility and sustainability, long before it was in vogue for big business to embrace it. Many years into his tenure as CEO of Interface, Inc., a carpet tiles manufacturer he founded, he had an awakening and was inspired to transform his pollutive company into a model of environmentally responsible business. Famous for promoting the idea that producing less toxic products, with less oil and less waste, is good for both the planet and his company’s bottom line, he was dubbed “The Green Industrialist” by TIME. In his later years, he dedicated much of his time to making the business case for sustainability, speaking at innumerable conferences and universities and even giving a renowned TED Talk. Anderson passed away in 2011 but his environmental spirit lives on in the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and in Anderson’s family – especially his grandson John Lanier.
Lanier is the fresh-faced executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation and one of the chief torchbearers of the family legacy. He manages the Foundation’s operations and oversees their numerous projects, which are as diverse as funding the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at Georgia Tech and sponsoring a stretch of sustainable highway outside of Atlanta, Georgia.
A graduate of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership (IGEL) and the University of Virginia School of Law, Lanier is an attorney by trade. He had his own environmental epiphany during a vacation in Hawaii, calling the islands’ natural beauty an emotional experience. Hired in May 2013 to captain the Foundation, he views his most important role as being an advocate for the things Ray Anderson stood for.
“Ray was a real fan of EARTH University because it represents the values he cared about and promotes solutions to pressing environmental challenges,” Lanier said. “EARTH recognizes the need to develop changemakers who understand our dependence on earth systems.”
Lanier’s grandfather was committed to the idea of improving the state of the planet for future generations – or, in his words, “Tomorrow’s Child.” Today that concept is even more powerful to Lanier than it was when he started at the Foundation. He and his wife welcomed a baby boy to the world just last year.
“My intellectual understanding of the need for sustainability has always existed,” Lanier said. “My emotional understanding of the need has been strengthened by my child’s birth.”
Lanier is still figuring out how he would like to reveal the world to his son, but he already is certain he will instill in him a value system rooted in protecting the earth and inspiring those around him.
“Environmentalism isn’t just about stopping the bad guys; it’s also about enabling the good guys. Ray advocated for people to brighten the corner they’re in. We should all work within our own communities to do just that,” Lanier said. “I want to sing the praises of EARTH for being so international, for being invested in many areas of the globe, and for brightening many corners.”