The World Goes Green: 23 Major Sustainability And Sustainable Investment Projects That Are Building A Better Planet

In a world where change is chronically slow, sustainability and sustainable investment champions have 23 reasons to cheer. On every continent, investment in large scale, sustainable green projects continues to accelerate, providing evidence that humanity is slowly  awakening to the importance of sustainability, sustainable development, sustainable investment, and green energy. Is there more work to be done? Most certainly! Still, it is important to recognize and share the rewards that these projects have rought, using their successes as catalysts for even brighter ideas and bigger investment.

1) Eco-electricity on the Canary Islands

Project goal: By 2011, the whole island is to be powered by renewable energy sources

Project size: Water and wind parks to provide electricity for 10,000 people

Investment: Around 65 million euros ($88 million)

CO2 savings: A planned 200,000 tons per year

Spain is now the leader in Europe when it comes to using renewable energy. The Spanish government wants El Hierro, the smallest of the Canary Islands, to meet its entire energy needs from clean wind energy and hydroelectric power. That would make El Hierro the first island in the world to be completely free of fossil-based energy and make it a real model project.

2) Forest conservation in Russia

Project goal: Forests as carbon storage sites

Project size: 460,000 hectares (1.13 million acres) of forest in the Bikin Valley in the Amur region in far eastern Russia

Investment: 2.5 million euros ($3.38 million)

Carbon retention: 176.53 million tons

The Bikin Valley is the last real wilderness left in far eastern Russia, and is home to many threatened species. In addition, the primeval forest there is an important carbon sink, which aids in climate protection. But it's threatened by deforestation so the WWF and the region's indigenous population, who want to put a stop to the destruction, have come up with an interesting solution.

3) Electricity for Mongolia

Energy form: Hybrid-hydropower

Project goal: Providing electricity for 5,000 people in 1,200 households

Project size: 760,000 euros ($953,000) in building costs

Carbon savings: 525 tons per year

Mongolia's energy needs are mounting and the Central Asian country faces a major electricity shortage by 2012. So far, the government has relied on coal and diesel but clean sources of energy are becoming increasingly popular, with rural Mongolia leading the way. With the help of Germany's GTZ aid group, more and more nomads are using solar energy and have access to small hydropower plants. It's become a model for the entire country.

4) Biomass briquettes in India

Energy type: Biomass

Project goal: Use of biomass in brick kilns as well as for cookers in schools and hospitals

Carbon reduction: 130,000 tons of carbon dioxide over seven years

India produces millions of tons of agricultural waste each year but this material contains much more than just rubbish. The biomass can be used to generate low-carbon energy. That's what one state in northern India has now begun doing. It's producing briquettes of fuel from the biomass and selling it to local brick kilns.

5) A new forest for Georgia

Countries: Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan

Project goal: Reforestation within the framework of the 'Caucasus Initiative'

Project size: 250 protected forested areas

Investment: 4.8 million euros ($6.1 million)

The Caucasus is home to all kinds of landscapes - glaciers, forests, deserts, steppes. More than 7,000 species live between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. But the region's wild heritage is increasingly under threat. Georgia's forests are desperately in need of reforestation. It's being carried out by environmental group WWF with the help of entire school classes. The idea is that the children won't just be doing something for the environment, but also learning something valuable.

6) Efficient energy for Bangladesh

Project goal: Reducing the use of coal, wood and rice husks

Project size: 20 modern brick kilns (10 are already in operation)

Investment: 750,000 euros per brick kiln (Total investment: 10,5 million euros), 4,200 euros per rice cooker

Carbon savings: 2,850 tons of carbon dioxide per year and brick kiln

Bangladesh suffers from frequent power cuts, plunging the country into darkness for hours at a time. Rural regions in particular are badly affected; some aren't even connected to the electricity grid. The country's energy needs are largely met by burning coal and wood. Brick kilns are one of the biggest sources of harmful carbon emissions. But now a rethink is underway. Bangladesh is using modern technology to cut down on coal consumption and lower emissions.

7) Sunshine in a pot - Solar cooking in India

Energy source: Solar

Project size: Solar cooking for 500 students

Investment amount: 2 million rupees (30,000 euros)

CO2 savings: 20 tons per year

Hundreds of children attend the schools of the Muni Seva Ashram in the Western Indian state of Gujarat everyday. Their school meals used to be prepared over wood fires. Now a new project harnesses the power of the sun for the school canteen.

8) No longer just a climate killer - Palm oil production in Thailand

The stinking lagoons behind the small palm oil mill near Krabi pose a major threat to the climate. They release methane, a highly toxic greenhouse gas which contaminates the ground water in the area and pollutes the air. That's because the lagoons contain rotting waste from the palm fruit from which only the oil is extracted.

But a few kilometers away, the Chumpon Palm Oil Industry (CPI) has hit on a new way to deal with the fruit pulp. Here, in addition to extracting palm oil, the fruit waste is used to produce biogas and generate electricity. The biogas plant can generate up to 10 megawatts of electricity as well as treat and clean its own sewage. Thailand already has six of the climate-friendly plants.

9) Climate aides in South Africa

Project goal: Providing huts with solar-powered boilers, insulation and electricity

Size: 2,309 houses in the Khayelitsha township have so far been outfitted

Investment: Around 33 million Rand (3.5 million Euros)

Carbon savings: 6,000 tons so far

Side effect: Influenza and tuberculosis cases have been drastically reduced

More than a million people live in the Khayelitsha township near Cape Town, South Africa. Many are bitterly poor and lack access to warm water. They use oil or wood to heat their homes. This is where the climate project "Kuyasa" was set up. It’s the first in the world to get the so-called "Gold Standard," a quality certification scheme for carbon offsetting. The project uses the funds generated from the carbon offset market to finance itself and help an increasing number of people in the township.

10) Green refrigerators in Swaziland

Project size: 70,000 refrigerators per year

Investment: 3.4 million euros ($4.17 million)

Carbon savings: 29,000 tons per year

Swaziland, a small kingdom in southern Africa, is one of the poorest regions in the world. Most residents depend on farming and cattle grazing for their livelihood. Only a few own cars. They aren't responsible for climate change but Swaziland has been hard hit by the consequences – rising temperatures and drought. Appliances that keep food and medicines cool are hugely important. One of the few factories in the country now produces refrigerators and freezers in an environmentally-friendly way. And the appliances are powered by solar energy.

11) Senegal's solar-powered hospital

For the people in southern Senegal, batteries and diesel generators are a primary source of electricity. But now an increasing number of villages are switching to solar power, aided by German technology. In these villages solar panels are used to power charging stations for lamps, cell phones - and even a hospital.

12) Eco University in Ghana

Energy form: Solar, biogas

Project size: Remodeling of a 120-hectare (296.5 acre) university campus

Investment amount: 1.3 million euros (International Climate Protection Initiative)

CO2 savings: At least 9,000 tons

Valley View University in the Ghanian capital Accra has committed itself to sustainability. Power is generated from rooftop solar panels, rain water is collected and processed, and kitchen waste is converted to energy at the on-campus biogas plant. It's not just the campus that has gone green: the first degree program in ecological studies is about to get underway.

13) Geothermal energy in Kenya - Natural heat to counter global warming

Energy type: Geothermal

Project size: Power plant produces 48 megawatts of electricity

Investment: 140 million euros ($190.5 million)

Potential: Geothermal heat could generate up to 4.5 gigawatts of electricity in the region

Until now, hydro power has been Kenya's largest energy source, but climate change is making this process increasingly difficult. Prolonged droughts result in dried-up rivers and half-empty reservoirs. Climate-damaging diesel generators are being used to keep up energy supplies but a much cleaner alternative is available: geothermal energy. Now, Africa's first private geothermal power plant is meant to set an example for the entire region.

14) Solar-powered villages in Argentina

Energy form: Solar energy

Project goal: Preventing deforestation and improving quality of living

Project size: solar thermal systems for eight villages including 350 solar cookers, 81 warm water systems, 10 central heating systems for schools

Carbon savings: currently around 1,100 tons each year in eight villages

Investment: 466,000 Euros ($576,000) in the last seven years

Each year, thousands of tons of trees and shrubs are burned in the ovens and cooking fires of the inhabitants of the Puna highland desert plateau in northwestern Argentina. The country's EcoAndina environmental group has been trying for years to slow the rate of deforestation by pushing solar systems. Today, several hundred families cook with the power of the sun and bakeries and baths in the villages are powered with solar energy. In addition, several schools have been equipped with simple but efficient solar heating systems.

15) Wind energy in Chile

Project goal: Locate and use sites for wind parks
Project size: In a first step, locate two sites for wind parks with a capacity of 200 megawatts

Investment: Around 300 million euros ($368 million)
Carbon savings: Around 400,000 tons each year

With 13 major rivers, plenty of sun in the north of the country and more than 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) of breezy Pacific coast, the South American nation of Chile has plenty of renewable energy potential. But so far that potential remains untapped. Now the demand for energy in the country is changing all that. Four wind farms have already been built and another dozen are in the planning stages.

16) Protecting the rainforest in Brazil

Fields, farms, settlements - humans are increasingly encroaching further into the Brazilian rainforest. That's led to huge environmental destruction. Now, efforts are on to protect the rainforest.

Project goal: to protect the Amazon rainforest

Project size: 600,000 square kilometers (231,660 square miles) of forest by 2016

Investment: around 31 million euros ($38 million) by the German ministry for economic cooperation and development and the German environment ministry

The Amazonian rainforest, known as the "world's lung," is hurtling towards destruction. Soya farms, infrastructure projects and new settlements are encroaching on the forest. Almost half of Brazil's greenhouse gases can be traced back to deforestation. That's why there are plans to designate large parts of the rain forest as specially protected zones. The initiative comes from the residents themselves, who have committed to protecting the "Verde para Sempre" region.

17) Clean air on Mexico's roads

Project goal: modernizing the transportation system, water and energy supply

Project size: a new subway line and two high-speed bus lines, 85 bicycle terminals, bike lanes and pedestrian zones for the more than eight million residents of Mexico City

Investment: 3.4 billion euros between 2008 and 2012

CO2 savings: 4.4 million tons each year, 1.8 million tons of which in the transport sector

Almost every day, Mexico City is shrouded in smog. To combat that problem the city has developed what it calls the "Plan Verde." This "Green Plan" is expected to reduce carbon emissions by hundreds of thousands of tons each year. The mega-metropolis will invest around a billion dollars each year in modern, high-speed buses, bus lanes, pedestrian zones and a bicycle-rental system. This massive project got Mexico City a lot of attention at the climate summit in Copenhagen last year.

18) Cooking and saving the climate - efficient wood-burning stoves in Peru

Project goal: Saving wood used for cooking, less air pollution

Project size: Installation of 30,000 efficient stoves per year

Cost of building stoves: 1.8 million euros ($2.43 million)

CO2 savings: a planned 7 million tons in the next seven years

Traditionally, people in the rural regions of Peru cook over an open fire at home. It's not only bad for the climate, it's also bad for the population's health. New types of wood-burning stoves can reduce the amount of wood consumed by up to 80 percent. That prevents deforestation, and saves thousands of tons of CO2 emissions.

19) Brazil - Bioplastics from sugar cane

Project goal: Avoiding waste, replacing plastics made from oil

Investment: 400,000 euros

Carbon reduction: Cutting emissions by one third in the sugar cane industry

The Brazilian sugar cane industry is booming. This is mostly due to the demand for ethanol which is used as biofuel. But a large part of the sugar cane waste is simply burned, resulting in increased carbon emissions and air pollution. Now a new project using German-Brazilian technology, will in future turn the waste into plastic.

20) Warm water from the roofs of Mexico

Energy source: Solar

Project size: 25,000 across Mexico by October 2012

Investment: 3.1 million euros (International Climate Protection Initiative)

CO2 savings: 160,000 tons starting in October 2012

The inhabitants of Heroes der Tecamac in Mexico City are taking action to protect the climate. To heat their water they don't use natural gas, instead they turn to solar energy. 60,000 houses are located in this blue-collar settlement. A good 1000 of them are already outfitted to trap the sun's energy and that number is set to grow.

21) Old wall, new energy - hydropower in Honduras

Energy form: Water

Project size: 70 new jobs; provides electricity to surrounding villages

Investment: $15 million (10.5 million euros)

CO2 reduction: 30,000 tons annually

In the Honduran city of La Esperanza, an old dam has been refitted to produce green energy. Designed with climate protection in mind from the start, the facility was the first project worldwide that was allowed to sell carbon emission certificates after the 1997 Kyoto treaty.

22) Water pumps in Jordan

Project goal: efficient water management

Investment: 1.257 million euros ($1.6 million)

CO2 savings: up to 14,800 tons per year

Energy savings: at least 25 percent of the energy needed so far to supply water could be cut

Water supply is one of the biggest development challenges in Jordan. A large share of the water reserves are in the Jordan Valley, located below sea level. The water has to be piped from there to the consumers - often to cities at an altitude of more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) above sea level. The pumps used for the purpose are often decrepit and energy-intensive. Jordan's water authority is thus one of the largest electricity consumers in the country. Now, new pumps are to be used to sharply reduce electricity consumption.

23) Protecting Micronesia's islands

Countries: the Marshall Islands, the federal states of Micronesia, Palau

Project goal: 30 percent of coral reserves and 20 percent of coasts are to be protected against rising sea levels and resulting erosion

Project time frame: December 2008 to December 2010

Investment: 2 million ruros

It's the small island-nations in the Pacific Ocean that suffer most from climate change: On the Marshall Islands, on Palau and other Micronesian islands, people are faced with steadily rising sea levels. Coasts are eroding and drinking water is becoming scarce. But the world is barely aware of the problem. In this "island paradise," a race against time has begun.