Fostering Cleaner Production | Colombia

An all-women leadership alliance is helping transform Colombia’s highly polluting construction industry into a cleaner, greener business. The initiative brings together leading women from academia, utility companies, public organizations and large and small industries to create partnerships to foster clean production practices. Despite their diverse backgrounds, the women all have one thing in common – they have already led successful cleaner production projects in various industries in Colombia. The initiative supports and encourages women to develop action plans in key industries to reduce industrial pollution and address climate change. As a result, women working in water and sewage companies, hydraulic and sanitary installation firms, and construction companies are now being trained in pollution prevention techniques and technologies.


Key facts:

  • Women who have led successful cleaner production projects are working to develop cleaner production proposals to minimize industrial pollution in the region, including a proposal related to 450 small-scale industries located in one area in the city of Cali;
  • Research projects, training and certificate programs are being developed together with a local university and an NGO to support women working in the construction industry who want to introduce cleaner production practices in their organization’s processes;
  • The alliance encourages and allows women to lead technology transfer processes for pollution prevention, which is not a common practice in industries where men typically lead technological transformations.

The problem

Industrial pollution is a major problem in Colombia. Diverse industries are part of the pollution problem in Valle del Cauca, a region that hosts an important industrial corridor in southwestern Colombia. Both rural and urban areas are being affected by industrial pollution. Priority areas and industrial sectors have been identified by the initiative to develop cleaner production projects.

An area in Cali (the capital of Valle del Cauca) with around 450 small and medium enterprises from different industries, such as metallurgy and paint manufacturers, was identified as a priority. The construction sector, which has a large carbon footprint, was also identified as a priority in the region. It is estimated that the building sector contributes up to 30% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions and consumes up to 40% of all energy.

The solution

The Fostering Cleaner Production initiative encourages women working in NGOs, universities and companies to form alliances to lead technology transfer processes to prevent industrial pollution. This includes training for women working in polluting industries to learn about techniques and technologies to create a greener industry.

Helping the planet

Women who have successfully led cleaner production processes in their organizations are part of the initiative. A woman from the electroplating industry, who eliminated the use of cyanide and heavy metals, reduced hazardous solid waste, and reused water, joined the initiative. A woman from a sugar cane sub-product enterprise (trapiche panelero), who eliminated the use of burning tires to run the artisanal oven by switching to an energy-efficient oven, became part of the initiative. Women who have supported cleaner production processes with women coffee farmers also joined the initiative. These women coffee farmers are cleaning the waste water from the coffee production process, and reuse water and solid waste in composting processes.

The initiative prioritized the construction industry in Valle del Cauca because of its large environmental footprint. For one large construction firm and 10 of its suppliers, for example, women led the change to: use photovoltaic energy for lighting and pumping rainwater; put proper construction waste recycling programs in place; reuse the water from processes to cut bricks; reuse construction material waste in road improvements; replace wood forms in all the construction processes; replace motorcycles with bicycles for supervising construction projects; and reduce paper consumption. The women led significant technological changes in the construction processes of the large and small enterprises in order to reduce pollution and address climate change.


Helping people

Approximately 25 women have directly benefited from the initiative. In order to build and promote women’s leadership in cleaner production diffusion in industries, diverse tools and activities have been developed, including workshops, training and certificate programs, and research projects. The alliance allows women to gain knowledge and recognition as leaders in a field highly required by industries.

Women are not only encouraged to share knowledge, but to also apply that knowledge within their own industries. In this way, women’s leadership, knowledge and capacities in the topic are further developed and elevated.

These learning alliances actively support and encourage more women to develop their own cleaner production action plans in industries to help minimize industrial pollution and address climate change.

Spillover effect

Most of the cleaner production action plans promoted by the women in the alliance are simple, achievable, and can be implemented with local technology and materials, which make them easy to replicate in other industries in the Colombian context.

Creating women-led networks to promote pollution prevention actions in industries is a methodology that can be replicated in other countries. Women working in different industries can join new networks to share and develop cleaner production practices that address climate change.

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