How Ernst & Young Encourages Sustainable Development in Brazil

Sep 7, 2012 5:00 PM ET
Andrew Soulier, Matthew Collins & Ernesto Navarro of Ernst & Young at Salto Morato waterfall.

How Ernst & Young Encourages Sustainable Development in Brazil

In May, I joined a team of Ernst & Young professionals from across the Americas (US, Canada, Mexico and Central America, South America and Israel) on a weeklong expedition with the Earthwatch Institute as part of our Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassadors Expedition program. My immunizations, passport, work experience, and the support of Ernst & Young prepared me to leave the Phoenix office behind and explore the Brazilian rainforest. Besides looking forward to my eco-adventure, I was eager to meet my team of peers from around the world. Our home for the week would be the Guyra Farm, nestled at the edge of the Atlantic Forest near the southern Brazilian coastal town of Guaraquecaba. Our Earthwatch leaders explained we would be assisting research scientists in gathering field data to support government funded conservation efforts and working on a skills-based project for the ecotourism Cooperguara Cooperative.

On our first day we ventured on a ten kilometer hike to develop a foundation for documenting the biodiversity of the Atlantic forest. Despite our newly purchased outdoor clothing and knee-high snake protective boots, climbing through heavy brush and hugging trees in the rain took some getting used to. Our research team showed us how to set up cameras to capture animals, look for footprints to track animals, and count and measure trees. Equipped with newly trained eyes, we were on the lookout for pumas, anteaters, monkeys and more. We learned to move very slowly with open ears and wide eyes. After a few days we were fast becoming experts in tracking animals and documenting biodiversity. In fact, two of our team members invented a distance tool to help measure forest density. They attached a premeasured piece of tape to a stick and tossed it to either side of the trail for a quick positioning estimate. The research team mentioned they will use the new technique for future projects.

In addition to our field work, we worked to develop suggestions for the Cooperguara Cooperative, a member organization focused on ecotourism that ultimately supports local community development and small businesses. As the number of ecotourists continues to increase, the Cooperative recognized difficulties in three specific areas: operational sustainability, membership, and developing a budget.

To learn more about the Cooperative, we traveled on bumpy, dirt roads to meet with several members throughout the region. One member, an organic banana farmer, explained that the Cooperative has helped his small business to survive. He even showed us innovative farming methods that he uses and shares with other Cooperative members.

These meetings were essential for our presentation, which addressed the initiatives: optimize cash flow, expand sales and marketing, and improve internal controls.

We received positive and helpful feedback at the end of our presentation with recommendations that set the stage for the next Earthwatch-Ernst & Young Ambassador team arriving in a few weeks. On our last night together we enjoyed a traditional Brazilian barbecue as we reflected on the week and relaxed among new friends. We reminisced about the great Cooperative members and the beauty of the forest.

We came to a new country as representatives of Ernst & Young and departed Brazil with a more global experience as well as new perspectives on the environment, each other, and an opportunity to embed sustainability in our daily lives.

The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ernst & Young LLP.

About the author - Matthew Collins
Matthew Collins, a Manager in the Audit Practice at Ernst & Young LLP, served as the team leader for the 2012 Earthwatch expedition to Brazil. He previously was a member of the 2010 Costa Rica Earthwatch expedition. Matthew participates in the Ernst &Young LLP Phoenix office Philanthropy and EcoCare committees and serves as the Treasurer and Finance Committee Chair for the national not-for-profit organization New Global Citizens. Matthew received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Arizona.