We use a natural systems-based approach that shifts the way people see, care for and use natural resources. SCZ is directly linked to the ZERI Foundation which works on a number of United Nations and other sustainable projects around the world. We work with rural communities to help uncover hidden assets for use towards local sustainability. We collaborate with communities to achieve environmental, ecologic, social and cultural goals simultaneously. We work to change the way people think about and view "wastes" and promote using all "waste" to create economic opportunities while simultaneously preserving and enhancing the environment. By finding ways to use all "wastes" as value added raw materials, we can create more products, more jobs, preserve our environment and social systems to meet current and future generations' needs. We believe we cannot force nature to produce more; we must do more with what nature provides.

For information go to: the ZERI principles and methodology, rooted in the natural sciences and developed by Gunter Pauli. One important principle is the more local you work, using what is available locally, and the greater the diversity (ecosystems, people, culture, etc.), the stronger and healthier the system will be as well as its ability to regenerate - important for future generations. ZERI can be applied to any type of activity whether rural and land-based or urban and industrial.

While the ZERI Foundation has worked internationally in the developing world as well as Europe and Japan and through the United Nations, New Mexico is the first state in the United States to seriously undertake applying the ZERI method in our communities.

The poverty level in Northern New Mexico is one of the highest in the nation, and virtually all of the indicators looking at social conditions are at the lower end of the spectrum nationally. We have a rich diversity of cultures, communities, and people, who love this land and its people. New Mexico has some of the most beautiful and sacred lands in the west, as well as an abundance of natural resources. We also have some of the best "brain power" which is underutilized for social purposes - Los Alamos, Sandia. There is every reason to believe our state can and should be far higher on the social scales.

SCZ is attempting to address and alleviate these conditions by working with local communities, state and federal agencies, educational institutions, scientists, and a variety of local organizations using a systems based approach that is inspired by nature and applied to development within the state. There was a time when these rural communities did not create what we today call "waste" because everything gathered was used and reused. SCZ works to design projects and programs that create opportunities for local economic and social benefits, while protecting and enhancing our unique ecosystems, by identifying and creating potential value added products from wasted resources and in the process creating new businesses and jobs that provide a future for current and future generations.

The goal over time with all of these projects is to demonstrate success. We want to be the model for new self sustaining local businesses or cooperatives in collaboration with others, contributing to an increase in the living standards and social indicators of rural and other New Mexican communities. We hope to keep our youth here, regenerate our environment, and protect our natural resources by sustainable development for future generations.


(1) Sustainable Forestry

Natural fires in western forests have been suppressed for decades as a policy. This policy has changed and now the federal government and states are providing major funding for projects that will thin the forests of low value, small diameter trees (in New Mexico they are ponderosa pine, pinon and juniper primarily) to both guard against forest fires that have run out of control close to inhabited areas (ie. Los Alamos the largest in state) as well as open up the forests floor for more native grasses and bushes to grow. Much of the small diameter trees that are being harvested (anywhere from 50% or more) is ending up in landfills as there is little high value other than firewood, fences, etc.

SCZ has proposed to work on several pilot projects with communities where this thinning is already taking place to create higher value added products from these thinned trees. SCZ has received a grant from the US Forest Service, Collaborative Forest Restoration Program; however, virtually all of SCZ administrative and staff support for this grant is in the form of our in kind services - for which we do not have funding. The US Forest Service grant will cover 2/3 of the project costs with SCZ to provide l/3 in kind support and therefore we need to raise the additional general support funds to carry out this project. The goal of this project is to demonstrate that what was once being tossed as "waste" tree biomass from thinning is able to be converted to a number of higher value uses that stimulate local economy and could lead to a cooperative and jobs which will sell the products generated from the "wastes" within and later outside of New Mexico.

These include creating clean burning wood charcoal for heating and cooking fuel, barbeque and potentially activated charcoal filters to non-toxic wood preservation techniques which can be used in place of the now prohibited arsenicum treatments. Charcoal and Wood Preservation.

Once in the forest to do the thinning of these low value trees, restoration and enhancement of the forests can be done using a selected variety of local fungi to inoculate the slash and stumps to restore eroded areas, hold the soil and avoid sedimentation from affecting surface waters, soften the impact of the cut aesthetically, create new rich, soil humus that can retain more moisture for the forest floor as well as other products as well as reintroduce greater numbers of edible native mushrooms and important symbiotic fungi for forest health that have been diminishing. Mushroom, Animal Feed, and Forest Restoration.

Should this pilot prove successful, cooperatives for the new products created can be started in New Mexico to sell to niche markets, and could be replicated all over the west as well. These activities are intended to bring about economic and social opportunities for poor rural communities near forests, as well as provide needed restoration after thinning impacts as well as ecological enhancements to leave the forest in better shape after thinning. The products from these pilots will all be laboratory tested (charcoal, preserved wood, edible fungi, the domestic feed and the humus, etc.) Photographs of before and after, as well as lab tests and following the Forest Service multiparty assessment guidance will be the criteria to determine level of our achievements. After the pilot project has been fully tested and demonstrates stated goals, we will move into the next phase with developing a business plan and market strategy for how this can be applied - perhaps through a cooperative - for sustainable businesses in northern NM.

(2) Integrated waste management and farming system (IWMFS).

In many places with a high proportion of poor people with limited access to natural resources, an overlooked but important renewable resource they have are human and domestic livestock wastes. These wastes, if not treated properly, are causing serious health and environmental problems. All over the United States, particularly in small rural communities, sanitation systems for treatment of human wastes have become expensive to build and many are old and in non compliance with environmental and health standards. Federal grant money which was available for 25 years to build these systems has dried up, and low or no interest loan money is also running out. Conventional treatment systems are very expensive and not affordable for many small communities. Further, they still create waste sludge that must be treated and disposed of properly. In addition to being costly, conventional systems do not present any value added economic opportunities for the community.

Also, dairy, cattle, pig and other farms large and small with animals have potential problems with animal wastes contaminating soils and groundwater and stricter standards are being proposed for their operations. Dairies collect untreated manure in open cesspools and spray it onto the land, sometimes contaminating groundwater and lands and releasing serious disease-causing bacteria among other things. (One cow produces 120 pounds of wet manure a day; a single 3,000 head dairy (small), will produce as much waste in a single day as a community of 90,000 people - NM now has more than 300,000 dairy cows producing some 37 million pounds worth of wet manure a DAY). For more, see Save Our Water Supply

To address these concerns and identify potential value added economic opportunities, the non-profit ZERI International has worked with communities and livestock farms around the world to build and operate waste treatment systems in both large and small, in urban and rural communities treating both human and animal wastes - either separately or together. In dairy farms for example, ALL wastes can be successfully treated and converted to a variety of value-added products which will help the farmer - especially the small ones who are on the edge financially.

Central to this system is the appropriately-sized biodigester where wastewater enters at one end under anaerobic conditions and is retained for 4-6 days for digestion by natural bacteria in the absence of oxygen before coming out at the other end as digested effluent, with at least 50% of its polluting organic content (BOD - biological oxygen demand) transformed into stabilized inorganics or minerals. The biodigester effluent after treatment is used to fertilize fish ponds and crop fields, the treated sludge becomes a substrate for growing organic mushrooms and vermiculture for worms for chicken and turkeys, and the biogas (60-70% is methane which is combustible and a clean energy source) generated in the process can be used for heating the digester and/or a greenhouse in the winter months as well as for lighting the area at night

The digested effluent is further treated aerobically in cheaper sedimentation tanks and oxidation basins up to 90% BOD reduction, while producing algae (which can be collected and used as protein feed for livestock), and stabilized sludge used as substrate for cultures of mushrooms for food and new soil, and earthworms as feed for chickens and turkeys, with the residues used as soil conditioner or compost. The basin effluent is discharged into big and deep ponds for dilution and final mineralization using some for the dissolved oxygen. The minerals encourage prolific growth of various kinds of natural plankton as feeds for polyculture of up to five kinds of compatible native fish in the pond, producing a new cycle of nutrients (fish wastes). Prof. Chan's Integrated Waste Management and Farming System" and the Animal Waste Chart

The nutrient-rich pond water is used to provide constant irrigation and fertilization (fertigation) for various crops grown alongside the pond for added value such as grasses (for livestock), fruit trees, flowers, or a variety of crops on the dikes or on floats in the pond. The IWMFS has been demonstrated in the tropics and documented in a variety of proceedings including the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Picuris Pueblo, just north of Santa Fe, New Mexico, is very interested in working with SCZ to build such a system to meet their sanitation needs and treat bison wastes, and provide additional social, cultural, environmental and economic opportunities. This would be the first project of its kind in the United States to demonstrate the IWMFS will work even in colder climates, and currently we are working with USDA for approval of this system. Contact us to see the letter supporting this effort from D. Schaller, Sustainable Development Director, EPA-Region 8, December, 2002.

Once established, the system and value added food, fish, and other products will be sustainable economically for the long term. All products and phases of the system will be tested in laboratories to ensure it meets standards and the products are safe for various uses and/or consumption. SCZ hopes that once this system is demonstrated to meet standards and provide economic opportunities, this system will be replicated throughout New Mexico and the US. Once the technology has been demonstrated to work effectively, we hope this will become a technology that small, rural and poor communities as well as any sized farms can turn to for their human sanitation and animal wastes needs. Integrated Waste Management System

(3) K-12 Education Initiative.

In too many places throughout the United States, youth are not learning how to relate to and integrate what they learn to be productive with their everyday life and therefore a lot of what they learn in school seems irrelevant. This is especially the case in poor communities throughout New Mexico, where we see many problems with youth dropout rates, gangs, drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy and suicide, low academic scores, cultural tensions, etc. and little hope for a successful future. Gunter Pauli through ZERI International has begun developing an educational initiative which builds on the work of farsighted educators such as Jean Piaget, John Dewey, Fritjof Capra and Karen McGowan who have helped to move education into a more connected, rational, emotional and enlightened age.

ZERI sees children not as empty vessels waiting to be filled with facts, but rather as "little scientists" who fill their days with constant observations, experiments, and active building of knowledge. Children learn best when learning by doing rather than rote learning and dogmatic instruction. Fritjof Capra of the Center for Ecoliteracy teaches youth to understand nature and natural systems and using these core concepts of ecology to envision and later create sustainable human communities. Applying ecological knowledge requires thinking in terms of relationships, connectedness, and context - seeing the world and people as an interconnected whole. Also, enlightened researchers and educators such as Karen McGowan alike are seeing the relationship between academic scores and the child's ability or inability to deal with their emotions, especially in the context of today's complex and ever-changing society. Emotional intelligence must also, therefore, play a crucial role in the educational systems of the future.

Gunter Pauli has written numerous simple, natural science based children's stories which form the basis of systems thinking, support emotional intelligence and basic values, and help children to dream and envision a better society. While they start in kindergarten with more than forty ZERI children's stories, they move on to begin writing their own stories in the early grades, then later the program integrates working in the community through service based learning. The 21 virtues taught through ZERI looks at the virtues in nature (non judgmental, giving, using everything without waste, beauty, sharing, patience, modesty, productivity, sustainability, creativity, adaptable, accepting, order, persistence, etc.) and asks students to see these in nature and then identify people or "heroes" in their family or community with similar virtues. Older students will look at how to work with local business and industry to identify wastes and value added opportunities from use of the waste in other processes, they will study the 12 ZERI axioms for the new economics, and will graduate with an understanding of relationships in nature, the economy, community structures, and global connections from a systems perspective and be able to design and implement sustainable projects by understanding and working in parallel with nature.

The ZERI Educational Initiative has been endorsed by the Center for Ecoliteracy, the Center for Environmental Education, the Nueva School, the Antioch New England Graduate School of Environmental Education, and ecoliteracy professor David Orr. The ZERI Educational Initiative is practiced successfully internationally, including in Brazil, Japan, Nigeria, Colombia, Italy, and England. SCZ has conducted several free workshops and interactive lectures for public school teachers, students and youth, attended by more than 200 people to date in northern New Mexico, many of whom are interested in integrating the ZERI program in their schools. The goal of this program is to help youth understand, appreciate and work within their local community and natural systems for a better future by designing socially, economically and ecologically sustainable community projects. Students will be involved in a service based learning atmosphere in many of the ZERI projects being undertaken in New Mexico including the sustainable forestry activities and the IWMFS at Picuris and other locations. Education Initiative

SCZ needs general support to continue this important children and youth education work to help them learn systems thinking in designing local economic, social and environmentally uplifting projects. Based on what has already occurred with the ZERI educational initiative, we see its success and potential implementation has been well received here by teachers and students alike.

(4) ZERI certification training courses.

The ZERI Certification Training is designed to provide a deep understanding of systems thinking and development of skills in using the ZERI methodology. The goal is to have a pool of inspired, energetic, ZERI trained and certified, individuals who can apply the ZERI principles and methodology in their communities and in their work. Trained and certified individuals will be able to apply systems thinking to design or inspire the design of ZERI projects in collaborative efforts that could involve community and business leaders, state and federal agencies, schools, scientists, engineers, etc. ZERI shifts the business model, rendering enterprises more competitive, generating jobs while increasing productivity. It goes beyond the most stringent requirements environmental-minded people may wish to see, and yet permits many to live off the land by fostering creation of new value-added products from anything previously considered waste. Doing less bad with our production processes is not good enough - we must learn to do more good.

The ZERI Certification Training is an extremely intense course spread out over a six month period which includes a total of 12 full days with Gunter Pauli, international ZERI scientists and experts and certified practitioners and is divided into three 4-day modules. The course is limited to 25 new students for enhanced group dynamics, learning and team building. The next course begins in March, 2005. See our website at for details.

To date, there are 67 individuals from around the world who have been ZERI certified through this course sponsored by SCZ and held in Santa Fe, New Mexico - the only course of its kind offered in the world. More than a third of these individuals are from New Mexico

(5) ZERI seminars, workshops and courses.

SCZ has sponsored dozens of dinners, presentations, seminars and workshops since 2002 when it was formed with the direct help of and connection to ZERI Foundation and Gunter Pauli. These workshops have been on a number of different subjects such as sustainable forestry, pollution reduction to zero wastes, the IWMFS sanitation systems as well as several hands on biodigester building workshops, water conservation, dairy and pig wastes, industrial wastes and creating eco industrial parks where waste of one operation is used as a beneficial raw material for others, workshops on use of fungi spores in creating products, cleaning up oil and gas wastes, etc.

Communities, co-sponsors and funders have included Picuris and Nambe Pueblos, Taos, Espanola, Penasco, Mora, Las Cruces/El Paso, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, US Forest Service, State Forest Division, Bureau of Land Management, State Land Office, Los Alamos Labs - RRES (Risk Reduction/Environmental Stewardship Division), Environmental Protection Agency Region 6, Environment Department, US/Mexico Border Environment Cooperation Commission, NM Small Business Development Centers, small grants ($15,000 or less) NM Community, Livingry, Threshold, Tides, Healy, New Cycle, and Angelica Foundations, local community and non profit groups such as La Jicarita Enterprises, Tierra Wools, North American Institute, Quivera Coalition, Ecoversity, Penasco High School, Earthworks, Center for Service Based Learning, Green Zia Task Force (now NM Environmental Excellence Alliance), Green Builders without Borders, and other education, youth, environmental and conservation groups.

Last fall we sponsored a two day New Visions conference with several of the world's leading sustainable development advocates - Amory Lovins (head of Rocky Mountain Institute, Natural Capitalism), Paolo Lugari (Las Gaviotas, Colombia, which was voted one of the most sustainable communities in the world in l992 by the United Nations), Paul Hawkins (Natural Capitalism and Ecology of Commerce), Janine Benyus (Biomimicry and voted one of the country's leading innovative thinkers by Esquire Magazine) and Gunter Pauli. A video is being produced for distribution supported by Livingry Foundation.

(6) Harvesting and irrigating crops with condensate.

Given the challenges New Mexico faces with water shortages and over allocation of our state's rivers, the controversies between various constituent water users and environmental concerns for wildlife habitat and endangered fish, are growing. But slow efforts towards conservation of limited water supplies, new and innovative approaches must be taken to address this critical issue. ZERI International has worked with local people in Namibia, South Africa, on an innovative project that utilizes pipes carrying cold ocean water to the land and warm air with the contrast creating condensate water which is pure, clean and used to provide moisture and coolness around the crop roots for a variety of crops along the ocean where there was no suitable water for crops. This technology has been demonstrated on industrial scales on the dry side of the main island of Hawaii.

This success was started by and is being carried out by physicist Dr. John Craven, of the Common Heritage Corporation in Hawaii where such condensation created and the properties of "cold" from the water have been piped past the roots of a variety of crops successfully on more than 200 crop and fruit tree types and the water in the pipe is returned unused and undiminished in quantity and quality back to the ocean. This technology can likely be applied to river water, aquifers, produced water from oil and gas production, where the temperature differential between water and air is sufficient to produce condensation without using the actual water source and may be cold enough or could be made cold enough to provide the physical thermal dynamic stimulation of plant cells for growth. The cold as well as condensate can be calculated to produce a consistent amount of stimulation and irrigation water for crops and the results in Hawaii and Namibia have been very positive.

SCZ, with support from the Healy Foundation, brought Dr. John Craven to New Mexico to view and evaluation several sites for a potential pilot project that might demonstrate that this process can work here. If demonstrated, it is hoped that farmers will want to try this out on their farms as a way to conserve river water, harvest the "cold" and condensation and grow crops that are bigger and are tastier with less or no actual water consumption. There are some aspects to this process that are patented by Common Heritage and those issues need to be addressed once profit-making ventures are initiated. Dr. Craven's Water Project.

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Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM
P. O. Box 8017,
Santa Fe, NM 87504 USA
Phone: 505-820-0186
FAX: 505-986-6019

Sustainable Communities/ZERI-NM is a public 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

This page was last updated on November 15, 2004

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Unless otherwise indicated, all photographs are © 2001-2004 Lynda Taylor.