September 17th, 2012
01:51 PM ET

Carbon negative in Costa Rica

By The Next List staff, CNN

(CNN) - In 1974, 23-year-old Juan Sostheim was tapped as director of Burger King in Europe. He opened the company’s first franchises on the continent and introduce millions to a phenomenon known as the “Whopper.”

Today, the former fast food king has traded in his crown for a new title: owner of Costa Rica’s first carbon-negative company, a sustainable farm and eco-resort known as Rancho Margot.

“What I’m doing today is basically the sum of my experiences,” say Sostheim. “I understand it’s a little bit crazy, but I think it should give people some hope that we all can change.”

Certified as "carbon negative" by Carbon Clear of Austin, Texas, Rancho Margot is a sprawling, 400-acre experiment in sustainable living. “We produce our own food,” Sostheim says. “We make our own furniture. We produce our own energy - electricity and cooking gas. We use compost waste and heat water with it. At the same time, we produce a luxury environment for people to come enjoy themselves.”

But the resort is much more than a guilt-free paradise. Working with a staff of about 45 people and some 10 to 15 rotating volunteers, Sostheim has created what he calls a “living university.” Throughout the year, he hosts more than 50 universities in the U.S. and Costa Rica, offering lectures and tours of the farm's sustainable engineering innovations. He also offers Spanish immersion classes for foreign students - both resort guests and volunteers. And, finally, he’s just launched a college course in sustainable local tourism.

With the government’s support, this year he awarded 20 scholarships for Costa Rican students eager to earn two-year associate’s degrees in hotel management.

Rancho Margot started nine years ago when the one-time Burger King exec bought a cow pasture in what once was a Costa Rican rain forest. “I came in here and I didn’t want to be holier than the Pope,” he says. “What I wanted to do was grow my own food. What I wanted to do was to live among nature with nice things.”

But having fallen in love with the place, he adds, “I obviously was inspired to do more.”

Today Rancho Margot is considered a leading example in sustainable development. In a recent interview, Costa Rican congresswoman Mireya Zamora proclaimed Sostheim’s achievement an example for the country at large.

But Sostheim’s mission is far from over. Having proven a resort can be both sustainable and profitable, he’s now transitioning Rancho Margot into a teaching community - one still catering to tourism, but not dependent on it. His vision: a residential community for roughly 100 families to live and work on the ranch. By collaborating and growing with the local population, Sostheim hopes to create a prosperous and fully integrated community able to sustain itself for generations.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. In home Personal Training Long Island

    Today Rancho Margot is considered a leading example in sustainable development this place is awesome. I love that every plant has a
    purpose. Great Job Rancho Margot! Live by example.

    December 17, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  2. Karole Nasworthy

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    April 15, 2013 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  4. Miki Garza

    post thanks for penning this. I linked to it on facebook.Just linked this to Myspace|Great post...Shared on FB}

    September 24, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Reply
  5. Juan the exploiter

    I used to work there but left for moral reasons. Even their animals get better food than the employees. I used to call this place "the most beautiful prison on earth". Juan is a little dictator who is mean to his employees and even employs a few people illegally without paying taxes.

    September 23, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
    • Ivannia Esquivel

      I have worked and lived at the Ranch for more than 2 years. My question for you is: what could you get done if you were a dictator? If I judge by what you wrote I'm sure it would be very far from being "the most beautiful prison on earth". Whatever you can create it comes from your heart. My name is Ivannia y hablo español

      September 23, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  6. Coflyboy

    Just think-someday entire countries, even the whole world, "being carbon negative". This proves it is possible. We have a very very long road ahead, but this may just be the very first step taken.

    September 19, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  7. OliverW

    Cool. Now if the Costa Rican government could only fix the traffic and emissions problems in major cities and thoroughfares, I'll be really impressed. Meanwhile, this ideal of "sustainable tourism", however commendable as a concept, is merely a panacea, an illusion designed to set up Costa Rica's status as an "eco-friendly" country. Anyone who has lived there for any length of time knows that this is complete BS...

    September 19, 2012 at 12:10 am | Reply
    • Pablo Bolanos-Villegas

      Costa Rica is not perfect, far from it, but at least most of our power is generated from renewable resources and half of its territory is covered by forests. Can you say the same about your country ?

      September 19, 2012 at 10:01 pm | Reply
  8. Claude Slagenhop

    Don't drink the coolaid! Global warming is a hoax. Weather is weather- The earth has been warming since the ice-age. This has been going on long before the industrial revolution. Get over it.

    September 18, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply
    • Shammalammadingdong

      Wow you're one of those people. Never underestimate the power of stupidity and denial in the face of scientific fact.

      September 19, 2012 at 10:11 am | Reply
    • MDAT

      No.http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-natural-cycle.htm

      September 19, 2012 at 2:34 pm | Reply
    • Rose

      You're so right! Also all those dumb 'scientists' can't even prove that the earth is round! I know I won't get too close to the edge. I can't trust those books. TV is cool.

      November 5, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  9. Crystal

    This is a amazing story. I wish other places could follow. I hope to one day visit this place.

    September 18, 2012 at 10:03 am | Reply
  10. PHILIPPE

    We can do the same almost any place on earth, adaptating the method.
    The question is: are we ready to change many of our habits and are the huge industrial powers wich are in fact leading the world, ready and willing to.
    As someone said 4 years ago, YES WE CAN!

    September 18, 2012 at 3:38 am | Reply
  11. Brian Johnson

    I wish the USA could be more like Costa Rica. This country could learn a few things from Los Ticos. Pura Vida!

    September 17, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
    • dd

      Costa Rica relies on the US for military protection. They have no army! I guess the US could do that and be destroyed the next week. Costa Rica is smart. They are requiring English is schools because they have found out that most of the world can speak English ... the exception is Ebonics and Spanish in the US, but those are poor people who can't find jobs. Yes, another country that has kids speaking better English than most US inner city schools. Chicago Teachers are on strike and the 80% of the kids can barely read!

      September 17, 2012 at 11:23 pm | Reply
      • me

        Only because of the drugs have they sent any military there. The US could cut defense by 60% and still have more arms than anyone else.

        September 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm |
      • havanabama

        CR does not need an army, and is not protected by anybody. They take any disputes to court, like the one with Nicaragua. CR's biggest problem is that the USA loves coke and it passes through Central America. I hope to live there some day. I travel there every year since the 90's. Awesome place.

        September 18, 2012 at 3:49 pm |
    • OliverW

      Yeah, we could learn how to produce a huge and inefficient bureaucracy, a governmental decision process that is as lengthy as it is mired in nepotism, and business practices, especially in construction, that border on the criminal. Pura Vida? Pura Mierda is more like it!

      September 19, 2012 at 12:14 am | Reply
      • Pablo Bolanos-Villegas

        Oliver, you have a personal issues with Costa Rica that cloud your judgement. I am sorry that you had a bad experience with our country, but insulting people will not make you feel better. And by the way all that you said can be applied to the US, which by the way has not been able to raise the ceiling of its debt yet.

        September 19, 2012 at 10:05 pm |
      • OliverW

        Estimado Don Pablo,

        I am sincerely sorry if I my comment caused you personal offense. It is not my intention to malign you, or Costa Ricans in general, and contrary to your assumption, my experiences in Costa Rica over the last 20 years have been both very good, and bad as well – pmuch the same as any in other country of the several I've lived in. I continue to visit and do business in Costa Rica. What irks me is the highlighting of these little eco-prestige projects, which really have nothing to do with the reality of daily life that the average Tico/Tica and etranjeros like me have to deal with.
        The fact that your country has renewable energy sources and lots of rain forest is a gift from (God, The Universe, Providence, whatever you want to call it), not an achievement by the Costa Rican government or people. Which, by the way, total less than 5 million in an area of app. 50,000 sq. miles. Compare that just to my hometown of NYC, with 8.2 million people on 468 sq. miles. Think it might be a little harder to work energy efficiently in NYC than in CR? Bureaucracy in the US, on the other hand, seems to be far more efficient. We have 1.8 mill govt. workers, or 1.72% of the population, compared to 250,000, or 5.3 % of the population, in CR. What's up with that? All I know is that over the past 5-7 years or so, it has become much easier and cheaper for me to do legal and legitimate business in the US and in Europe than it is in CR. If my business in CR were not already established since 2003, I probably would not try and set it up again.
        Finally, Don Pablo, I can assure you that many of my good Tico/Tica friends, and other etranjeros like myself who have known the country for 20 years or more, will wholeheartedly agree with everything I'm saying. Your environment and environmental policies are great, but there are many other issues that need to be addressed.

        September 19, 2012 at 11:36 pm |
  12. dbusvi

    Just like Juan said "we can all change"
    We all need to change .... Soon !
    Global warming is not a theory it is for real !
    Great idea, great concept !

    September 17, 2012 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  13. Name*mark o'shea

    I say what you are doing is another footprint for the people of that community 's future and is not only one of a wise man planning ahead and investing in though's peoples future in a well thought out manner to see those children on unused. its hard for any one to denigth. that it would be nicer to see them with a home and school,i dont think anyone would try so the best of look and may it be successfull in every way!

    September 17, 2012 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  14. T1C0

    Thank you Juan for showing it can be a reality if we want to! GO GREEN!

    September 17, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply

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