Shop Green

Shop Green

Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
< $1,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

How can you make a great product with no overhead? By using something that you've already got. Shop Green offers an alternative to excessive plastic bag waste. Youth sell attractive reusable shopping bags made locally out of sugar, rice and feed bags. Profits are shared between two high-school Interact Clubs to support environmental projects on the mainland and the caye. "Dis Da Fi Wi Future"!

About You
Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: A Non-Profit Community High School
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Section 1: About You
First Name


Last Name



, BZ

Section 2: About Your Organization
Is your initiative connected to an established organization?


Organization Name

Caye Caulker Ocean Academy: A Non-Profit Community High School

Organization Phone

(501) 226-0321 office or (501) 661-8878 cell

Organization Address

c/o Caye Caulker General Post, Caye Caulker, Belize, Central America

Organization Country

, BZ

How long has this organization been operating?

1‐5 years

Your idea
Country your work focuses on

, BZ

What makes your innovation unique?

"When I wah lee pickney, we di always use bags fu market like dat deh" is how many Belizeans in their mid 40s responded to our Shop Green display at the market. Development has come at lightening speed to the young country of Belize, and sadly disposable western culture is leading the charge. Shop Green is not innovative in the sense of introducing a new technology or thought, but rather it's old-fashioned. Shop Green reminds Belizeans that how they used to shop was perfectly fine and benefitted the environment.

The project started with 50 Canadian bags, but we soon sourced a local entrepreneur who makes large attractive bags out of rice, sugar and feed bags. One of the Galen University students involved with Shop Green also makes small purses and laptop bags out of discarded materials. Shop Green thus is supporting local entrepreneurship as well as environmental sustainability practices.

Shop Green is youth-initiated and run. Undergraduates at Galen University and high-schoolers are learning business skills while addressing real-life problems. Profits are reinvested, and also support community environmental projects that the youth clubs select.

Another important element is communication and friendship. American students enrolled at Galen introduce a cross-cultural component, and Interact Club students on the island will get to know and work with peers on the mainland.

The first step was to survey the community (did customers agree that garbage was an issue they wished to address?) and offer an alternative (attractive product that was locally produced)and education (negative environmental effects of plastics as well as health for human populations). Many Belizeans who visited the Shop Green display said they rely on tourism for a living, and tourists as well as locals dislike littering and spoiled landscapes.

In Year 2 of our project, we plan to reach out to the suppliers in the small grocery shops and collaborate on solutions at the source.

Do you have a patent for this idea?

Tell us about the social impact of your innovation. Please include both numbers and stories as evidence of this impact

1) Survey Results during March 2010 (68 respondants): It was encouraging to learn that 98% of San Ignacio respondants reuse grocery plastic bags as garbage bags in their bathrooms and kitchens. 2% burn them or throw them away. This is encouraging, but still a short-term solution because when full the bags still end up as garbage. Results might also have been skewed as participants self-selected and chose to approach the Shop Green booth at the San Ignacio market, or were students enrolled at Galen University.

2) Initial bag sales March-April 2010: All 50 Canadian bags were sold for $5USD each and orders were placed for more, indicating community interest. The social impact was almost immediate as shoppers were seen using their bags at the next week's market and around town.

3) Support of local entrepreneurship: Sourcing locally made bags was a major challenge because we wanted to support local enterprise but had difficulty finding a source. One day Mr.Lobos came up to our booth at the San Ignacio market. He makes large and stylish bags out of reused sugar, rice and feed sacks. A partnership was formed and 50 more bags were ordered from Mr. Lobos to be resold for $7.50USD (they are larger and more appealing than the Canadian bags). Another source is Galen University student Lissette Aguilar who makes small purses out of cassette tapes, and laptop carry bags out of discarded plastics. She designed an instructional manual for the Interact clubs and is willing to guest speak and show them how to make marketable arts and crafts out of recyclable materials.

4) In terms of social impact, the enthusiam of youth in both interact clubs bodes very well for creating lasting change in Belizean shopping habits. Shop Green will also capacity build as students learn business skills to market, sell and educate about Shop Green.

5) Lastly, funding for environmental projects in the community will be sure to have a positive impact for communities and the future.

Problem: Describe the primary problem(s) that your innovation is addressing

This morning I was offered a small bag for my purchase of large trash bags! There are few efficient waste management systems in the small country of Belize, and discarded bags end up on roadsides, in the sea, or burned in open pits. Belize's population is small - 300,000 - but our plastic garbage production is vast.

"Across the world more than 13 billion bags are issued every year to shoppers--that's about 220 per person. On average they are used for 12 minutes before being discarded, but then they remain in the environment for thousands of years" (Fighting the tide of plastic bags in a world awash in waste, CNN EcoSolutions, July 18 2008).

Belize has the 2nd longest barrier reef, and is marketed as an eco-destination. Plastics are destroying this beauty. With 386 kilometers of coastline Belize marine habitats are exposed to many of the negative effects of plastic bags. Marine life is threatened by plastic bags because many animals mistake them for food—such as sea turtles who confuse plastic bags with jellyfish. Another issue associated with plastic bag waste is bioaccumulation, or the buildup of toxic substances in organisms in a food chain.

Actions: Describe the steps that you are taking to make your innovation a success. Include a description of the business model. What might prevent that success?

The project has four main objectives:

1) Reduce excessive garbage from disposable plastic bags
2) Educate the public about the negative impact of plastic bags on the environment
3) Raise funds to support environmental education programmes run by youth
4) Develop a business plan that can be replicated in other villages

Our first step was to conduct community surveys to determine if San Ignacio and Caye Caulker community members were indeed interested in Shop Green, how they currently used plastic bags, what issues they identified as important in waste management, and what they deemed a reasonable pricepoint for our bags. Next we designed the educational displays that would accompany the sales tables.

One of the biggest challenges to Shop Green was finding a locally produced source of bags to replenish the original 50 bags imported from Canada. We got very lucky. Mr. Lobos and his wife noticed the crowd at our sales table at the Saturday San Ignacio market, and came over to investigate. Mr. Lobos makes attractive, large and durable bags out of recycled sugar and rice bags. A partnership was established that would not only support Shop Green's youth environmental project goals, but also support a local entrepreneur.

Our initial bag sales went very well indeed - we sold out in a mere two weeks. However, this success could also be a hindrance. Belize's population is very small, and thus there is a limited local market that could quickly become saturated. However, we believe the project will grow because of Belize's tourism industry. Many of the bag purchases were by international students studying at Galen and tourists, in addition to local market shoppers. Caye Caulker and San Ignacio are both tourist meccas. Future expansion could be San Pedro (the country's largest tourist centre) and Placencia (southern village) and Corozal (northern village).

One concern was whether people would remember to use the bags in daily shopping. If they bought but then left them in the closet, the project would not truly be a success despite financial gains. We were happy to see Shop Green atthe market the very next weekend after initial sale.

Lastly, our emphasis on Belizean youth to sell and benefit from Shop Green is both an assurance of the project's sustainability, as well as a potential pitfall. Youth have the enthusiasm to take the project to new heights. They also graduate from high school to move on, and new youth need to be recruited and trained to run Shop Green, and educated about the environmental projects the club is supporting. As co-founder of Ocean Academy I plan to live in Belize for many many years, and hopefully I can be the link between current students involved in Shop Green, and future enrollments.

Results: Describe the expected results of these actions over the next three years. Please address each year separately, if possible

Year One: Shop Green was proposed to Galen University students as a service-learning project for "Applications of Sustainable Development" course. This year's students created a small business model from the ground up, provided seed money for bags, created educational displays, instructional manuals for youth, and made donations towards two Interact Clubs. The rest of this first year lies in the hands of the high-school students in both Interact Clubs: Sacred Heart in mainland Cayo, and Ocean Academy on Caye Caulker island. These clubs will use profits for a childrens' park and river cleanup, and beach cleanup and mangrove restoration projects respectively.

Year Two: Profits will be reinvested to grow the business, as well as support the aforementioned environmental projects. Galen University will again offer the course Applications of Sustainable Development in Spring 2011. Modest funding is available to the Galen students to expand and strengthen the service-learning project. A goal for this year is to have the high-school and University students take their Shop Green message, business model arts and crafts to the primary-school students in San Ignacio and Caye Caulker.

I would like to see the project diversify to include other arts and crafts items made out of reusuable materials. When I went to Cuba I noticed cool toys made out of Coca Cola cans, like airplanes and cameras, and that might be a neat idea for high-school students to explore. Innovation and youth go well together, so ultimate the University and High-school students will lead the way in creating other marketable products.

I would also like the Galen University students to research and propose solutions for targeting excessive plastics at the source: local shop owners and mindsets surrounding customer service. What incentives for waste reduction can be offered to get both sellers and buyers to Shop Green?

Year Three: The Galen students will once again be invited to be part of the project team in their Spring Semester. The goal for this year is to contact highschool clubs in other regions of the country and expand both the Shop Green market, as well as the scope of environmental projects being done by youth in their respective communities.

An ambitious goal would be to have the two founding clubs travel to each other's village to discuss business models, and see the environmental projects each is undertaking. Belize is small, but transportation to and from the islands is pricy: round-trip San Igancio to Caye Caulker is $32 USD/person (public bus, taxi to marine terminal, water taxi). As well, most Belizean homes don't have guest rooms so accomodations and meals would be another expense. Skype is blocked in Belize so virtual meetings are not an option.

How many people will your project serve annually?


What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$100 ‐ 1000

Does your innovation seek to have an impact on public policy?


If your innovation seeks to impact public policy, how?

I said "no" above because in our first three years the focus in on educating the youth, and supporting their local environmental intiatives. However, I think Shop Green will begin to attract media attention, and from there perhaps political attention as well. I believe Shop Green is a piece of the puzzle, and shows the power individual actions can have on the collective; however, waste management issues in Belize need to be addressed on a larger scale. In our business model we started year 1 by contacting the consumers. Year 2 will address the suppliers. Year 3 will focus on expansion. But year 4 could perhaps target government and public policy as a primary project goal.

What stage is your Social Enterprise in?

Operating for less than a year

Does your organization have a board of directors or an advisory board?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with NGOs?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with businesses?


Does your organization have a non monetary partnerships with government?


Please tell us more about how partnerships could be critical to the success of your Social Enterprise

1) Rotary International and the Interact Movement: Rotary International is a world-wide network of service clubs. Interact Clubs are the high-school level of the organization.

2) Caye Caulker Ocean Academy and Sacred Heart Interact Clubs: Students in the Interact Clubs are the key players in promoting Shop Green and educating the community. They reinvest profits into sustainability of the project (replenishing bags) as well as investing in community environemtnal projects.

3) Galen University, Belize: Sustainable Development is the core value of this private university. Our founding partners in creating Shop Green were students enrolled in ESCI375: Applications of Sustainable Development for the Spring 2010 session. I was the co-instructor and project mentor. This course is offered yearly.

4) University of Vermont, USA: Many of the students enrolled in the Galen University course, Applications of Sustainable Development, are visiting international students from the University of Vermont (UVM). Two of the original Shop Green Project members are from UVM, and will continue to promote the project in the USA. Every Spring Semester a group of UVM students enroll in Galen through the Belize Semester Abroad Program, and next year a new group will continue to develop the Shop Green Project. Next year's group will also bring an infusion of seed money for year 2 project goals.

We would like to learn more about how your initiative is financially supported. Please explain your business plan/revenue model

1) Shop Green started with an initial investment of $50 Cdn by my brother Joshua Miller to purchase and transport 50 reusable bags, which I then carried from Canada to Belize in my backpack. My idea was to sell them to fundraise for Ocean Academy.

2) The University of Vermont funded $370.74USD of seed money to Shop Green service-learning project as part of the Galen University Applications of Sustainble Development. I was the project mentor and instructor. This funding was used to reimburse the intial bag investment, printing of large water-proof educational banners, point-of-sale supplies, transportation and phone credit.

2) Within 3 months the intial 50 Canadian bags were sold out at a profit of $4 each.

3) 50 locally produced bags were purchasd for $3.83USD each and sold for $7.50USD (profit margin of $3.66). Within 2 weeks all were sold. Profits were reinvested in another 50 bags, and a cash donation of $150 to support environmental projects carried out by the 2 youth Interact Clubs: Caye Caulker Ocean Academy and San Ignacio Sacred Heart.

4) Sustainabilty is a core value of the project. The Shop Green project is being entrusted to the Interact Club youth in 2 villages to continue marketing, selling and reinvesting funds. Profits are used as donations to support Club environmental projets. The youth will benefit from the support of the initial seed money, promotional materials and instruction manuals created by the Galen University students, and successful sales cycles already completed.

Marketing: We started 3 months ago, by setting up tables at the San Ignacio Market, lobby of Galen University, and special orders from San Ignacio Rotary. Caye Caulker marketing will involve setting up table displays on the street, as well as e-sales through our website( Based on initial feedback through this website commentary section, we're also going to approach local shops who might display and sell the bags on our behalf.

The Story
What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?

I went to visit my brother in Montreal, Canada last year and I brought back to Belize a reusable grocery shopping bag I bought for $1. Several local women stopped me in the shops to compliment my "pretty purse": it had bright images of fruits and vegetables on the exterior, was waterproof and it supported 50lbs. When I explained why I carried it back and forth from market, and that I was worried about all the plastic bags in the sea, they asked if they could buy one too.

The business idea was born.

I could get my brother to send down bags while I sourced local ones, and have my students at Caye Caulker Ocean Academy sell them to support their environmental community-service projects. I originally was going to be a solo entrepreneur CEO, but I quickly realized the importance of youth co-ownership.Youth active participation would also address another underlying problem: lack of knowledge and lack of empowerment to effect change. I also wanted the profits to be re-invested in youth-led environmental projects, and local entrepreneurship.

When I was hired as a sessional lecturer at Galen University, Belize and Country Program Director for University of Vermont Semester Abroad, I knew that my course would be a perfect match for creating partnerships between the 2 Universities and the highschools. Applications of Sustainable Development is a problem-solving course in which students learn about sustainable development by addressing real-life problems in partnership with community organizations.

Both highschools have Rotary Interact Clubs, and this was the other partnership formed.

Galen is located on the mainland region of Cayo, so I decided to expand the project to include the Sacred Heart Interact Club, as well as Caye Caulker Ocean Academy. Mainland and island youth would work together for a common environmental goal, and forge new friendships too.

Tell us about the person—the social innovator—behind this idea.

My name is Joni Miller. I am Canadian with Belizean residency. My first trip to Belize was in 1999. I was studying Spanish in Guatemala, went on a weekend snorkel trip to Caye Caulker, and loved it. I was a high-school Spanish and Global Perspectives teacher in Victoria, Canada, but all my school holidays kept leading me back to Caye Caulker. I even brought two student groups to Belize to volunteer. The islanders started asking me to please create a high school for them, but it just seemed too big a dream. Across Belize, only 40% of secondary-school-age students attend secondary school. Caye Caulker students were also faced with high costs to leave the island as well as school fees.

In 2005, right after defending my Masters in International Education, a serious illness changed my perspective on my life goals. I recuperated on Caye Caulker and decided to “just do it” – help start the school. But I didn’t do it alone.

My co-founder is Heidi Curry. She wanted to help because she has a Belizean god daughter. She picked up the phone in February 2008 and called the Ministry of Education for advice about how to start a school on an island that had none. What happened afterwards, Heidi likes to call a string of miracles. As she was wondering how on earth she’d start a high school alone, I showed up on her doorstep and we became partners. At first we thought we’d offer home schooling to about 5 kids on our porch. We set up an information table on the street, and were overwhelmed with applications. We were also surprised at how many adults wanted a night school option in addition to a high school. We suddenly needed a much bigger space.

The next miracle was Dane Dingerson's offer to donate a plot of land and build a 3-room schoolhouse. His crew worked tirelessly and in 7 months, on September 1, 2008, we opened our doors to 35 students. Equitable access, environmental stewardship, aquatic tourism business skills are core elements to our curriculum.

How did you first hear about Changemakers?

Friend or family member

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