Feature Story: Toyota in the Galápagos
Over the past 17+ years working at Toyota, I’ve had the good fortune to work on many programs and products that help make the world a little better place. Yes, I know, that sounds very cheesy, but believe me when I say – no one who knows me would ever describe me as sappy. But I would go even a step further and say that one of the programs that fills me with the most pride is Toyota’s partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the Galápagos Islands.
When I tell someone this, I usually get a puzzled look, followed by a “Do they even have cars in the Galápagos?” And when I respond with “Yes, they have cars in the Galápagos, but our work has nothing to do with cars,” I get a “Huh? I don’t get it.”
The conversation with the World Wildlife Fund began in 2001. In January of that year, a tanker ship transporting fuel to the Galápagos Islands ran aground, spilling diesel and bunker fuel into the water surrounding San Cristobal Island. The spill was one of the worst environmental disasters in the archipelago’s history and caused WWF, who had been working in the Galápagos for over 40 years on various conservation projects, to focus on the significant environmental threat of how fuel is transported and used on the islands.
One of Toyota’s core principles is Genchi Genbutsu, which means that to make correct decisions, you need to go to the source and find the facts for yourself. Toyota sent a small team to the islands to assess the entire fuel supply chain. The resulting Energy Blueprint for the Galápagos Islands was an ambitious pathway toward a sustainable energy future. It identified a set of unified actions to be taken across each sector of energy use – electricity generation, cargo ships, fishing boats, tourism vessels that travel between the islands, and cars and trucks. The idea was not that Toyota would fund everything in the blueprint, but that beyond the funding and expertise we could bring, our work with WWF would serve as a catalyst for change. In January 2002, the government of Ecuador officially endorsed the blueprint.
The highest priority in the blueprint was the overhaul of the main fuel depot, which was both an environmental and safety hazard. The depot – into which all fuel for the islands was delivered, then re-loaded for delivery to the inhabited islands – used “temporary” storage tanks built by the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. The tanks leaked into the ocean and onto the ground, there was no way to contain spills, and the loading and unloading was mostly a manual process. Toyota’s engineers designed a new, state-of-the-art facility, and PetroEcuador, the state-owned oil company, funded the renovation. The new facility was completed in 2005 and is still one of the most advanced fuel handling facilities in all of South America.
Over the years, as our knowledge of the islands and the issues grew, we expanded our scope to include waste management. Waste is not a very glamorous topic, but one with huge potential to degrade the archipelago’s unique ecosystem if not handled properly. The human population centers had increased rapidly, but without a holistic waste management system in place. There was a rudimentary collection system, minimal recycling and no proper landfill. The artisanal fishermen changed the oil from their boats and dumped it onto land or into the sea, and the trash collected from homes and businesses was burned in an open pit.
In addition to funding and equipment donations, Toyota brought expertise in minimizing and handling waste. Many people don’t know that Toyota makes about two million vehicles every year at our North American manufacturing plants, yet only 1 percent of all the waste generated goes to a landfill. OK, bordering on sappy now, but it’s pretty astonishing to think about huge manufacturing facilities cranking out millions of vehicles, and almost nothing going to a landfill!
Another core Toyota principle is that of taking the long-term perspective. We want our partnerships to be truly transformative and address issues in a way that is sustainable over the long term. It’s very easy to spend money on short-term fixes, but very difficult to create lasting change. Lasting change takes time, getting buy-in from all stakeholders, and patience. And most importantly, it takes ensuring that there is local capacity to sustain whatever changes are made or systems put in place.
This principle was at the core of all our work in the Galápagos, particularly our work in waste management. We needed to systematically build the entire system. We worked within the existing government structure at first, then, through public education and outreach, technical training, financial investments and time, created new departments and functions within the municipality. To enable the long-term sustainability of the system, new fees had to be put in place – fees that households and businesses would never have accepted if they had not been part of the journey and had not understood the importance.
Oh, and I almost forgot the most important element of our successes in the Galápagos – individuals who are passionate about making a difference. And of that, I’m guilty.
A small team of Toyota engineers and scientists worked with WWF to assess the entire fuel supply and demand system in the Galápagos Islands. Together, we developed an ambitious plan to move to a clean, sustainable energy system. Today, the islands have a multi-million-dollar, state-of-the-art fueling facility that is one of the most advanced and environmentally safe in South America.
The isolated terrain of the Galápagos archipelago shelters a diversity of plant and animal species, many found nowhere else on Earth. The Galápagos giant tortoise (Chelonoidis nigra) is the largest living species of tortoise. These creatures can weigh more than 900 pounds and live well over 100 years. They can only be found in the Galápagos and in an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, east of Tanzania.