Sustainable Village Highlight: San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala

Hi, there! I’m Mari Gray, founder of artisan-made brand Kakaw Designs, based in Guatemala. After studying International Relations and Spanish at UC Davis and then working for several non-profits in Latin America, I became disillusioned and decided to focus on sustainable development through a social enterprise, partnering with talented artisan communities in Guatemala.

I feel incredibly fortunate to work with different artisan groups in Guatemala through Kakaw Designs (pronounced <kekao> like the cacao tree), an artisan-made brand I started about four years ago.  We currently work with several different artisan groups: two weaving, one embroidery, two teams of leathersmiths, and one silversmith; all to make our designs come to life.  But it was for a good reason that we started with the weaving cooperative Corazón del Lago in San Juan la Laguna, at Lake Atitlán.

Kakaw Designs Alliance logo

We would never have been able to launch Kakaw Designs without this group of forward-thinking, professional weavers from this small Maya village.  The community itself is exceptional, with sustainability clearly a focus through:

  • Use of natural dyes in textile production, also using local traditional techniques such as backstrap weaving and ikat designs  <<Learn more by watching our video>>
  • Organization of weavers in cooperatives or associations, where women work together and can therefore take larger orders and offer quality control
  • Up-and-coming development of community ecotourism, especially birding

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If You Happen to be in Cincinnati


If you happen to be (or work) in Cincinnati, you will likely notice that the city is setting precedent as one of the “greenest,” most innovative cities in the US. According to an article published on Triple Pundit, the city is one of the fastest growing centers for technology innovation and it is employing that expansion to propel its 60 sustainability initiatives as outlined in the Green Cincinnati Plan, which covers a whole spectrum of topics from renewable energy, to transportation, to food waste.

“In addition to benefiting the environment, our initiatives must make economic sense (save money, create jobs) and improve quality of life for residents (improve public health, mobility, connectedness)” explained Ollie Kroner, the Sustainability Coordinator for the City of Cincinnati.

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The New Green Building Certification on the Block



UWC Dilijan College in Armenia, the first BREEAM certified building. Source:

The two most recognized sustainable building certifications in the U.S., Energy Star and LEED, now have a new companion joining the movement within home territory. BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), a 25-year-old sustainability evaluation method officiated by the U.K consultancy BRE, offers a practical and more affordable online self-assessment tool for building owners who want to elevate their commitment to sustainability. BRE is working in collaboration with BuildingWise to focus on evaluations for existing buildings and tackle the estimated 5.6 million commercial buildings in the U.S. that are not being benchmarked using a “scientifically based” certification. Continue reading

Documenting the Conservation Story


This is a wall from the Spice Harbor property. A lot of the conservation story can be told in the design. The way they built this property is an example of historical/cultural conservation. The restaurant building was a “go down”, or waterfront warehouse, that used to store spices. They didn’t knock down the old building, they actually just built around it and framed pieces of the old wall to display it as art. This design concept has been passed on by word of mouth-taught to the workers here, but it hasn’t been documented yet.

I felt that this blog could better serve its purpose if the conservation story was told in one place. The stated purpose of the RAXA Collective site is to provide a space for people to learn about entrepreneurial conversation. It seems to me that highlighting the details of the property is less meaningful without context of the concept and history behind them.

The summarized version as stated in the RAXA Collective “About section” is to have a business whose profits are invested in conservation of natural and cultural patrimony. However, as I’ve been learning, the way this model manifests itself depends on the situation. Each story is pretty radically different than the next. So, we have a very general description (About section) and very specific descriptions (every day posts), but we don’t have the overall narrative of each property to show how “it depends” shows up differently in the field of entrepreneurial conservation.

I resonate with the initially stated goal in the About section about having this site provide a space for university students to learn about alternatives to mainstream occupations and career paths. As a university student myself, that is really what I am here as an intern to learn. I have been able to offer my skills and passions for organic agriculture and gain more practice in that field as an intern here. However, that is a skill I have picked up along my studies, which are driven by the bigger goals of conservation and environmental business models.

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