In November 2021, EcoActors Sara Campanales and Josh Holland travelled to São Miguel do Guamá, in Brazil’s state of Pará, to audit a fuel switching project that replaces fuelwood with biomass to power two ceramic factories. Besides reducing pressure on forest resources, the project supports vulnerable community members through multiple social initiatives.
Serragem, a pioneering project in Pará
Experts from the “Nature-based solutions” team at EcoAct, an Atos company, recently travelled to the state of Pará, Brazil, to carry out due diligence on two offsetting projects we have been offering to our clients for several years, Marajó and Serragem.
Serragem is a VCS project that launched in 2007, when the owners started using renewable biomass, particularly açaí pits and sawdust, to fuel their ceramic factory kilns instead of wood. Pará is the largest producer of açaí in Brazil and, at the time, açaí pits and sawdust constituted a major waste problem rather than a business opportunity. The Serragem project has not only reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation but favoured the local economy by opening new markets to biomass suppliers and provided a sustainable solution to waste management.
“When we arrived at São Miguel do Guamá, in Pará, the town was full of sawmills. We would enter the city and see mountains and mountains of sawdust, as the owners did not know what to do with it. Today, as you enter the city, you see way less of it, and no açaí residue.” Fátima Cavalcante, Factory owner
In the region, the Serragem project stands out for scaling up sustainability efforts beyond the early stages of ceramic production. The project is integrating circular economy principles during the manufacturing process by putting valuable materials back into the chain and recovering generated energy. Recyclable materials, such as surplus inventory, are donated to local entities to construct and repair infrastructure.
Employee well-being, a priority for Serragem
One of the first stops for the EcoActors in São Miguel do Guamá was at one of the two ceramic factories that constitute Serragem. The project has hired 220 employees to date. Sara and Josh joined the workers early in the morning for breakfast, which is provided by the project each working day.
The EcoActors were guided through the production process as well as health and safety measures implemented by Serragem to make it a safe place to work. Besides providing workers with protective gear, carbon finance has allowed for a safety upgrade of the machinery used to produce the ceramics. To ensure employees are able to use equipment safely, the project gives regular workshops, which take place at the factory’s training facility.
EcoActor Josh Holland with our social partner at one of the factories
Many of the workers at the factory come from vulnerable backgrounds and, in addition to providing employment, the project provides additional support outside of work. Serragem has built houses within the factory perimeters to accommodate the most disadvantaged of their workers and their respective families. Not only has this reduced their travel time and associated costs, but it has increased housing stability and improved the beneficiaries’ quality of life.
“Serragem is doing so much to help local communities and it was great to see how they also prioritised employee wellbeing. For this project, health is a top priority. Through conversations with staff, we learned that they feel safe in the workplace and that there is regular access to training on subjects such as sustainability and health and safety. However, what makes Serragem special is the inclusive culture that it promotes – the business often organises festive and community events, involving not only the employees but their families too.” Josh Holland, EcoAct
Serragem gives open clay pits a second life
As part of the due diligence processes in the field, the EcoActors visited the clay extraction areas, where a fish farming project has now been implemented. Serragem owns almost 50 hectares of deforested land where clay is extracted and used as a raw material to manufacture ceramics. Generally, clay is obtained by digging into open pits which, once depleted, might recover over time. However, this is not possible in regions with abundant rainfall such as Pará. To compensate the irreversible environmental impact of this process, Serragem has converted open clay pits into tanks to sustainably farm fish, mainly for sale.
“In the Northeast of Brazil, ceramic companies can compensate their activities by planting trees to restore extraction pits, but this is not possible in the North, it rains too much. We usually have two seasons here: the dry and the rainy season. For the last couple of years, it has rained nonstop. In fact, for the last two years, we haven’t had more than 8 days without rain.” Francisco Cavalcante, Factory owner
A worker feeding the fish farmed at the clay extraction sites
The Serragem project supports the most vulnerable
Pará is considered one of the Brazilian states with the highest rates of inequalities and poverty, with almost half of the population (46%) living below the poverty line. In rural areas, such as in São Miguel do Guamá, where the Serragem project is, these conditions are more accute.
Since the start of Serragem, our local partners have funnelled carbon credits into initiatives that aim to improve the living conditions of nearby, disadvantaged residents. During the audit, the EcoActors were able to experience some of the social solutions the project has made possible as well as hear stories from those benefitting from the project.
The project supports a local drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre through monthly donations. The centre, previously a ceramic factory, has capacity for 60 patients who are treated through an Evangelical rehab program, usually lasting 9 months.
At the centre, Sara and Josh were shown around the site by some of the patients staying there. The EcoActors saw the patient’s daily activities that are a central component in their recovery. The project harnesses the power of art and music therapy by dedicating facilities and equipment for the patients to explore. In order to have a sense of normality, patients are required to participate in the running and maintenance of the centre, through the management of the pig stables and fish tanks that have been constructed to supply food to the centre.
“The rehabilitation centre supported by Serragem was full of life. Despite the personal struggles the patients were going through, we saw how motivated they were to recover and how much the project was contributing to make that possible. One of the patients mentioned the growing reputation of the centre across Brazil. Apparently, the centre welcomes patients from other states of Brazil, encouraged by the unique, non-invasive treatment it offers and that has helped many people overcome drug addiction over the last 10 years” Sara Campanales, EcoAct
Patients resting in the rehabilitation centre before resuming daily activities
Besides supporting collective groups, Serragem has also provided support to individuals. While visiting the project, the EcoActors met Francis, who had previously suffered with a large myoma in her stomach until our local project partners covered the costs of the surgery that saved her life.
“When she told me everything she had been through in the last 2 years… I decided to help her, together with Serragem. We booked her a doctor’s appointment and scheduled the surgery. We try to stop and listen to everyone’s story” Marta Marchado, project participant
EcoActors Sara and Josh with project participants and Francis at the factory
Serragem builds synergies between education and culture
School absenteeism and dropout is common amongst children living in low-income areas, such as in those surrounding the city of São Miguel do Guamá. To overcome this challenge, Serragem has been encouraging children to succeed at school through arts. The project covers the costs of running Capoeira classes for disadvantaged children, which the EcoActors had the opportunity to see perform during their visit.
Capoeira is an Afro-Brazilian art which combines martial arts, dance, acrobatics and music. It originated from slaves in Brazil that disguised this martial art as a dance to practice self-defence. By providing Capoeira classes as an incentive for students to improve their academic performance, Serragem is not only preserving this tradition but also promoting education.
“The project is promoting social inclusion; it gives these children an opportunity that society sometimes can’t offer them. Some of the attitudes that are picked up during the lessons are maintained later on at home. Countless times, parents have come up to me saying that their child has changed their behaviour, that before they did not want to study, but now they do” Humberto Pereira, Capoeira teacher
Students performing capoeira during EcoAct’s visit
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