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Past RI President Costa set an example for Rotary’s efforts to protect the planet

Past Rotary International President Paulo V.C. Costa made the environment one of his primary causes more than 30 years ago, creating a Preserve Planet Earth program and committee to examine ways that clubs and members could plan and carry out environmental initiatives.

Costa outlined his vision for his upcoming term as RI president during a speech at the 1990 Rotary International Convention in Portland, Oregon, United States. “I have some dreams of my own, which I hope to see come true,” he said. “In answer to mankind’s concerns and the yearning of the majority of my fellow Rotarians, I will be giving very special emphasis to a worldwide plan to defend the environment. We will create an ecological program, and we will name it Preserve Planet Earth.”

Preserve Planet Earth had four major emphases: flora, fauna, air pollution, and water resources. The goals of the three-year pilot program included promoting greater awareness of the critical environmental issues affecting communities and the world, increasing the number and diversity of environmental service projects, and incorporating environmental components in all Rotary service to ensure that projects supported sustainable development. 

The program, extended into 1999, led to many environmentally focused projects. The Rotary Club of Taxco, Guerrero, Mexico, supported the construction of a dam along the Cacalotenango River to help mitigate flooding, prevent soil erosion, and ensure a clean water supply. Rotary members in Belgium and Luxembourg partnered with a charitable foundation created by Smurfs creator Pierre “Peyo” Culliford to produce educational materials to teach primary school children the importance of water conservation. And clubs around the world conducted special “ecological marathons” to raise awareness of environmental issues.

Though Costa died in 2000, his dream of Rotary helping to preserve the planet lives on. In June 2020, the RI Board of Directors and the Rotary Foundation Trustees unanimously approved adding a new area of focus: the environment. 

“We have finally caught up to [his] vision,” said Past RI President Ian H.S. Riseley, chair of the Environmental Issues task force, which championed the new area of focus.