Students & Sustainable Volunteering

The majority of the participants in the volunteering industry are students and for that reason it would be interesting for you to read this content about the correlation between students & sustainability.

You might have heard that there is a strong link between volunteer abroad and sustainable development, but do you know what sustainable development actually means? One of the first people to describe sustainability was Brundtland (1987) who defines it as ‘’development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’’. The need for sustainable development has become increasingly important during the last decades, implying that higher educations are expected to prepare students to develop the ability to integrate economic, environmental and social considerations in future decision making. Besides, these students will eventually become the innovators and problem solvers and will play a crucial role in the development of sustainable societies.  Volunteer organizations could therefore be very relevant partners to higher educations by offering them sustainable volunteer projects to participate. Working on these kind of volunteer projects would on that account increase both the awareness of environmental issues and could extent students in practicing sustainable lifestyles.

A very important issue to keep in mind if you are planning to choose a volunteer organization is that there is a significant difference present in terms of volunteering organizations related to sustainable development. On one hand we have volunteer organizations whose core business is to make a positive impact on the local community. Some examples are: direct financial support through placement, increased manpower, improved facilities and increased local employment.  However, during the years the popularity of volunteering has increased rapidly and as result of that large tour operators are competing for a share of this new market. This major competition has unfortunately also triggered existing volunteer organizations who are in the change process to become commercialized volunteer organizations. They often don’t support local communities and instead become a separate “bubble” of a volunteer-tourism (or voluntourism) experience. Critics suggest that the financial motivation of such “commercial organizations” prevails over any consideration of their sustainable development impact. As you can see a lot things should be improved by all parties involved to make the volunteer industry sustainable. Even students can contribute to make volunteering a sustainable experience.


Hence, we strongly recommend students to do their own research to choose a sustainable volunteer organization abroad. Decide for yourself if a volunteer organization really emphasizes on sustainability by looking for example what kind of projects they offer and if these projects have anything to do with sustainability.


Another indicator for a sustainable volunteer organization can be if the fees have “honest prices” for volunteering projects, meaning that the fee is not very high. A low fee doesn’t necessarily mean that the organization provides a lower quality service, or has worse projects. Check if there is any information available about what will happen with the received money of the volunteers. Can the organization provide you with information on “where” the money you pay goes? Will this money be invested in the volunteer organization or will it be invested in the local community?


Most student volunteers choose an organization because they find it quickly on google. But sometimes the first results that come up are not the best choices. The first results mean that the volunteers “companies” have a LOT of money that they invest in advertising and SEO (Search Engine Optimization and Ranking on Google). Hence, a lot of YOUR Money gets spend on advertising and not on the actual project, the community, the host family, or the animals that are said to be protected. Unfortunately a lot of those volunteer companies get most of the business, and the projects that REALLY need help and are truly sustainable remain unnoticed, because it is more difficult to find them since they don’t spend any money on advertising and being the Number 1 on goggle rankings.


Volunteers are motivated by a desire to help, the possibility of a unique experience and personal development. It would be a pity if you picked a volunteer organization that does just provide you with an organized group “vacation” experience, but doesn’t actually have any impact on the local community or doesn’t contribute in any way to a sustainable development.


To make a long story short, if you want to make a real impact in sustainability choose your organization wisely and follow your instinct… Ask questions during your sign up process. Don’t go for the big organizations who also ask for a lot of money.

Sustainability in Green Life Volunteer’s projects


Volunteer/Help in a Hostel

Volunteering in hostels in Costa Rica is an essential solution for the owners of the hostel because they would not be capable to employ full time employees. Hostels charge very little for a night, and with your help the hostels can keep prices low. The hostel projects we work with are all using sustainable practices, for example a sustainable vegetable and fruit garden, trails for hiking, and often they even help within the local community. Hostels are a fun way to meet lots of like-minded and young people too – and you’ll feel at home very quickly. Sustainability can be fun!!

Solar Project

This project aims on providing renewable electric power in rural communities in Costa Rica where it would otherwise be absent. This reduces overall carbon emissions by offering solar as a viable alternative to running a generator or burning tires, or simply having to pay high electrical bills. The project provides the materials and solar panels, and install them free of charge for the community. You will also learn how to construct solar panels and help to educate the community about renewable energies.

As you can see, sustainability is achieved by implementing sustainable solar panels which does not harm the environment for future generations and you will help to educate the local community whereas they will get to understand the principle of this practice and can pass it along to generations to come.

The course fee for the solar panel workshop is mainly used to buy the course-equipment and to fund the instructors that will teach you. The panels are later donated to poor families or public non-governmental institutions in need.
Furthermore on this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.

Large Parrot Breeding and Rescue Project

The project called ‘’Ave Azul’’ is a large parrot breeding, research and rescue facility. With the specific aim for Hyacinth Macaws, native to Brazil originally. They are very rare birds, and with breeding them at Ave Azul the gene pool is maintained and the chances of survival of the species are higher. Sustainability is thus applied by helping to breed these parrots, assisting with research and helping parrots in need.

With volunteers Ave Azul is able to keep up the good work – you’ll help with the daily running of the farm. Furthermore financially you’ll help with a small donation to the project so that they can keep going.


Veterinary Intern/Volunteer

This is the only vet clinic in a large rural area, and thus they are very busy. The vet does not have enough money to employ enough assistants but there are plenty of dogs and cats to take care of on a daily basis. The vet also organizes spay and neutering fares whereby also help is needed.

Sustainability is related to this project because dogs and cats are taken care of if they are in need. Every dog and cat should have the opportunity to be treated accordingly and with your help this can be achieved. Furthermore, dogs and cats interact with or kill local wildlife. That is obviously not sustainable. Hence, removing stray animals and spaying / neutering them helps to reduce overpopulation of domestic animals and wildlife can co-exist.
On this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.


Environmental Education

The environmental education project will be a new project that you will help to establish. There is no environmental education project in place for many public elementary schools. It is important for kids to understand the value of the environment and that it is important to protect species. This will influence them for the future and make them be more conscious. It is obvious that this project strongly emphasizes on sustainability because you will help a young generation to understand the importance of sustainability and they can use this in their own lifestyle.

Your project fee for this project will go into your local host family that you’ll support with an extra small source of income.

Turtle Conservation Intern/project

This project receives thousands of sea turtles each year but they have too few volunteers to help cope with the amount of eggs and turtles. Other examples of activities could be cleaning the beach of tree trunks, debris, and unwanted vegetation and planting trees in different areas of the beach and town, helping with infrastructure activities like building schools, bridges, roads and other similar community activities. Helping these turtles is seen as sustainable because you help them to survive in their environment. That also counts for the other activities by creating new infrastructure activities for the long term.

Your payment directly supports the projects. Your money goes into the accommodation and food and into the project itself. Your contribution thus makes the project possible in the first place.


GLV Internship

We are a nonprofit organization thus it is quite tough for us to promote company without any financial funding. Another problem is that the manager has so much work to handle that she most often does not have time available for a lot of work, including promotion activities. Moreover, the internship of Green Life Volunteers is sustainable because you will help the company grow by helping on online marketing activities. More volunteers will come to Green Life Volunteers and this will result in more work that can be done for the projects !!


Reforestation & Recycling

The Arboretum (the reforestation project’s name) focuses on planting trees to help build a biological corridor, the ‘’Reserva Forestal Gulfo Dulce’’. The Reserva connects Corcovado National Park and Piedras Blancas National Park. Furthermore, the Arboretum should provide a public point of interest to neighboring communities, tourists, students and researchers and provides a source of rare and endangered endemic tree species of the Osa Peninsula.

Another Reforestation & Recycling project is in the Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor. The communities within the Alexander Skutch Biological corridor produce sugar cane, coffee or have pasture. Hence, the forested areas are fragmented or separated by open spaces which means that species cannot move easily throughout the area. That is why reforestation is urgently needed in the corridor, to provide better connectivity and to allow animals to move between the national parks and the coast. Community members and farmers who’d like to reforest their farms or gardens with native trees, can come and pick them up there for free – in exchange for their recycled garbage!

The local community has forested the areas and this has led for negative consequences for the wildlife. These two projects focusses on sustainability through reforestation of the corridor whereby species can easily move in their national habitat. Moreover, recycling also contributes to a more sustainable environment.

On this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.

Your Skill is needed!

Your skill could be useful for a specific project in Costa Rica. Now, you might think ‘’what has any of these skills to do with sustainability?’’  All these projects are carefully chosen by Green Life Volunteers. They are all in need for volunteers because they do not have enough money to hire employees. Costs remain low for the tourists and you are making a good contribution. Plus you’ll always support the local host families financially with your presence.


The Serpentarium project has three main goals: to educate visitors about the variety of herpetofauna and that many species are extremely rare and endangered. Another goal is breeding of rare and endangered species and the last goal is doing research which is focused on endangered species which helps to ensure their survival and conservation in nature. This is a sustainable project because they are taking care of these endangered species to survive and provide valuable information to visitors about these endangered species.

On this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.


Dog Rescue Project

There are a lot of mistreated stray dogs and cats in the area of Puerto Jimenez and in other parts of the Osa Peninsula. Unfortunately, there is no other governmental rescue center or rescue programs in place in the country, so dogs and cats rely on kind people who take them into their homes voluntarily. Hence the GLV dog and cat rescue project helps to organize spaying and neutering fares and help get dogs and cats of the streets or out of bad situations. This project is sustainable because dogs and cats are rescued, spayed & neutered and thus it prevents overpopulation of domestic animals and interference of cats and dogs with wildlife. We find them a new family and take care of all the medical bills and food while they are in our care. In this way, the dogs and cats could live a happy life instead of being neglected.
On this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.

Organic Farming

Chemical pesticides and fertilizers are still used in extremely high amounts in Costa Rica. Additionally, this project focusses on independent farmers who want to go more sustainable and organic. Though, they do not really receive support, so Green Life Volunteers is trying to support them with your volunteering work. It would be great if more farmers would use sustainable practices in the future, so this would make a good start by introducing organic farming in Costa Rica.

You’ll live, work, and eat with the same farmer family. Hence your contribution helps the project to exist and to continue producing food sustainably.

Teaching English

We are trying to make a real difference by teaching English to kids and adults in and around the community of Puerto Jimenez. English is a skill which will provide kids and adults with the opportunity to find higher level and better paid jobs and therefore reduces poverty. Mostly the teachers are overloaded with work so volunteers are urgently needed. With your help, more kids and adults will benefit the English language and sustainability can be seen as more employment for future generations.

On this project you’ll also support a local host family that receives a small extra income from your presence. Most of the host family money however goes towards your meals.