In today’s growing climate of environmental sustainability awareness and the recent upsurge in green products and earth friendly consumers, it seems like organizations doing good things for the world are a dime a dozen. The Rainforest Alliance is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not one of the hundreds of organizations that are riding the wave of the public’s ever fickle favor. Founded more than twenty years ago, the Rainforest Alliance works hard to conserve biodiversity, encourage sustainable livelihood, and reform business practice and consumer behaviors through robust education networks and tireless campaigns.
The Rainforest Alliance approaches the challenges of environmental sustainability from a lot of angles, profoundly impacting all sides of the production and consumption chain. Their programs and strategic alliances are diverse and effective.
Just three years after their inception in 1989, the Rainforest Alliance founded the world’s first sustainable forestry certification program. SmartWood, as the program is called, certifies forestry operations that meet strict environmental and social standards which ensure sustainable practices and safe, fair workplace standards. Forestry operations which meet the SmartWood program’s standards are awarded the ability to include the program’s seal on their products to help consumers make responsible decisions when purchasing lumber or other forestry related products. The Rainforest Alliance‘s forestry program isn’t just talk, either. In fact, Greenpeace, a well known global environmental organisation, ranked the SmartWood program as the “top of the class” in a report entitled “Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment.”
There are similarly strict guidelines to the certification of tropical crop producing farms. To obtain certification coffee, banana, cocoa, orange and tea plantations, among other farming operations must adhere to specific regulations reducing the use of harmful chemicals, improving ecosystem conservation, and protecting the rights and health of the plantation workers. The results of tropical farm certifications are impressive. Between 1994 and 2000, for example, the Rainforest Alliance worked with Chequita, one of the world’s largest banana exporters, to certify all of its Latin American banana farms. This huge effort cost Chequita some $20 million and drastically improved the environmental sustainability and social responsibility of its banana farming operations.
The Rainforest Alliance also works with existing certification programs to improve environmental sustainability in small and medium sized tourism businesses throughout Latin America. Through training and education programs, strategic partnerships with businesses in all aspects of the tourism trade, and an ongoing, determined promotion of existing certification initiatives, the organization strives to promote social and environmental best practice through a variety of veins. Their efforts have been so successful that in 2008 the Discovery Channel noted that the Rainforest Alliance‘s efforts are “…possibly leading to a world-wide standard for what ecotourism ought to achieve.”
Partners that matter
One of the most powerful strategies of the Rainforest Alliance is the persuasion of huge public facing organisations to put more value in sustainable business practice by demonstrating the environmental and social value in revamping policies and re-organizing supply chains. With benchmarks like Unilever agreeing to certify all of its Lipton Tea plantations by 2015, JP Morgan, Citigroup and Nike printing their annual social responsibility reports on certified paper, and many McDonalds locations switching to certified coffee beans, the leaps and bounds of progress are strikingly clear.
With programs improving farming, forestry, and tourism environmental and social responsibility in more than sixty countries worldwide, it’s no wonder the Rainforest Alliance‘s reputation is so impressive.