In the rush to distribute goods globally and increase production, the well-being of producers and the planet has been last on the list.
As a direct result of the movement to conventional farming practices, we’re collectively facing the ruthless backlash of climate change through higher temperatures, major weather events, and social destruction. But, one organization is pushing for reform from the ground up in multiple sectors, making an enormous impact on the health of our global community.
The Rainforest Alliance is an international nonprofit organization that seeks to change the status quo for agriculture, tourism, and consumer goods. By certifying products, ingredients, farmers, sustainable tour operators, and even forests, the Rainforest Alliance is raising the social and environmental standard for producing essential goods to protect the planet and making responsible business the new normal.
What Does Rainforest Alliance Certified Coffee Mean?
When you’re purchasing a good like coffee with the Rainforest Alliance seal, that means that the product was grown on one of the two million farms that meet the RA’s criteria for environmental, social, and economic standards.
The supply chain can also be certified, ensuring that the product has an overall positive impact. Businesses interested in sourcing and selling RA certified products can be granted a chain of custody Rainforest Alliance certification to bear the seal.
What Are the Benefits of Rainforest Alliance Certified Products?
In your everyday life, you’ll likely see the iconic Rainforest Alliance seal with a friendly green frog indicating that a product is Rainforest Alliance Certified at the grocery store on coffee, tea, chocolate, fruit, or paper goods.
As you weigh the choice between an RA Certified product and the standard, consider the following benefits that your extra dollar will support with the purchase of an RA Certified product.
1. A Healthier Planet
Deforestation, increased pesticide use, soil erosion, and greenhouse gas emissions are all results of the unsustainable agricultural practices taking place around the world. By cultivating necessary foods, conventional farming is destroying the planet and shortening the number of harvests the land has left. One of the most impactful benefits of Rainforest Alliance Certified products is their commitment to agricultural practices that are safer for the planet and human health.
Research has proven the positive impact of a certified farm on local forests. A 2016 study in Ethiopia investigated forest density and other measurable indicators for healthy land surrounding certified and noncertified coffee producers to arrive at this conclusion. Incredibly, the study also found: “The results revealed that the natural forest areas within a 100-m radius of a certified coffee boundary showed significantly reduced forest degradation when compared with other natural forest areas under similar environmental conditions.”
2. Social Equity
Labor conditions for farmworkers are often dangerous with low wages, grueling conditions, and little support. The Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture Standard raises the bar on working conditions for farmers.
Caroline Bennett, a Senior Media Associate at the Rainforest Alliance, spoke to this: “Farmers are required to provide decent housing for workers, and access to clean drinking water, sanitation, and healthcare. On a certified farm, workers must wear the right protective clothing when working with chemicals. Our Standard also addresses child and forced labor and promotes gender equality and non-discrimination.”
3. Economic Stability
The global threat of climate change is making it much more difficult for farmers to sustain their livelihoods purely from the land. Combined with the global price of commodities like coffee dipping below the production cost, farmers don’t have the economic stability to support their families and communities.
The agricultural practices on RA Certified farms ensure security. Caroline mentioned, “The Rainforest Alliance farming methods also result in better quality crops and higher yields–with lower costs–helping create long-term increased productivity and improved incomes. Farmers can also negotiate a better price for their products. Better prices with lower costs mean higher profits, and higher profits contribute to a better quality of life and more opportunity to invest for the long term.”
One example is the return to shade-grown coffee. The benefits of shade-grown coffee are enormous for both the environment and the producers because the practice ensures the longevity of the land and promotes biodiversity instead of limiting producers to monocropping and therefore, only one income stream.
A study on the Ugandan coffee sector found Rainforest Alliance coffee production to be successful at lifting producers out of poverty through an increase in income and labor productivity, whereas organic and fair trade certified resulted in lower land and labor productivity, ultimately failing to lift producers out of poverty.
What Requirements Must Brands Meet to Become Rainforest Alliance Certified?
The Rainforest Alliance sets high standards for social and environmental excellence, but their new framework incorporates room for growth.
Caroline further explained this. “Farms, forest communities, and businesses that participate in our certification program are audited against rigorous environmental, social, and economic standards. Independent, third-party auditors—critical to the integrity of any certification program—evaluate these groups against requirements in all three areas before awarding or renewing certification.”
In 2020, the organization released a new framework for certification that further measures producers’ commitments to gender equality, climate-smart agriculture, and living wage among other initiatives to reduce pesticide use, actively restore forests, and regulate transparency in supply chains.
What Products Are Rainforest Alliance Certified?
The Rainforest Alliance Certification seal isn’t limited to coffee and chocolate, it’s awarded to farms, forests, and even tourism businesses that each meet rigorous standards for social and environmental wellbeing.
Here are a few unexpected goods that can bear the Rainforest Alliance seal of approval.
The Rainforest Alliance was a founding member of the Forestry Stewardship Council, whose logo you may have seen on paper goods. The forest itself is certified, which means that it’s being managed in a way that benefits local people and preserves biodiversity. The Rainforest Alliance seal on paper goods communicates to customers that the product or packaging was made in the most responsible way possible, with consideration for the communities making the product and the environment from which it came.
Products with Palm Oil
The cultivation of palm oil is a known driver of deforestation and habitat loss for endangered species. The demand for palm oil is huge, as it’s in 50% of all the products in a typical grocery store. As with many raw goods, palm oil has sustainable and unsustainable farming methods.
The Rainforest Alliance helped launch the India Sustainable Palm Oil Coalition to promote sustainability in the world’s largest market for palm oil. In 2018, nearly 350,000 metric tons of palm oil were Rainforest Alliance Certified.
Sustainable palm oil products are growing in popularity as consumers move away from purchasing palm oil that degrades the planet. Anything from lotion and shampoo bars to peanut butter can have sustainably harvested palm oil.
Bouquets & Flowers
90% of the flowers imported to the United States to meet growing demand comes from Colombia, Ecuador, or other Latin American countries. In conventional farming practices, producers use a hefty amount of chemicals to grow flowers.
Because they aren’t food, pesticide use isn’t regulated. But, the local environment suffers when these harmful chemicals enter groundwater and local communities.
The Rainforest Alliance certifies flower farms that meet alliance guidelines for pest management without heavy amounts of pesticides. These practices conserve soil and water while supporting the workers and local community.
Tourism is a wonderful asset to economies, but can wreak havoc on the local environment too. Hotels and tour operators can also be awarded the Rainforest Alliance seal if they meet the Sustainable Tourism Standard. This means that these businesses contribute to local development, use ethical labor practices, protect biodiversity, and educate on sustainability.
By patronizing businesses bearing the Rainforest Alliance seal in sustainable tourism, you’re helping to protect the ecosystem your trip is impacting and preserving the destination for years to come.
Follow the Frog, Make an Impact
As consumers, we have the power to make a direct impact on the wellbeing of the people making our products, and the environmental conditions in which they were cultivated. Transform your ecoanxiety into action by purchasing Rainforest Alliance Certified Products. In doing so, you’re supporting industries that promote human rights, sustainable forestry, and the prevention of climate change.
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