Uncommon Alliances: Reflections on the 2012 Certification and Sustainability WorkshopJune 25, 2012
Meriwether Hardie — an associate in the Rainforest Alliance’s office of the president — shares impressions from our 2012 Certification and Sustainability Workshop, a gathering of sustainability experts to discuss the social, environmental and economic impacts of certification.
During the Rainforest Alliance’s Certification and Sustainability workshop, I spoke with a farmer from La Arboleda Community Mill. He shared that it was his first time in New York, his first time on an airplane, his first time buying a suitcase, and the first time he’d left the region he was born. He spoke no English, so he couldn’t follow the workshop proceedings, but when I asked him how his community had earned the award that resulted in their invitation to the workshop, he grinned and replied “working together.”
He went on to explain that there had been many issues that polarized the workers in his community, including the competition to find buyers for each year’s coffee. “We did not even think of working together until we realized that the issues were too big to tackle alone,” he explained. “I have learned that both small and big change comes from situations where everyone works together and everyone wins. This is my hope for our future, and that is why I am here today.”
We’ve entered an era where businesses are embracing collaboration rather than competition, and where uncommon alliances are forming between civil society and the private sector in order to address critical social and environmental issues.
Collaboration among government entities, corporations, farmers, teachers, field workers, banks and foundations has enabled the Rainforest Alliance to make tremendous strides. Over the past 25 years, the Rainforest Alliance has certified a forest area the size of Texas (161 million forested acres or 65 million hectares) to sustainability standards, and trained more than 7,000 entrepreneurs in sustainable tourism. Today, over five million farmers, farm workers and their families now benefit from the Rainforest Alliance’s sustainable agriculture work.
As Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan explained, we are still learning the skills necessary to manage these complex but critical relationships. Whelan challenged workshop participants to continue to strengthen alliances across sectors and industries — asserting that without strategic alliances it will be impossible to solve the world’s environmental, social and economic crises.
The importance of “uncommon alliances” was reiterated throughout the workshop. During the morning panel, Producers Having an Impact in Their Communities, Francisco Bustamante of La Arboleda Community Mill in Colombia described how — together with the Rainforest Alliance, Nestlé Nespresso, USAID and other stakeholders — La Arboleda invested in a centralized coffee processing mill that spreads the cost of water treatment across the whole community and provides a space where all local farmers can process their beans. As a result, environmental contamination has been minimized, coffee quality has significantly improved and the community anticipates a 63 percent reduction in water use.
Apsara Chapagain of The Federation of Community Forestry Users in Nepal (FECOFUN) noted that in her region certification and partnerships between local and international groups have reduced illegal logging, increased supply of forest products, empowered local people and harmonized relationships between different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples.
In the afternoon, during the Increasing Impact through Supply Chain Engagement panel, Mark Buckley of Staples, Inc. urged companies to learn to speak a common language across the supply chain in order to facilitate collaboration and increase sustainability measures. Buckley believes that uncommon collaboration means bringing new stakeholders to the table. Later in the panel, Kip Walk of Blommer Chocolate Company described Blommer’s sustainability network, which involves on-the-ground collaborations with more than 40,000 farmers in Indonesia, Ecuador and Côte d’Ivoire.
At the end of the workshop, I had a chance to say goodbye to the farmer from La Arboleda Community Mill. As we looked around the room at the diverse group of participants, he grinned. “If it takes a village working together to raise a child,” he said, “then it makes sense that it takes a farmer, a CEO, a banker, a teacher and many others to work together to change the world.”
Visit our resources page for a full overview of the workshop proceedings, including copies of the day’s presentations.