Why Have We Been “Following the Frog” for 25 Years?September 17, 2012
We have so much to celebrate during our second annual Follow the Frog Week! Twenty-five years after we first began working to conserve soil, water and wildlife, empower workers and their communities, and encourage consumers to shop sustainably, we’re seeing the results of our efforts in very real, rewarding ways. Today’s blog — which has been excerpted from our new report Protecting Our Planet: Redesigning Land-Use and Business Practices* – comes from Rainforest Alliance president Tensie Whelan and Rainforest Alliance founder and board chair Daniel Katz.
Imagine a blisteringly hot summer day, the sun beating down as you walk across a scorched open field — nowhere to hide from the merciless rays. Now picture that same field with a large, old tree at its center, its broad trunk firmly rooted in the Earth, the branches rising up and out to form a canopy big enough to shelter you and three others in its cool shade. Increase the number of trees exponentially until you have a lush, green landscape before you, and compare that scene to a tract of forest that’s been slashed and burned to the ground. Which vision is more appealing? Which landscape would better protect all of the living things that inhabit and cross it?
Forests are the consummate multitaskers, harboring 90 percent of Earth’s species, keeping carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, preventing soil erosion and protecting water supplies. They also play a sheltering role in the day-to-day lives of millions of people around the world, providing them with a source of shade, livelihood, food, medicine, fuel and other resources. And they serve as a touchstone for indigenous communities that have called them home for centuries.
When we founded the Rainforest Alliance in 1987, Amazonian forests were disappearing at a rate of 14,305 acres (5,789 hectares) per day. While many other environmental organizations took a combative approach and organized protests and boycotts, we figured that the most effective way to halt the rampant deforestation was to give forestry, farm and tourism enterprises the economic incentive to manage their lands sustainably. Because it provides both businesses and consumers the ability to “vote with their dollars,” certification has become one our most effective conservation tools.
Through this approach, we pioneered changes that have helped slow the rate of Amazon rainforest destruction to 4,344 acres (1,758 hectares) per day — still a daunting number, to be sure, yet a third of what it once was. The Rainforest Alliance has integrated environmental and social sustainability into production and sourcing practices across entire supply chains — from individual farmers, loggers and traders to government agencies and multinational corporations. In the past quarter century, we have transformed the way that forests are managed and crops are grown, making sustainability the “new normal” around the world. And we’ve built a powerful, adaptable model that is capable of driving sustainability in virtually any sector.
Agriculture is one of the key drivers of deforestation. Because the pressure to clear forests is growing alongside the food demands of surging populations, the Rainforest Alliance has placed special emphasis on sustainable agriculture. Today, more than half a million2 Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are protecting forests while increasing yields and improving conditions for farmers and their workers. Rainforest Alliance training and certification have helped make coffee more than just one of the world’s largest commodities; the crop is now part of a culture that celebrates quality, sustainability and justice for workers. The same is true in other agricultural sectors: 15 percent of the global banana trade, 9.4 percent of the world’s tea and 3.3 percent of the global coffee trade originate on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.
Millions of people around the world also depend on forests for their livelihoods, and cultivating healthy working forests is a vital part of our mission. The Rainforest Alliance along with other leading environmental organizations and forestry businesses co-founded the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and has certified more than 177 million acres (72 million hectares) of sustainably managed forests, along with thousands of forest product manufacturing companies, to the rigorous FSC standard.
In tourism, the world’s largest industry, we helped create The Global Sustainable Tourism Council, a global accreditation body for sustainability certification. We collaborate with governments and entrepreneurs to encourage the conservation of the biodiverse destinations on which these tourism businesses depend. By engaging a new generation of leaders, we are transforming the business world at all levels. We work with hundreds of major companies, from Staples to Unilever to Marks and Spencer, to help them implement new sourcing and sustainability procedures, thereby driving ever-increasing numbers of sustainable products to market.
Sustainability has become much more than just a “best practice” — it is now a business-critical value. In consumer countries around the world, Rainforest Alliance Certified products are available at mainstream prices, and the demand for them has grown steadily — even during the recent and prolonged economic downturn. The numbers bear out what we’ve known all along: Given reasonable availability and comparable pricing, consumers give preference to sustainable goods and services. The growth of a globalized economy has been accompanied by the emergence of a new generation of consumers who share our commitment to sustainability. They want to connect with the origins of their purchases, share information and create communities via social media. They are choosing to live as engaged global citizens rather than passive end-users.
[Our report Protecting Our Planet: Redesigning Land-Use and Business Practices] highlights research that has tracked and assessed the wide-ranging impacts of our work — on ecosystems, biodiversity, livelihoods, businesses, consumers and children. A quarter century ago, the Rainforest Alliance envisioned a world where human beings could earn a better living while restoring degraded land and conserving threatened ecosystems and wildlife. Today, the impact data we have gathered demonstrates that what’s good for the planet turns out to be good for people — and vice versa. The evidence is in: Our model points the way to the economy of the next several decades, and a more sustainable future for all.
To review the full report visit our website on the report’s online release date, Wednesday, September 19.