Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Rainforest Alliance Saves 25 Years

A little more than 25 years ago, Daniel Katz attended a small workshop on tropical forests. From that workshop, he and four others got together to start a nonprofit conservation organization dedicated to the plight of rainforests at a time when 50 acres of rainforest was disappearing every minute of every day.

"We were looking at how to make people in the United States more aware of their interconnectedness with all of the things that were in and coming from tropical forests," Katz said. "Early on, the Rainforest Alliance was a young startup organization without any money, without staff, and with very little credibility. So we had to get people to believe in us."

What initially started as an educational campaign, slowly evolved into a different way of thinking. Instead of telling people what not to do — don't buy this or don't buy that — they started to provide economically viable and socially desirable alternatives. This little shift quickly became something big.

The Rainforest Alliance focuses on conservation efforts over merely attention. 

The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. In other words, there is no guilt trip. They actively seek alternative practices that farmers, forest managers, tourism businesses, and companies can adopt and then share their decisions with customers and prospects in any market.

Today, the Rainforest Alliance has grown from the original team of five people in 1987 into an international organization of conservation and sustainable development, operating in more than 70 countries with offices in ten countries on four continents. The measure of their work is extensive.

They've certified more than 4.5 million acres of farmland and 163 million acres of forest. This certification is only given to those farms, forests, and consumer products that meet alliance standards and proactively protect threatened and endangered species by conserving habitats and ecosystems. In addition, their programs currently benefit more than 3.5 million people in 74 countries.

We can help people and the planet at the same time.

It's a big job, one that requires giving communities alternatives to illegal logging and destructive practices, teaching workers how to implement sustainable solutions, and developing methods that not only improve sustainability but also increase efficiency and profitability for farmers, foresters, and hoteliers around the world. Nobody has to lose by being green. Everyone benefits instead.

It seems simple enough. By making informed choices about some goods and services, consumers send a message to farmers, manufacturers and companies that how goods are grown and harvested matter as much as the products themselves.

The hard work — making sure the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal means something — is taken care of by an organization that is less interested in forcing people to do "good things" and more interested in teaching them that doing good things is better for everyone, even companies. It makes sense because progress and environmental protection don't have to be at odds with each other.

How the Rainforest Alliance is different. 

On the contrary, the Rainforest Alliance model creates job opportunities in poor communities, recruits global businesses to source responsibly resourced goods, and then works to raise awareness so consumers know that they are supporting better products that do not irreparably harm the environment. It works well enough that their programs have specifically saved the habitats of wildlife and endangered species like the tigers in Sumatra and great apes in the Congo.

The success stories are impactful, but more work needs to be done. To date, almost half of the world's rainforests have been cleared and 32 million acres are needlessly lost every year. Along with this loss, between 150 and 200 species of plants, insects, birds, and mammals are becoming extinct. About 15 percent of all mammal species and 11 percent of all bird species are threatened with extinction.

There are many ways you can help change this. The Rainforest Alliance has a plan to protect another 100 million acres of rainforest, develop new certification standards, establish hundreds more alliances, educate millions of children about their role in conservation, and help more people know that sometimes something as simple as choosing a specific brand of paper towels can make a difference.

The Rainforest Alliance Is A Liquid Hip Good Will Pick. 

At least once a month, Liquid Hip highlights good will efforts undertaken by people with big hearts. We don't score them. That belongs to you.

The Rainforest Alliance has proven that proactive solutions can do more good for the environment and enterprise while establishing new opportunities in communities where none exist. This three-fold effect creates healthy, prosperous communities, environmental consciousness within companies, and better sustainable products for future generations. Or, as Katz once said, his measure of success will be whether his great-great grandchildren are still talking about how many rainforests we saved today.

Naturally, the Rainforest Alliance thrives with the support of grants from government agencies and foundations. Most grants are contingent on private and individual commitments. If you would like to know more about how to make a difference beyond shopping for certified projects, visit the Rainforest Alliance membership and giving page. Even $35 a year can go a long way with the right people.
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