The Rainforest Alliance began exploring how forests contributed to carbon sequestration more than ten years ago when we began monitoring pilot projects in Malaysia. We wanted to demonstrate that low-impact harvesting techniques — such as those required for Forest Stewardship Council / Rainforest Alliance certification — enabled trees to store more carbon than clear-cutting. This is key because the release of carbon into the atmosphere through deforestation is a leading cause of climate change. Though it was several years before the Rainforest Alliance formally launched a climate initiative — we have been unofficially working to curb climate change for more than two decades by conserving forests around the globe. Here, climate initiative manager Jeff Hayward talks about his role and the program’s evolution.
What drew you to managing the program?
I was motivated by an incredible sense of urgency. We have no time to waste in tackling the problem at a global scale. All countries share some level of responsibility, and collectively our actions will determine the quality of life on this planet over the next century.
How do you choose the specific projects and areas for the validation of carbon sequestration efforts?
We respond to all interested projects, but the most desirable assignments are based in the tropics where most emissions from deforestation originate and where we can plant the trees that grow most rapidly and sequester the most carbon. Projects that conserve forests that are large and critical within a landscape, projects that address poverty by catalyzing community development and those that restore fragmented ecosystems are also all very attractive.
In which areas do you see the initiative continuing to grow, both geographically and programmatically?
We’ll expand more within the policy arena — first, by participating in the international climate negotiations that will be discussed throughout this year and up to the pivotal United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that will be held in Copenhagen in December. And second, by developing mechanisms for implementing these policies in places with the greatest forest threats such as the Amazon, the Congo Basin and Indonesia.
What have you done to lower your personal carbon footprint?
At home, my wife and I figured out the sources of our emissions and where we could conserve energy. Then we made a list of carbon busting strategies and determined their relative costs and benefits. We took the easiest steps first, such as replacing all light fixtures with energy-efficient bulbs, and putting all of our electronics on power strips that shut down completely when they are not in use. Then we upgraded some appliances to Energy Star rated alternatives, and we installed a highly efficient gas boiler and tankless water heater, which saves energy by heating water only on demand. Our biggest investment was in installing a solar energy system.