Our vice president of sustainable tourism, Ronald Sanabria, reflects on the Rainforest Alliance’s role as a catalyst of sustainable production and consumption.
The 21st century has been a period of transformation in agriculture, production and consumption. This “green revolution” has created a green economy, in which consumers are more aware of the origins of the products and services they purchase. In turn, producers, intermediaries and consumers have formed new relationships.
The Río+20 summit, held in June to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of the first Earth Summit in Brazil, was an important moment to reflect back on the role of the Rainforest Alliance during two decades of change. With the support of the Mitsubishi Foundation, we participated in the International Sustainable Tourism Conference — organized by the Responsible Tourism Center at Leeds Metropolitan University and the Tourism, Knowledge, and Innovation group at Each/São Paulo University — in order to discuss the lessons learned during our 25 years of promoting sustainable production and consumption in the global marketplace.
The past has taught us that the green revolution should not be limited to the environment. We must also prioritize people. While we are alarmed at how quickly the planet is losing forest coverage and wildlife habitat , we should be equally concerned that 30 percent of the population of Latin America and the Caribbean live on less than $2 a day. Indeed, fifty-one million people in rural areas and 26 million people in urban areas lack things as basic as potable water. These marginalized people are critically dependent on increasingly threatened natural resources.
It is evident that the struggle for the environment will only be effective if we all play a part in the solution. If we want to reduce stress on natural resources, we must begin by eradicating poverty and providing alternative sustainable lifestyles to those who often have no alternative but to clear forests or hunt valuable species in order to provide for their families.
Over the past 25 years, the Rainforest Alliance has worked specifically to conserve biodiversity while identifying ways for communities to live sustainably. We also act as diplomats of change, helping to balance various agendas within different conservation and industrial sectors, and working to transform the way we all produce and consume.
We are active in more than 80 countries, promoting sustainable production in sectors like farming, silviculture and tourism. The Rainforest Alliance provides training and technical assistance to thousands of farmers, forest communities and tourism businesses in order to help them implement socially, environmentally and economically sustainable practices that lead to worker well-being, local development and the protection of nature.
Some 4.2 million acres of sustainable agricultural land (producing tea, coffee, spices, banana, pineapple and other fruits, flowers, palm oil, and livestock) in 36 countries around the world have been Rainforest Alliance Certified™. Through our work in sustainable tourism, we have contributed to the protection of an additional 3.3 million acres of land. And thanks to our work with the forestry industry, more than 169 million acres of forestland are under sustainable production. In total, the Rainforest Alliance’s programs directly affect more than 4.7 million people — including nearly one million full- and part-time workers and their family members.
To make sustainability marketable, we must find ways to ensure that on-the-ground efforts benefit both those in the field and those on the business side.
We must identify and bring together the key forces that benefit sustainable production, including market forces, business risks and public policies. To achieve large-scale success, we must work with institutions, authorities and local governments to show businesses that sustainability is the best economic option.
Consumer education and investment in sustainability is also critical because consumer behavior motivates businesses to transform their business practices. As consumers, we have the power to reward the efforts of responsible producers, suppliers and service providers, thereby bringing benefits to the communities in which the goods are produced.
As the world’s population continues to grow, so too will the demand for food and other products and services. We can’t stop this growth, but we can work to protect ecosystems, wildlife and the rights and well-being of workers and their families.
Learn more about the Rainforest Alliance’s unique approach.