Forging New Pathways to a Sustainable Future

For the past three decades, the Rainforest Alliance has worked to transform agricultural and forestry supply chains, with the aim of halting deforestation and contributing to a more sustainable future for all.

In the tropics, conventional commodity agriculture is the biggest driver of deforestation—estimated to cause approximately 80 percent of tropical deforestation. Historical and ongoing macroeconomic inequities force millions of smallholder farmers around the world to bear the brunt of a cutthroat, demand-driven market; under these conditions, razing forestland might seem like the only way to increase crop yields enough to meet their basic survival needs.

The Rainforest Alliance mission is focused on this intersection of agriculture, rural livelihoods, and deforestation. Lasting, viable solutions must engage everyone across the supply chain, so we work with farmers to increase their crop yields through responsible farming methods; with communities and governments to develop strategies and incentives for better land management; with businesses to deepen their commitments to responsible sourcing; and with consumers to deepen their awareness of how their everyday choices can have a ripple effect on vulnerable landscapes across the globe.

Tea plucker on a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm in Sri Lanka. 

Tea plucker on a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm in Sri Lanka. 

Photo credit: Anna-Karin Landin

We’re often asked why we work with some of the world’s largest multinational companies—and how we can advance the interests of smallholder farmers and forest communities while partnering with such powerful entities.  The short answer is that these corporations are a vital part of the sustainability equation—for without widespread demand for sustainably produced commodities, rural producers have neither the incentives nor the resources to adopt to Earth-friendly practices.

When large companies make and execute substantive sustainability commitments, such as pledging to remove deforestation and/or forced labor from their supply chains, two important things happen. First, that commitment initiates a cascade of positive change that touches hundreds of thousands of lives and transforms entire production landscapes. Let’s say, for example, a major fast food chain decides to source all its coffee from responsible, certified farms that use climate-smart farming methods.  That company contributes to the mainstreaming of responsible land use to scale we desperately need to reach the targets set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement.

Second and no less important, when major companies make sustainability commitments and deliver on them, they set an example for their corporate peers. They also raise the bar on corporate social responsibility and encourage consumers to think about and support responsible companies.  Consumer support cultivates more demand, which in turn encourages more businesses to adopt sustainable sourcing. Again, it’s all about scaling up Earth-friendly methods so that they eventually become the norm.

Coffee farmers in Colombia

Harvesting coffee in the mountains of Colombia

The Rainforest Alliance honors leaders in the field of corporate responsibility each year in recognition of their critically important role in mainstreaming sustainability.  Changing longstanding business philosophies and transforming massive, global supply chains is an arduous and complicated journey that requires skillful navigation of international trade politics, shareholder demands, and the realities of the bottom line. We are recognizing the initiative and the actions of companies that are swimming against the prevailing currents to change their business models.

As we honor these companies for their commitments to source sustainably grown products from certified farms (since the companies themselves cannot be certified), it’s also important to recognize the farmers themselves who have made significant investments of money, time, and labor to grow their crops responsibly. We applaud these forward-thinking companies for disrupting the status quo—even if they still have a way to go on their respective sustainability journeys—because their commitments to sustainable sourcing support those farmers, whose actions will help us reach those Paris Agreement targets in time.

The Sustainable Standard-Setter and Sustainable Pathfinder awards recognize companies for the work they are doing to advance sustainable practices across their industries. All meaningful change must begin with action, and we applaud those who are fighting strong headwinds to move in the right direction.

Sustainable Standard-Setter Awardees

Patagonia

For decades, Patagonia has been recognized as a leader in the outdoor apparel industry for its Earth-focused policies. Because of Patagonia’s deep commitment to sustainability—in sourcing, labor, and resource-use policies—it was no surprise when the company transitioned from neoprene, a petroleum-based insulation, to renewable Rainforest Alliance Certified natural rubber in its popular wetsuits. The new wetsuits outperform the neoprene-based ones, creating a win-win for the company and the environment. The Rainforest Alliance was proud to perform the due diligence to make sure the rubber in the wetsuits met all the sustainability criteria defined by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Patagonia's FSC certified wetsuit

Patagonia's Forest Stewardship Council certified wetsuit 

Photo credit: Patagonia / Paul + Williams

Kyagalanyi Coffee Ltd.

When Uganda's coffee crop was nearly decimated by the coffee wilt disease in the 1990s and early 2000s, Kyagalanyi played a major role in re-seeding with wilt-resistant varieties of Robusta coffee plants. At the company's facility in Nakanyonyi Village, in the Mukono District, Kyagalanyi established a nursery with these new varieties and supplied them to farmers at no cost. Additionally, Kyagalnyi has also been a vocal leader in the effort to reduce child labor on coffee farms in Uganda.

Uganda’s coffee is grown by more than one million smallholder farmers and is often their most important source of income—but Ugandan coffee harvest volumes are among the lowest in the world. Kyagalanyi, which means friendly in Luganda, is working closely with our new colleagues from the UTZ certification program—and now with the Rainforest Alliance—to address these issues through sustainable farming methods.

Kyagalanyi Coffee training session

Kyagalanyi Coffee training session

Photo credit: Kyagalanyi Coffee

Colombian Coffee Growers Federation

Described as possibly the largest rural NGO in the world, the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation has been working since the 1920s to improve the quality of life for more than 540,000 coffee-growing families. As a staunch advocate for rural communities, sustainably grown coffee, and climate change adaptation, the Colombian Coffee Federation stands behind the sustainable agriculture methods of Rainforest Alliance certification. In fact, many of the farmers represented by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation have achieved Rainforest Alliance certification for their farms.

Members of the Colombia Coffee Growers Federation

Members of the Colombia Coffee Growers Federation

Photo credit: Colombia Coffee Growers Federation

Bradford Soaps Company

Rhode Island-based Bradford Soaps is the world’s oldest and largest specialty soap manufacturer, and one of the first companies to commit to using 100 percent traceable palm oil. Bradford was the first soap manufacturer to be Certified Organic and the first personal care products manufacturer to offer soap bases using palm oil from Rainforest Alliance Certified™ farms.

palm oil fruit

Palm oil fruit used in Bradford Soaps

Photo credit: Bradford Soaps

Sustainable Pathfinders Awardees

New Britain Palm Oil Ltd.

Irresponsible palm oil production is notoriously destructive to forests and the people who live in them. Sime Darby’s New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. in Papua New Guinea broke from the industry norm to improve livelihood opportunities in the region and restore degraded land. It has adopted a process to consult with indigenous peoples on the principle of free, prior, and informed consent—a right guaranteed by the United Nations that allows indigenous peoples to give or withhold consent to a project that may affect them or their territories. New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. has incorporated climate change adaptation and mitigation and measures to improve farmer livelihoods into its business plan, and the company is striving to meet the sustainability guidelines in every area where they work.

Palm oil farmers in Papua New Guinea

Farmers working with New Britain Palm Oil Ltd. in Papua New Guinea

Photo credit: New Britain Palm Oil Ltd.

McDonald’s

McDonald’s is one of Forbes’ top ten most valuable global brands, serves 69 million customers a day, and has a global footprint that extends from beef, soy, and coffee to tea and packaging. Despite the complexities of changing such a mammoth supply chain, McDonald’s has made several meaningful sustainability commitments over the past few years. For example, McDonald’s has pledged to end deforestation throughout its entire supply chain, from the ubiquitous paper and paperboard Happy Meal packaging to the palm oil used in many of its foods. McDonald’s has also pledged to source 100 percent Rainforest Alliance Certified or UTZ Certified tea, and 100 percent certified coffee—with at least 50 percent of the coffee coming from Rainforest Alliance Certified or UTZ Certified farms. The global restaurant chain is also a core member of the Global Roundtable on Sustainable Beef, which is pushing the beef industry to adopt more responsible environmental practices. McDonald’s is the first restaurant company to set approved science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. McDonald’s is truly changing the conversation on sustainability, using its reach to drive entire industries to change while working to continuously improve its own practices in alliance with multiple stakeholders.

McCafe store with Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee

McCafe store with Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee

 

Ramon nut, a sustainable superfood - photo by Sergio Izquierdo

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