Back in 1987, a 24-year-old Daniel Katz co-founded the Rainforest Alliance, a tiny organization with a big mission: save the rainforests. Today, as we celebrate our 35th anniversary, Daniel chronicles our journey, from inspiration to global movement.
Since day one, the Rainforest Alliance has been a labor of love. We were a small bunch of young idealists, concerned about the fate of tropical forests and all of the species that lived within them. We started the Rainforest Alliance with zero dollars, zero contacts, and zero donors, but I think we made up for that with sheer determination. I still remember our very first 100-dollar donation, which we received in 1986 from the late Dr. Thomas Lovejoy, a renowned ecologist who actually helped popularize the term “biodiversity.”
We thrived because we had so many passionate people involved from the start—each bringing their talents and knowledge to the table. And our alliance has always been about bringing the right combination of people together—organizers, community leaders, farmers, workers, businesses, nonprofit organizations, and millions of individuals around the globe. We’re trying to change the world here, and that’s not something anyone can do alone.
“I still remember our first 100-dollar donation— from Dr. Thomas Lovejoy in late 1987—and every milestone like that.”
Clearly, collaboration was key. In the 1980s, it was all but impossible to convince companies to work with us. Corporate social responsibility wasn’t a “thing” back then, and CEOs literally laughed at us. But we persevered. The Rainforest Alliance grew and evolved, expanding our scope to include other types of tropical forests and pioneering independent third-party certification as a way to drive sustainability transformation. Our work was groundbreaking; certification has not only helped companies recognize the impact of their sourcing choices, but has also helped connect consumers with the farmers and forest communities who steward the world’s most precious landscapes.
Over the years, we’ve expanded our sustainability toolbox: We’ve learned that certification works best in combination with landscape-wide programs and local-to-global advocacy efforts. And that our programs must evolve in line with today’s technical advancements.
That’s why, in 2020, the Rainforest Alliance published a new Sustainable Agriculture Standard—one that reimagined certification as we knew it. On the ground, this means strengthened monitoring systems, more investment and support for farmers, and new digital innovations—and perhaps most importantly, a commitment to keep on improving because sustainability is a journey, not a destination.
I must admit that when I started the Rainforest Alliance, I was certain that one day we would close shop because our work would be done; the rainforests would be conserved. Thirty-five years later, it’s clear that the work of the Rainforest Alliance is still desperately necessary, and its mission grows more critical each day.
But looking back on our own journey gives me hope. When we started out, our whole team could fit in one (very small) room. Flash forward to 2022 and our global alliance counts more than 600 staff members working all around the world and more than two million farmers in 70 countries. Millions of people trust our little green frog to lead them to a more sustainable choice at the supermarket—and a better future for our planet. What a privilege and joy it has been these past 35 years to help people understand that we really can thrive in harmony with nature.