Rainforest alliance summit champions investments in sustainability

This year’s annual Rainforest Alliance Leadership Summit, held in New York, focused on incentivizing global efforts towards reforestation and restorative land management.

President Nigel Sizer, bringing expertise from his previous position as global director of the Forests Program at the World Resources Institute, congratulated the assembled sustainable business leaders for making forward thinking decisions that have proven to be both profitable and environmentally beneficial and that other businesses can emulate. “The old question of profit versus environmental benefit is put to bed,” said Sizer. “Now begins the on the ground work of moving sector by sector to make the more difficult adaptations.”

As the summit focused on a reforestation a potential undertaking of nearly all of the world’s coffee farms and tea plantations panelists from the paper industry spoke to the importance of communicating sustainable businesses practices to customers to add value. Paige Goff, vp for sustainability & business at Domtar Paper Co., Newark, N.J., said, “You need PR to tell the story of what your company is doing. It’s an important part of employee and consumer education to know what your company is invested in.”

Sustainability is an integrated component of a business versus an afterthought; today sustainable choices are investments in a streamlined and affordable supply chain. Panelist Nate Shepley Streed, sustainability manager of corporate brands & marketing with The Kroger Co., a Cincinnati, Ohiobased supermarket chain, commented, “It is the retailer’s responsibility to digest scientific data for brand managers and consumers and build the necessary trust to believe that information.”

David Blood, co-founder and senior partner of generation investment management closed the summit with a presentation on today’s low carbon economy. “We live in a resource constrained world and businesses that recognize that will be successful,” said Blood. “Businesses that see sustainability as a tool to drive revenue understand that sustainability is just smart business.” The emerging carbon market and widespread adoption of practices compliant with verifiable carbon standards is prompting major financial institutions to make unprecedented investments in sustainable land management. With the sale of carbon credits, landholders producing coffee and tea can acquire an alternative revenue stream that supports the long term viability of the original crop.

Mark Moroge, senior director of projects in Peru, cited the Climate Smart Coffee and Cocoa Project in the Peruvian Amazon as a prime example. “The project’s mission is to conserve biodiversity and improve livelihoods by transforming land use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. In Peru, we work on hundreds of thousands of hectares with a concentration of coffee and cocoa production in the province of Madre de Dios and higher Andean provinces.” The project partners with CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Cali, Colombia) to evaluate the region’s recovery from roya (coffee leaf rust) and replant integrated farms designed for resilience.

Integrating climate smart benchmarks into agricultural planning is part of the new Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN, Mexico) standard that the Rainforest Alliance will begin certifying against next fall. Andre de Freitas, executive director of SAN explained the change. “Before, we had a climate module that could be added to the standard.Now we’ve embedded the climate module throughout the standard and approved it as a standard that recognizes that sustainability ongoing. There are entry level requirements and participants increase performance against the standard, which also now focuses on achievements in sustainability through a range of practices.” Rather than requiring specific steps, SAN now tracks measurable goals achieve through site-specific methods.

Sizer reiterated that Rainforest Alliance’s existence is evidence of the “Funded by supply chain is sustainable and not dependent on fluctuations from donors.” Half of budget is not related to certification. Sustainability is now synonymous with the accessibility, efficiency, and affordability of any given supply chain.

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