Informed decisions

07 July 2010 | Article

How can ordinary people contribute to biodiversity conservation through their purchasing power?

Consumers are becoming more discerning; they want to know that the products they buy are sourced ethically and sustainably. And a growing number of businesses are committing to meet higher standards set by environmental and social certification programmes. For this they need guidance on how to source their materials in more responsible ways.

Tensie Whelan is President of the Rainforest Alliance, which works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behaviour. She explains how environmental certification can make a positive impact on biodiversity and how the average ‘person in the street’ can make a difference.

“The environmental challenges facing our world can seem so daunting, and we tend to assume that there’s little that we as individuals can do. But certification gives us all a voice. Whether we’re stocking up on daily household items such as paper, coffee or fruit, or considering special purchases like furniture, flooring or tropical vacations, we do have a say in how these goods and services are produced,” says Ms Whelan.

For example, by choosing products that feature the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal, consumers can contribute to a more environmentally sustainable and socially just world. The seal is awarded to farms and forests that conserve natural resources and ensures that workers, their families and communities are well treated.

The Rainforest Alliance and its partners work not only with foresters, farmers and tourism operators, but also with the companies that trade in certified goods and services. Businesses that commit to sustainability
learn that their efforts are more than just a marketing tool; they’re a vital part of running a successful enterprise. Sustainability helps to conserve biodiversity in and around certified farms and forests, it helps to ensure a long-term supply of raw materials, it often leads to more efficient management and it opens up new markets— all of which can help to bolster a company’s bottom line.

Take Finca Buenos Aires in Guatemala. Planted more than a century ago above the ruins of a Mayan city, the 182-acre, family-owned coffee farm provides habitat for deer, wild boar, wildcats, armadillos and 65 bird
species. It supports nearly 150 tree species, has an on-site nursery and provides a buffer zone for a neighbouring forest reserve,” says Ms Whelan. “And because the farm is Rainforest Alliance Certified, Kraft Foods pays farmer Felipe Guzmán a premium of 10% above the market price for his coffee, providing him with an economic incentive to maintain his agro-forest.”

“Individuals, communities and businesses around the globe are working to ensure that the needs of today can be met without compromising our collective future. If every time we reach for a bag of coffee, a bunch of bananas or a ream of paper, we check to make sure that it features the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal, each one of us has the power to help turn this vision into a reality.”

 

Is it really green?

With the proliferation of eco-labelling and environmental certification schemes, how can we ensure that they are delivering on their promises?

The ISEAL Alliance, the global association for social and environmental standards is on the case. It is working to strengthen the effectiveness and impact of both established and emerging voluntary standards systems. It also works with companies, non-profits and governments to support their use of such standards. Several of ISEAL’s member organizations, including the Rainforest Alliance, and those dealing with organic agriculture explicitly cover biodiversity conservation and how to incorporate it into their supply chains.

ISEAL develops a code of good practice to assess the impacts of standards systems which involves methods to measure their impact against a range of indicators, including biodiversity.

“Over time, we hope this will lead to changes in the standards systems and improved performance on biodiversity and other aspects of sustainability,” says Wiebke Herding, ISEAL’s Communications Manager.
 
ISEAL is also working on a ‘scaling up’ initiative, trying to increase the uptake of credible standards systems. “As part of this we’re mapping our members’ coverage of sectors and sustainability criteria to identify gaps and overlaps. This will help standards systems to better position themselves in the market and ultimately consumers in deciding where they place their priorities,” adds Ms Herding.


View of logging road in the Cameroon Forests