The Rainforest Alliance is a non-governmental organization (NGO) working to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Based in New York City with offices throughout North and South America, Asia, Africa and Europe, it operates in more than 70 countries. It was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who serves on its board of directors, and is led by President Nigel Sizer.

The Rainforest Alliance aims to harness market forces to arrest the major drivers of deforestation and environmental destruction: timber extraction, agricultural expansion, cattle ranching and tourism. The organization trains farmers, foresters and tourism operators in sustainable practices that conserve land and waterways, improve livelihoods, and protect workers and communities. It also helps them access the financing necessary to implement sustainability changes. Farms and forestry enterprises are audited against rigorous[citation needed] standards maintained by the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council — international NGOs the Rainforest Alliance helped to found. Those farms and forestry enterprises that pass both annual and surprise audits are certified by the organization and earn the right to use the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal. Tourism businesses that adopt established best management practices can use the Rainforest Alliance Certified mark as well. The seal helps consumers support responsible farmers, foresters and tourism businesses by identifying products sourcing ingredients from these farms and services that have implemented best practices.

Rainforest Alliance programs

A woman picks coffee on the slopes of the Rainforest Alliance Certified cooperative Ciudad Barrios in El Salvador.

Sustainable forestry certification


The Rainforest Alliance launched the world’s first sustainable forestry certification program in 1989 to encourage market-driven and environmentally and socially responsible management of forests, tree farms, and forest resources. The organization helped to found the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the non-profit international body that manages the standard, in 1993. Through its certification arm, RA-Cert, the Rainforest Alliance is accredited to certify forestry operations that meet the FSC's strict environmental, social, and economic standards. Operations that earn certification can use a seal on wood products so consumers know that the wood they are buying comes from forestlands that are managed in a way that conserves biodiversity and ensures the rights of workers and local people. The Rainforest Alliance has certified more than 102 million acres (41.3 million hectares) of forest worldwide, as of 2015, making it the largest FSC certifier of forestlands in the world. The Rainforest Alliance's forest certification program was ranked "top of the class" according to "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment," an independent report compiled byGreenpeace, a global environmental organization.[1]

The organization also connects certified forestry enterprises to buyers of forest products and provides marketing support for community forestry enterprises. By promoting green building and helping companies that purchase forest products to incorporate sustainability into their sourcing policies, they are also working to increase the demand for certified products.

The Rainforest Alliance also provides training and technical assistance to small forestry operations on how to implement sustainable land-management practices (sometimes with the end goal of earning certification) and educates consumer forest products businesses about conservation and certification.

Carbon offset verification

The organization verifies carbon offset projects to standards that address greenhouse gas sequestration, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods.[2] The Rainforest Alliance verifies projects to the American Carbon Registry Standard, the Carbon Fix Standard, the Climate Action Reserve Standard, the CDM Gold Standard, the Verified Carbon Standard, the standards of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance, the Chicago Climate Exchange and Plan Vivo. As of 2015, 10,756,000 acres (4,352,800 hectares) have been protected by forest carbon projects that have been verified or validated by the Rainforest Alliance—removing or avoiding greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those produced by 7.13 million cars in one year.

Sustainable agriculture certification

The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture program includes training programs for farmers and the certification of small, medium and large farms that produce more than 80 different crops, including avocado, cattle, cinnamon, coffee, palm oil and potatoes, as well as tea, cocoa, bananas. In recent years, the Rainforest Alliance has greatly expanded its work with smallholders, who now account for 75% of the farms (more than 783,000 farmers in all) certified by the organization. To obtain certification, farms must meet the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) standard,[3] which is designed to conserve ecosystems, protect biodiversity and waterways, conserve forests, reduce agrochemical use, and safeguard the well-being of workers local communities. The Rainforest Alliance certified the first banana plantation worldwide in 1993, the independent banana farm Platanera Rio Sixaola in Bribri/Costa Rica, owned by Volker Ribniger. By 2000, all Chiquita-owned banana farms in Latin America had earned Rainforest Alliance certification. Daniel Esty, professor of environmental science and policy at Yale University, and Andrew Winston, director of the corporate environmental strategy project at Yale University, reports that Chiquita spent $20 million over ten years to bring its farms up to Rainforest Alliance standards. Esty and Winston call the Chiquita - Rainforest Alliance partnership "one of the most strategic and effective in the world."[6]Unilever, the world's largest tea company, committed to have all of its Lipton tea plantations Rainforest Alliance Certified by 2015.[7] The Rainforest Alliance is the secretariat of the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a group including conservation organizations in nine countries in Latin America that work together to promote and increase the use of sustainable agricultural practices and manage the certification program. The Rainforest Alliance encourages businesses and consumers to support sustainable agriculture by buying products grown on certified farms. More than 1.2 million farms and cooperatives across more than 42 countries—covering nearly 8.6 million acres (3.5 million hectares) of land—are being managed sustainably under Rainforest Alliance certification, as of 2015.[4]

Crop standards and criteria

The organization requires that 50% of criteria under a certain principle (group of criteria) be achieved, and 80% overall.[5] Several of these criteria are "critical" and must be complied with for a farm to earn certification. They include an ecosystem conservation program, protection of wild animals and waterways, the prohibition of discrimination in work and hiring practices, the prohibition of contracting children under the age of 15, the use of protective gear for workers, guidelines about agrochemical use and the prohibition of transgenic crops.[6]

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal

The Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal appears only on products that meet the crop standards and criteria detailed above. According to Consumer Reports, "The Rainforest Alliance Certified label is clear and meaningful in support of sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and integrated pest management. The label is consistent in meaning among all certified. The label does not consist of farmers and none of the members are certified by the Rainforest Alliance. In this sense, the organizations behind these labels are independent from the products they certify."[7] In February 2008, Ethical Corporation called Rainforest Alliance certification a "rigorous, independently verified scheme".[8] As of 2015, more than 4,300 companies buy or sell products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, and the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal can be seen in more than 120 countries. As of June 2015, 13.6 percent of the world’s cocoa, 5.4 percent of coffee and 15.1 percent of tea comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms.[citation needed]

Sustainable tourism

The organization launched a sustainable tourism program in 2000 and provides small- and medium-sized tourism businesses in Latin America with training and tools to minimize their impacts on the environment and local communities. In addition to awarding the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal to those tourism businesses that meet the organization’s standards, the Rainforest Alliance also provides training, technical assistance and marketing support to certified businesses and businesses in the process of becoming certified. More than 10,000 employees of tourism businesses in Mexico and Costa Rica have participated in the organization’s sustainability training. In addition, they work internationally to create partnerships with tour operators (hotels,lodges, travel agents, etc...) to green all elements of the tourism supply chain. In March 2008, the Discovery Channel[9] noted that "the Rainforest Alliance has been a leader in developing a sort of meta-analysis of the various programs operating in the Americas - possibly leading to a world-wide standard for what ecotourism ought to achieve."


The organization also works to integrate sustainable tourism certification programs in the Americas, through a coalition known as Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas. The mission of the Network is to promote sustainable tourism in the region through strengthening tourism initiatives based on mutual respect and recognition, joint efforts, harmonizing systems, and sharing information and experience.

Criticism and response

Some academics, environmental groups, and media sources have criticized Rainforest Alliance agricultural certification, mostly with accusations of greenwashing. TheManchester Evening News notes that some critics have dubbed the Rainforest Alliance "Fairtrade lite",[14] offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a way to tap into the ethical consumer market. Alex Nicholls, professor of social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, called Rainforest Alliance certification "a less expensive way for companies to answer consumers’ concerns about sustainability than to achieve Fair Trade certification."[15]

However, in a comparison of the Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance certification systems by the International Trade Center, the Rainforest Alliance ranks as more rigorous in nearly every category.[16][dubious – discuss]

A comparison of Rainforest Alliance and Fair Trade certification systems criteria.

According to a 2012 study,[17] Rainforest Alliance Certified Cocoa farms in Côte d'Ivoire produced 40 percent more cocoa per acre than noncertified farms. Net income on certified farms also increased by 400%. This was achieved not through price premiums, but through increased yields due to healthier lands and improved farm management.

In a 2012 comparison[18] of certified and noncertified coffee farms in Colombia, certified farms had significantly higher rates of: protective-equipment usage for chemical applications; specialized warehouses dedicated to chemical storage; employee training in first aid and pesticide application; septic-tank use; and solid-waste collection.

In a survey of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee farms in Nicaragua,[19] farmers reported that since earning certification in 2004, the combination of fewer chemicals and a better quality of life had led to improved overall health, and that their workers now had better shower and toilet facilities.

A 2013 report by Cenicafe, an independent Colombian coffee research institution, found evidence that Rainforest Alliance certification has a positive effect on the environment in and around farms:[18]

  • Rainforest Alliance Certified farms located next to natural forests can extend wildlife corridors, providing habitat for the threatened night monkey (Aotus lemurinus).
  • Researchers found that arthropod richness was significantly higher on certified farms than on noncertified farms, indicating better soil health on certified farms.
  • Researchers measured several indicators of stream quality on 27 Rainforest Alliance Certified farms and 27 noncertified farms in Cundinamarca and Santander and found that stream quality was better on certified farms. Indicators included: structural indicators (erosion and streamside vegetation), biological indicators (pollution-sensitive macro-invertebrates), and chemical indicators (dissolved oxygen and pH). Results showed that in both regions, certified farms have significantly healthier streams than noncertified farms.

Minimum price issues

Rainforest Alliance sustainable agriculture certification, like the certification schemes UTZ Certified and organic,[20] does not offer producers minimum or guaranteed price,[21] therefore leaving them vulnerable to market price variations: as an example, in the 1980s, a pound of standard-grade coffee sold for around US $1.20. In 2003, a pound sold for about $0.50, which was not enough to cover the costs of production in much of the world.[22] The price of coffee has since rebounded somewhat, with prices for arabica reaching $1.18/pound by the end of 2007.[23] (It should be noted, however, that Fair Trade’s minimum pricing requirements have come under criticism as well, notably for lack of evidence that Fair Trade farmers actually receive higher prices.)[citation needed]

The Rainforest Alliance counters that a system that focuses primarily on pricing misses out on a number of other critical elements that influence whether or not a farmer can transcend poverty and sustain future generations on the land. For example, price-based systems depend on the willingness of customers to pay premiums for certified products. But this approach is of little use to farmers who cannot reach such buyers. Others, including UTZ, another certification system, have argued that price minimums distort the market, which is an important force in scaling up good practices. Maximizing yields and protecting the long-term health of the land are critical to the economic sustainability of any certification system.

Although many Rainforest Alliance Certified farms do in fact achieve price premiums for high-quality product, Rainforest Alliance focuses on improving the entire spectrum of farming practices. Third-party studies have shown the organization’s approach to be effective in raising both income and net revenue for farmers.[24]

Michigan State University professor of sociology Daniel Jaffee has criticized Rainforest Alliance certification, claiming that its standards are "arguably far lower than fair trade's" and saying "they establish minimum housing and sanitary conditions but do not stipulate a minimum price for coffee. Critically, they require plantation owners only to pay laborers the national minimum wage, a notoriously inadequate standard."[25]

The Economist favors the Rainforest Alliance's method and notes that "guaranteeing a minimum price [as Fairtrade does] means there is no incentive to improve quality." They also note that coffee drinkers say "the quality of Fairtrade brews varies widely. The Rainforest Alliance does things differently. It does not guarantee a minimum price or offer a premium but provides training advice. That consumers are often willing to pay more for a product with the [Rainforest Alliance] logo on it is an added bonus, not the result of a formal subsidy scheme; such products must still fend for themselves in the marketplace."[26]

Minimum price programs, which ensure that farmers receive no less than a given, predetermined amount, regardless of the commodity price, have been criticized by some economists[citation needed] as artificially manipulating markets and counter-intuitively limiting the impact of minimum price goods, by making them too expensive for some consumers to afford.

Use of seal

The organization certification has been criticized for allowing the use of the seal on products containing a minimum of 30% of certified content.[27] According to Michael Conroy, former chairman of the board for Fair Trade USA,[28] this use of the seal is the "most damaging dimension" of [Rainforest Alliance's] agricultural certification program and "a serious blow to the integrity of certification".

Consumer Reports[29] counters Conroy's implication that the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal is misleading. Consumer Reports classifies the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on agricultural products as "somewhat meaningful."

The Rainforest Alliance responds that a greater positive impact on the ground can be made by engaging with companies of all sizes and offering 30% as an entry point. A large company that agrees to source at 30% can have a greater scale of impact due to higher product volume (e.g. 30% of 1,000 tons is substantially more than 100% of 100 tons). The entry point is also intended to address limited availability of certain products, since in some cases, years of work are required to train and certify enough farms to meet a large company's commodity needs.[citation needed]

The organization requires companies to increase quantities of certified ingredients as more product becomes available and maintains a database detailing these commitments. The organization also requires companies to clearly disclose the percentage of Rainforest Alliance Certified content if it is less than 90%. A criticism that has arisen regarding the Rainforest Alliance certification is that brands are allowed to use the green frog seal on a product if even just 30 percent of the product comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Ray says, however, that 30 percent certified content from a multinational brand still has a significant impact.(Mother Earth News, What Does “Rainforest Alliance Certified” Mean? 5/21/2009)

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Rainforest Alliance , which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0

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