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The Rainforest Alliance Certified seal

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 the United States and worldwide, the Rainforest Alliance works with people whose livelihoods depend on the land, helping them transform the way they grow food, harvest wood and host travelers. From large multinational corporations to small, community-based cooperatives, they involve businesses and consumers worldwide in their efforts to bring responsibly produced goods and services to a global marketplace where the demand for sustainability is growing steadily. The conservation NGO was founded in 1987 by Daniel Katz, who is still involved in the organization. Day to day management is the responsibility of its president, Tensie Whelan.

  • The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable forestry division works to reconcile the growing demand for trees and other forest flora with a shrinking supply by encouraging better on the ground practices. [9]In a 2008 report, Wood Products Legality Verification Systems, Greenpeace rated the Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program the highest among seven major verifiers of the legality of wood sources. The report noted that SmartWood "is the only scheme truly developed in a balanced, multi-stakeholder manner and the only scheme to require 'prior informed consent' of indigenous people in its standards." [1]
  • Its sustainable agriculture division works to combine productive agriculture, biodiversity conservation and human development. Rainforest Alliance Certified farms are required to meet comprehensive social and environmental standards. These standards encompass ecosystem conservation, wildlife conservation, fair treatment and good conditions for workers (including access to healthcare, education and equitable wages), soil and water conservation, integrated pest management and integrated management of waste [2][3] Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture certification program has been dubbed "Fairtrade lite"[4 ] in news articles published by The Guardian and the Manchester Evening News. It has also been criticized by academic Daniel Jaffee, from Michigan State University, and Oxford University professor Alex Nicholls for providing "greenwashing" cover for transnational corporations, therefore offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a cheap way to tap into the ethical consumer market.[5 ][6]. Some contentious issues include the certification system's lack of prefinancing standards, of minimum guaranteed prices, and the permission to use the Rainforest Alliance seal on coffee containing 30% of certified coffee beans.[7][8] Consumer Reports and Ethical Corporation, however, have high praise for the Rainforest Alliance's certification. Consumer Reports calls the Rainforest Alliance "clear and meaningful in support of sustainable agriculture, social responsibility and integrated pest management."[9][10] Ethical Corporation calls Rainforest Alliance Certification "rigorous."[11]
  • Its tourism program works to help tourism entrepreneurs conserve their environments and contribute to local livelihoods while improving their own financial viability.[12] The program also maintains a directory of various certification programs directed at promoting sustainable tourism.[13]


Rainforest Alliance programs

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

Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Forestry

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's SmartWood program helped found the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit organization that promotes responsible forest management globally, in 1993. SmartWood is accredited to certify forestry operations that meet the FSC's environmental and social 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. SmartWood has certified more than 108 million acres (43,800,000 hectares)[10] of forest worldwide, making it the largest FSC certifier of forestlands in the world. The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood program was ranked "top of the class" according to "Wood Products Legality Verification Systems: An Assessment," an independent report compiled by Greenpeace, a global environmental organization.[14]

The Rainforest Alliance also works to connect certified communities and businesses to buyers of forest products. They work to build sustainable livelihoods by helping certified communities and businesses to market their products effectively and increase technical ability. 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's forestry program also provides training and technical assistance to small forestry operations on how to reach certification and educates consumers and people in the forest products industry about conservation and certification.

Rainforest Alliance Carbon Verification

The Rainforest Alliance verifies carbon offset projects to standards that address greenhouse gas sequestration, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods [11]. The Rainforest Alliance verifies projects to the standards of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance [12], Chicago Climate Exchange and Plan Vivo [13].

Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture

The Rainforest Alliance's sustainable agriculture program oversees the certification of farms that produce tropical crops, including coffee, bananas, cocoa, oranges, cut flowers, ferns, and tea. To obtain certification, farms must meet a set of environmental and social standards, including agrochemical reduction, ecosystem conservation, and worker health and safety. The Rainforest Alliance first devised its sustainable agriculture standards in 1991 and certified the first banana plantation, owned by Chiquita, in Costa Rica in 1994. 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, report 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.” [15] Unilever, the world's largest tea company, plans to have all of its Lipton tea plantations Rainforest Alliance Certified by 2015.[16] 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. By February 2006, nearly 2,000 square kilometres (nearly 475,000 acres) of land on more than 4,500 farms and cooperatives in 12 countries had obtained Rainforest Alliance certification.[17]

Crop Standards and Criteria

Rainforest Alliance requires that 50% of criteria under a certain principle (group of criteria) be achieved, and 80% overall.[18] 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.[19]

Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal
Lipton's Kericho Estate Tea bears the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal.

The Rainforest Alliance Certified Seal appears only on products that meet the crop standards and criteria detailed above. Consumer Reports recently judged the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal on agricultural products to be "highly meaningful." They noted that "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."[20] In February 2008, Ethical Corporation [21] called Rainforest Alliance certification a "rigorous, independently verified scheme."

Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Tourism

The Rainforest Alliance 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. Since there are almost 70 existing sustainable tourism certification initiatives worldwide, the Rainforest Alliance decided that it would be more productive to support local certification programs (rather than creating its own certification body), help increase their international recognition and establish regional networks of certification programs to share resources and information and create standards for certification criteria. They also provide marketing support, training and technical assistance to certified businesses and businesses in the process of becoming certified. 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 [22] 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."

Sustainable Tourism Certification

The Rainforest Alliance also works to integrate sustainable tourism certification programs in the Americas, through the 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; sharing information and experience.

Sustainable Tourism Index

The Rainforest Alliance has developed an index of sustainable tourism destinations.[23] According to the New York Times, "The Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism is a new Web site developed by the Rainforest Alliance that lists environmentally and socially responsible tourism businesses, including hotels, throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Listings are in English and Spanish. To be included, businesses must be certified by an ecotourism certification program or be recommended by a known conservation organization." [24]

The Rainforest Alliance Education Program

The Rainforest Alliance works to help people of all ages understand the role that every person plays in biodiversity conservation. They do this through their education site—developed in conjunction with education experts—and their Adopt-a-Rainforest program. They also work with several schools around the country, to help teachers implement the lesson plans.

The Learning Site

The Rainforest Alliance developed free, on-line curricula that offers complete lesson plans, stories (in English, Spanish and Portuguese), presentations, posters and articles about societies and flora and faunain Latin America, plus on-the-ground conservation projects for kindergarten through eighth grade.


Through the Rainforest Alliance's Adopt-A-Rainforest program, individuals and school groups can donate money to support the programs described in the lesson plans. These donations can be made on the Rainforest Alliance website and describe exactly where the money goes and offers fundraising ideas.

The Eco-Index

The Rainforest Alliance developed the Eco-Index Web site, a bilingual (English and Spanish) database of more than 1,250 profiles of conservation projects in North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The site provides users with information about project summary, objectives, contact information, project budget and funders, accomplishments and goals, lessons learned, and reports and related Web sites. Users can search the Eco-Index by country, category, organization, funder, and/or project name. The site helps to create a cohesive network of conservationists by providing them with a space to share project data and reports, lessons learned, and best practices across language and geographic barriers. All information on the Web site is available in English and Spanish; profiles of conservation projects in Brazil are also available in Portuguese.

A sub-section of the Eco-Index is the Western Hemisphere Migratory Species Initiative Pathway, a bilingual Web site that matches priority migratory species conservation needs with the projects, tools, and resources that are available to address them.

An additional site called the Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism, launched in January 2006, is a bilingual database of small and medium-sized, sustainable tourism operations in Latin America and the Caribbean. All operations are certified by an independent, third-party sustainable tourism certification program, or recommended by a reputable conservation organization.

Forest Now Declaration

Rainforest Alliance have also endorsed the Forests Now Declaration, calling for new market based mechanisms to protect tropical forests.


1987- 1988 • Rainforest Alliance is incorporated. First large-scale conference on rainforest destruction is held.[14]

1989 • Rainforest Alliance’s SmartWood program is founded. [15]

1990 • SmartWood certifies its first forest in Indonesia. • Banana standards are introduced and sustainable agriculture program, initially called ECO-O.K is launched. [16]

1991 • Forests in Honduras, Mexico and Belize are certified. [17]

1992 - 1993 • Adopt-A-Rainforest is launched to channel donations to grassroots conservation projects in Latin America. [18] • First Rainforest Alliance agriculture certification goes to two banana farms in Costa Rica and Hawaii.[19] • Forest Stewardship Council, an international sustainable forestry management accreditation body, is established.[20]

1994 • SmartWood expands to temperate and boreal forests in the US and Canada. [21] • The first two Chiquita-owned banana farms are certified.[22]

1995 • First coffee farms are certified in Guatemala. • The Rainforest Alliance receives the Peter F. Drucker Award for Non-profit Innovation.

1996 • SmartWood Rediscovered for reuse of old wood is launched.[23] • SmartWood certifies forestlands owned by indigenous peoples in Mexico and Wisconsin.[24] • Work with Gibson USA results in the world’s first certified guitars.[25]

1997 • All Chiquita-owned farms in Costa Rica become Rainforest Alliance Certified. Chiquita commits to certifying all its farms throughout Latin America.[26] • Cocoa program is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo. [27] • First Rainforest Alliance certification of citrus groves goes to Del Oro in Northwestern Costa Rica.[28]

1998 • The Conservation Agriculture Network, later renamed the Sustainable Agriculture Network, is formed to develop guidelines for sustainable farming. [29] • First shade-grown cocoa certification awarded to El Progreso cooperative in Ecuador.[30]

1999 • SmartWood certifies its first non-timber forest products operation.[31] • The Coffee and Biodiversity Project is launched to address environmental degradation in El Salvador by using shade-grown coffee farms to buffer ecologically sensitive land.[32] • Rainforest Alliance receives the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Gold Circle Award for excellence in nonprofit communications.[33]

2000 • Daniel Katz steps down as executive director and becomes board chairman. Tensie Whelan becomes executive director of the organization.[34] • SmartWood certifies all of New York State’s multiple-use public forestlands. In Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, five community forestry operations are certified.[35] • Fifteen percent of bananas in trade are grown on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. [36] • SmartVoyager tourism certification is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo. • Eco-Index is launched. [37]

2001 • SmartWood certifications expand to include municipal forests, state parks, maple syrup, pencils and snowboards. [38] • 100 percent certification of Chiquita's company-owned farms earn certification.[39] • Fern and flower certification program is launched in Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica.[40] • Training Research Extension Education Systems (TREES) program is established to give small, community and indigenous forestry operations access to certification.[41]

2002 • Twelve hundred companies and cooperatives have adopted Rainforest Alliance sustainable practices.[42] • SmartWood expands certification to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. [43] • First two banana farms in South-east Asia. [44] • The first nine fern farms are certified in Costa Rica.[45]

2003 • Total area of certified forestland reaches 25 million acres (100,000 km²). SmartWood certifies its first US company , the first North America boreal forest, the first certification in Russia and the largest certified forest in Japan. [46] • Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas is established to accredit tourism certification programs. [47] • Rainforest Alliance Learning Site is launched. [48]

2004 • Total area of forests certified reaches 33 million acres (130,000 km²). [49] • Total combined area of certified coffee farms roughly doubles over 2003 levels—from 46,000 to 93,000 acres (190 to 380 km²). [50] • Procter & Gamble’s introduction of Millstone Rainforest Reserve coffee in the US and Kraft’s launch of Kenco Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee in the UK. Gloria Jean’s entire line of flavored coffees is certified. Certified coffee becomes available in Belgium, Japan and Canada. [51] • “Cupping for Quality” is the first formal coffee competition where the emerging field of "certified-sustainable" coffee receives gourmet evaluation by leading coffee experts. • Certified Sustainable Products Alliance is launched with the aim of bringing to market increased quantities of sustainable bananas, coffee and timber. [52]

2005 • JP Morgan, Citigroup, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald’s, Nike, the HSBC Bank and others print their annual and corporate social responsibility reports on certified paper. [53] • Certified coffee production doubles over 2004 levels. [54] • Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee wins first place in the World Barista Championship and the second “Cupping for Quality” event.[55] • Chiquita sells 50 million bananas bearing the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal each week in nine European countries.[56]

2006 • The area of Forest Stewardship Council/Rainforest Alliance Certified forestland reaches 100 million acres (400,000 km²).[57] • Certified coffee volumes double again for the third year in a row.[58] • First African coffee farms are certified in Ethiopia.[59] • Launch of African cocoa program in Cote d'Ivoire.[60] • Launch of, a database of sustainable tourism businesses.[61] • Launch of Migratory Species Pathway.[62] • Pineapple certification criteria are established.[63]

2007 • Launch of standards for tea- Unilever announces that it is converting all the tea used in its Lipton and PG Tips brands to Rainforest Alliance certified sources. Certification will start in Kenya. ,[25]

2008McDonald's New Zealand and Australia switches all McCafe restaurants to Rainforest Alliance certified coffee beans


Rainforest Alliance agricultural certification has been criticized by a range of academics and media sources. The Manchester Evening News notes that critics have dubbed the Rainforest Alliance" Fairtrade lite"[4 ] therefore offering companies such as Chiquita and Kraft a cheap way to tap into the ethical consumer market. Alex Nicholls, professor of social entrepreneurship at Oxford University, called Rainforest Alliance certification "an easy option for companies looking for a “flash in the pan at a cheap price”.[5 ] Beyond the price issue, Michael Conroy, an independent consultant on certification for sustainable development and chairman of the board of Transfair USA [64], criticized Rainforest Alliance in his 2007 book Branded! for having "little tangible impact on the actual conditions under which work is done and workers are paid".[26]

Minimum price issues

Rainforest Alliance sustainable agriculture certification, like the certification scheme UTZ Certified and organic [65], does not offer producers minimum or guaranteed price [27], 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.[28] The price of coffee has since rebounded somewhat, with prices for arabica reaching $1.18/pound by the end of 2007 [66].

In March 2007, Ethical Corporation reported that due to higher coffee market prices, Rainforest Alliance Certified farmers on average receive $1.20 per pound, or 9% less than the Fairtrade minimum price and premium and 20% less than the average price paid to Fairtrade certified producers. The same article, however, notes: “And Fairtrade’s premiums are not what they were. As commodity prices rise, premiums farmers receive for sustainable coffee diminish in value” and quotes Chris Wille, chief of sustainable agriculture at the Rainforest Alliance: ““It’s more than about price … it’s about margins.”.[29][30] In 2008, the publication named Wille one of 10 “ethical leaders.”[31]

Michigan State University professor 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."[6]

The Economist, however, seems to favor 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." [32]

Crop prefinancing issue

The lack of crop prefinancing has been another point of contention regarding Rainforest Alliance standards in the past years: Rainforest Alliance standards do not require importers to offer crop pre-financing, a key condition described by Whitni Thomas, head of the Access to Finance Initiative at NEF (New Economics Foundation), as a "cornerstone of the Fair Trade philosophy". Thomas further describes crop pre-financing in "Financing Fair Trade" as particularly critical for commodity producers, especially in the context of the recent collapse of formal lending programs in many developing countries.[7]

Use of seal

Rainforest Alliance certification has been criticized for allowing the use of the seal on coffee containing a minimum of 30% of certified coffee beans [8] According to Michael Conroy, chairman of the board for TransFair USA [67], 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": "Yuban coffee, a very popular lower-grade canned coffee available nationwide in the US, proudly advertises on the front of its cans that 30% of the contents are Rainforest Alliance Certified. What are consumers to believe about the other 70% of that coffee? That it is pesticide-laced and irresponsible in its water use? In neither of the other certification systems with which [Rainforest Alliance] is associated, FSC forest certification and the Sustainable Tourism certification, would it allow the use of its logo with such a low bar."[33] The organization counters that this approach encourages larger purchases of beans from certified farms, having a greater global impact on the environment and livelihoods of farm communities as large roasters blend the beans into mainstream brands.[11] Consumer Reports [34] counters Conroy's implication that the label is misleading, judging it to be "clear and meaningful," and calling the Rainforest Alliance Certified label on agricultural products "highly meaningful." On an episode of Britains Really Disgusting Food presented by Alex Riley, the comedian questioned the Alliance about its seal of approval for Galaxy chocolate, from 2010, since the product uses palm oil that is sourced through methods destructive of rainforests. The spokesperson replied that the seal of approval was for the cacao used in the product. Critics maintain that the seal will look to consumers like an endorsement of the bar, and not solely the cacao used in its production.

Focus on plantations

Michigan State University professor Daniel Jaffee has criticized Rainforest Alliance certification for targeting large and medium coffee plantations, unlike Fairtrade's focus on small peasant coffee farmer cooperatives.[6]

See also


  1. ^ Wood Products Legality Verification Systems, January 30, 2008
  2. ^ Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Agriculture
  3. ^ Reuters (2007, May 16)[1]URL accessed on August 10, 2007
  4. ^ a b Manchester Evening News (2007). McDonald's brew a forest-friendly coffee. URL accessed on January 20, 2007.
  5. ^ a b The Guardian (2004, November 24) Who Is the Fairest of them All?. URL accessed on August 30, 2006.
  6. ^ a b c Jaffee, Daniel (2007). Brewing Justice: Fair Trade Coffee, Sustainability and Survival. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-24959-2
  7. ^ a b Thomas, Whitni (2005). Financing Fair Trade. London: Sage Publications.
  8. ^ a b The Guardian (2004, November 24).Who Is the Fairest of them All?. URL accessed on August 30, 2006.
  9. ^ [2].
  10. ^ | <a href="labelSearch.cfm?label=Rainforest%20Alliance">Search by label</a> > Label information
  11. ^ a b Ethical Corporation (2007, March 7). [3].
  12. ^ Rainforest Alliance Sustainable Tourism
  13. ^ The Washington Post (2007, June 17) Resources:Finding Friends of the EarthURL accessed August 10, 2007
  14. ^ Greenpeace(2008, January 30)[, Wood Products Legality Verification Systems Report] accessed March 24, 2008
  15. ^ Green to Gold, by Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston (2006)
  16. ^ [4] URL accessed March 25, 2009
  17. ^ Rainforest Alliance Frequently Asked Questions [5].
  18. ^ Rainforest Alliance (2006). Sustainable Agriculture Standards. URL accessed on October 27, 2006.
  19. ^ Rainforest Alliance standards [6].
  20. ^ Consumer Reports: Greener Choices. (March 2008) Resources:Eco-labels Center: Rainforest AllianceURL accessed March 24, 2008
  21. ^ Ethical Corporation (February 11, 2008) [7] "Brazilian Coffee: A Heady Brew of Higher Standards." Oliver Balch
  22. ^ Discovery Channel. "Leave nothing behind: Five Low impact Eco-Tours" March 2008
  23. ^ Eco-Index of Sustainable Tourism [8] URL accessed August 10, 2007.
  24. ^ The New York Times (2006, December 3) Comings and Goings URL accessed August 10, 2007
  25. ^ Reuters Unilever to sell environmentally sustainable tea
  26. ^ Conroy, Michael (2007). Branded! p251
  27. ^ Ethical Corporation (January 2005). Bean Wars. URL accessed on September 3, 2006.
  28. ^ National Geographic (April 24, 2003). Coffee Glut Brews Crisis For Farmers, Wildlife. URL accessed on August 12, 2007.
  29. ^ Ethical Corporation, March 2007
  30. ^ Rice, Paul, May 8, 2007. Speech delivered at the Fair Trade Forum: Speciality Coffee Association of America conference.
  31. ^ Ethical Corporation, December 2008
  32. ^ The Economist (2006, December 7)Voting with your trolley URL accessed on August 10, 2007
  33. ^ Conroy, Michael (2007). Branded! p252
  34. ^ | <a href="labelSearch.cfm?label=Rainforest%20Alliance">Search by label</a> > Label information

External links


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