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) 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, an global environmental organization.
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.
The Rainforest Alliance verifies carbon offset projects to standards that address greenhouse gas sequestration, biodiversity conservation and sustainable livelihoods The Rainforest Alliance verifies projects to the standards of the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Alliance , Chicago Climate Exchange and Plan Vivo
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 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 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 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.
1992 - 1993 • Adopt-A-Rainforest is launched to channel donations to grassroots conservation projects in Latin America. • First Rainforest Alliance agriculture certification goes to two banana farms in Costa Rica and Hawaii. • Forest Stewardship Council, an international sustainable forestry management accreditation body, is established.
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. • SmartWood certifies forestlands owned by indigenous peoples in Mexico and Wisconsin. • Work with Gibson USA results in the world’s first certified guitars.
1997 • All Chiquita-owned farms in Costa Rica become Rainforest Alliance Certified. Chiquita commits to certifying all its farms throughout Latin America. • Cocoa program is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo. • First Rainforest Alliance certification of citrus groves goes to Del Oro in Northwestern Costa Rica.
1998 • The Conservation Agriculture Network, later renamed the Sustainable Agriculture Network, is formed to develop guidelines for sustainable farming. • First shade-grown cocoa certification awarded to El Progreso cooperative in Ecuador.
1999 • SmartWood certifies its first non-timber forest products operation. • 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. • Rainforest Alliance receives the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) Gold Circle Award for excellence in nonprofit communications.
2000 • Daniel Katz steps down as executive director and becomes board chair. Tensie Whelan becomes executive director of the organization. • SmartWood certifies all of New York State’s multiple-use public forestlands. In Guatemala’s Maya Biosphere Reserve, five community forestry operations are certified. • Fifteen percent of bananas in trade are grown on Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. • SmartVoyager tourism certification is launched in partnership with Conservación y Desarrollo. • Eco-Index is launched.
2001 • SmartWood certifications expand to include municipal forests, state parks, maple syrup, pencils and snowboards. • 100 percent certification of Chiquita's company-owned farms earn certification. • Fern and flower certification program is launched in Colombia, Ecuador and Costa Rica. • Training Research Extension Education Systems (TREES) program is established to give small, community and indigenous forestry operations access to certification.
2002 • Twelve hundred companies and cooperatives have adopted Rainforest Alliance sustainable practices. • SmartWood expands certification to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. • First two banana farms in South-east Asia. • The first nine fern farms are certified in Costa Rica.
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. • Sustainable Tourism Certification Network of the Americas is established to accredit tourism certification programs. • Rainforest Alliance Learning Site is launched.
2004 • Total area of forests certified reaches 33 million acres (130,000 km²). • Total combined area of certified coffee farms roughly doubles over 2003 levels--from 46,000 to 93,000 acres (190 to 380 km²). • 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. • “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.
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. • Certified coffee production doubles over 2004 levels. • Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee wins first place in the World Barista Championship and the second “Cupping for Quality” event. • Chiquita sells 50 million bananas bearing the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal each week in nine European countries.
2006 • The area of Forest Stewardship Council/Rainforest Alliance Certified forestland reaches 100 million acres (400,000 km²). • Certified coffee volumes double again for the third year in a row. • First African coffee farms are certified in Ethiopia. • Launch of African cocoa program in Cote d'Ivoire. • Launch of www.eco-indextourism.org, a database of sustainable tourism businesses. • Launch of Migratory Species Pathway. • Pineapple certification criteria are established.
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. ,
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.
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.
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."
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