This year we joined forces with the Rainforest Alliance to help them in their quest to protect the planet’s forests, which are rapidly disappearing as a result of mass farming. Losing these green spaces means endangering hundreds of species, including gorillas, who depend on them. Also at risk are the 1.6 billion people worldwide whose livelihoods depend on them.
As Director of Marketing for the Rainforest Alliance, Susan Heaney spends her days educating the public about the importance of preservation with an impassioned, earnest approach. We chatted with Heaney about the dangers of deforestation and everyday chances to make a difference—we’re sure you’ll find her words as inspiring as we do.
Q: The Rainforest Alliance's scope of work is so huge--how did the organization come to fruition?
A: The Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1987 in response to the devastating impact of banana plantations on Costa Rica – the environmental and social (human) impacts were extensive. Our founder, Dan Katz, knew there had to be a better, more sustainable way to develop agriculture without deforestation, environmental degradation, and harmful impacts on people and communities. From this beginning 30 years ago, the Rainforest Alliance work has expanded to encompass more than 100 crops as well as sustainable forestry and tourism in 78 countries, and thousands of consumer products carry the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal. We have a pragmatic approach that values planet and people – landscapes and livelihoods -- framed by the three pillars of our mission: to transform land use practices, business practices and consumer behavior. Some of the highlights of our impact are found on our website “dashboard”.
Q: Our focus for Fall 2017 was Save The Forests—we understand there's a grave disappearance of woodlands around the globe, and that it impacts all of us. What do people need to know about deforestation?
A: Forests are key to the survival of our planet and all living things. Wherever you live, you depend upon forests for clean air, safe water, and climate stability, and some 80 percent of the world’s terrestrial biodiversity – plants, animals, birds, reptiles – reside in forests. We have already destroyed or degraded 50 percent of the world's forests, and those that remain are threatened -- more than 45 million acres of forest destroyed each year, with agriculture one of the key drivers of deforestation. The world is headed to a population of 10 billion by 2050, and it will take careful management of resources and a commitment to sustainable agriculture and forestry to feed, house and clothe this explosive growth without destroying the forests on which we all depend. The Rainforest Alliance is committed to being part of the solution to these challenges.
Q: Sometimes it's hard to feel connected to problems not immediately in your life, even if you know they're affecting you. If you live in a city, are you affected by deforestation? Is there something urban dwellers can do to help that will be impactful?
A: We live on one planet, and all creatures are interconnected. Wherever you live, tropical forests are providing clean air, water, and an endless array of raw materials and products on which you depend. Forests also help mitigate climate change, which affects us all. If you live in Puerto Rico, Texas, Florida, California, New York or even Ireland, or if you know people in these areas, you have felt the impacts of recent unusual and devastating weather events caused or strengthened by climate change.
Wherever you live, be a conscious consumer and model good behavior to your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues. Reduce waste wherever possible (40% of food in the US is wasted); reuse and recycle everything you can (from aluminum foil to apparel to electronics). Also, of course, we invite people to shop for Rainforest Alliance Certified products when making brand choices in the areas in which we work.
When planning your travel, think “green”—look into “eco friendly” travel destinations, such as Rainforest Alliance Certified resorts. Commit to being more environmentally friendly in your home, office, school and community (I am a New York City Parks Department volunteer, as an example). Vote for candidates who support smart environmental policies on local, state and national levels. There are many other ideas on the “What You Can Do” section of our website, including materials for children and teachers.
Q: What is the most meaningful part of this work for you?
A: The Rainforest Alliance combines passion and pragmatism in tackling very serious issues, which is an extremely effective approach. We are focused on driving environmental and social impacts so that planet and people to prosper together, which is the best way to generate long term impact. We also believe in the power of every day actions – by everyone from citizens to nations -- and we know we are better together, working in partnership with farmers, foresters, governments, manufacturers, retailers, other NGOs and much more. We are both idealistic and realistic.
Q: Tell us about Rainforest Alliance Certified products and what they stand for.
A: The Rainforest Alliance has worked with thousands of companies to develop sustainable “supply chains” for their agricultural and forest-based materials and products – from foods to furniture to fashion – to ensure that the products and commodities are sourced sustainably, with positive impacts on the environment, farmers, foresters, communities and wildlife. Look for the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ “green frog” seal and, for wood and wood-based products, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) seal (the Rainforest Alliance is one of the founders of FSC). Check out the online Find Certified Products section of our website to learn more.
Q: As animal lovers, the loss of habitat connection to deforestation is particularly close to our hearts. Gorillas are in danger, and they're the symbol of our Save The Forest palette, but they're not the only ones—where else is the loss of forest particularly grave for animals?
A: We are losing thousands of species of animals and plants every year, with 50 percent of all species in danger of extinction by 2050 – a global crisis scientists have dubbed “the sixth mass extinction.” Forests are home to 80 percent of all terrestrial (land based) creatures, and these varied living things – the world’s “biodiversity” -- are interdependent. The loss of one species, or even a significant decrease in the population, has significant impact on other species, and these impacts cascade across time and distance. Areas of concern are worldwide, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, the Congo Basin and, of course, the Amazon region, among many others.
Q: Is there just one thing everyone who reads this can do every day to try to contribute to saving the forests?
A: There is a saying: if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem. Every day actions add up – nothing is too small to make a positive impact or to cause harm.
In addition to trying to save forests, everyone can make the world greener. Wherever you live, plant a pollinator-friendly garden (or even window boxes), and plant a tree – or several trees – in your yard, neighborhood, park, schoolyard or other location (work with your local nursery to select appropriate species). Encourage your neighbors and community to do the same. Also, sign up for the Rainforest Alliance 30-Day Sustainability Challenge to receive a series of 10 emails over 30 days, each with 3 simple tips and ideas to live a more sustainable life. 30 tips in 30 days to mark the Rainforest Alliance 30th anniversary in 2017!