Rainforest Alliance VP Tavares Emphasizes Importance of Ecological Conservation

“Please raise your hands if you like this planet as a place to be,” asked Ana Paula Tavares, Executive Vice President of the Rainforest Alliance, at the beginning of her talk on Wednesday in Kemper Auditorium. After a moment of surprised silence, nearly all the audience members raised their hands. “I thought so,” said Tavares.

This opening set the tone for Tavares’s presentation about the importance of sustainability and the work of the Rainforest Alliance. According to its mission statement, the Alliance “works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.”

It attempts to do so by working with businesses, nonprofit organizations, governments and farmers under an environmentally friendly umbrella, said Tavares.

Tavares added that pressure to switch to sustainable and ethical practices can come from exposure from environmental organizations, as well as from consumers.

Using the example of the cocoa industry, Tavares highlighted the difficulties of ensuring fair trade while being sustainable. African cocoa farmers only earn $1 each day on average and often lack access to education and healthcare.

Addressing issues of fair trade is part of the Rainforest Alliance’s mission, so Alliance-regulated farmers typically benefit from higher crop yields, greater incomes and increased access to healthcare and education, according to Tavares.

Providing an example of a collaboration between people and nature, Tavares also presented a case study that the Rainforest Alliance had conducted in Guatemala. In 1990, the Guatemalan government gave portions of the Maya Biosphere Reserve to indigenous groups where people could live, as long as they followed certain sustainability regulations, said Tavares.

The results of the study proved that the local nature had not been detrimentally affected by the legalized presence of humans by 2007; in fact, portions of the forest where human existence was outlawed experienced around 20 times more deforestation. The study went against the classical approach to forest conservation, where human use is banned in portions of land, and instead suggested a potential method where humans and nature live in congruity.

To demonstrate the benefits of working with the Rainforest Alliance beyond the ethical and ecological responsibilities, Tavares related the anecdote of Chiquita Bananas, a corporation with which the Rainforest Alliance partnered when the company was facing bankruptcy.

“European supermarkets were boycotting their bananas because of the environmental and social concerns they were having in Latin America,” she said in an interview with The Phillipian.

“We partnered with [Chiquita Bananas] for nine years; they invested $20 million in the program… in order to become [Alliance-certified]…. They say that they gained $250 million in business just during that period of time… specifically because they were working with us and changing their practices,” she continued.

In some industries, the solution offering the greatest short-term economic growth is sometimes unsustainable and unethical, according to Tavares. Addressing these situations can be difficult, as involvement with the Rainforest Alliance by the part of companies is voluntary.

“We just work with people who want to work with us…. But more often than not, [irresponsible companies] will get … in trouble, and then they come looking for us, and they say, ‘Can you help us do the right thing?’” said Tavares.

Tavares added that pressure to switch to sustainable and ethical practices can come from exposure from environmental organizations, as well as from consumers.

“I think [issues regarding sustainability] are critical, and, if not solved, we’re going to have a real tough time, and we have right now a window of opportunity that is becoming shorter and shorter. I think that we need brilliant minds, young, brilliant new minds to come up with new solutions to some of these global challenges,” she said in an interview with The Phillipian.