On the heels of the freshly signed Paris climate deal, the global nonprofit organization dedicated to conservation of tropical forests held its own annual leadership summit in New York City on Wednesday, stressing the importance of working with small producers and community forests to now implement the Sustainable Development Goals set forth by the international agreement.
“Our civilization is at risk from climate change right now,” said Nigel Sizer, Rainforest Alliance’s newly appointed president during his introductory speech at the summit. “Restoration of forests is absolutely a key part of addressing climate change because emissions are not going to be zeroed out. Sustainable land use is an opportunity to reabsorb carbon from the atmosphere the economic way.”
Founded in 1987, the Rainforest Alliance is the largest stewardship council and sustainable agriculture network–certified body worldwide. This year’s summit, sponsored by Credit Suisse, focused on how reaching the ambitious goals set forth in the Paris Agreement (All Hands on Deck), signed by more than 30 countries, will greatly depend on management of the land sector, including agriculture and forestry (Small Hands on Deck, as Rainforest Alliance coined it), which emits 25 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases.
The summit’s goal was simple—get more organizations involved to work together and bring sustainability from a medium scale to a much larger scale of awareness.
The New York City-based institution held panels and interviews throughout the day with leaders in government, non-government organizations and the private sector who have implemented sustainability measures into their businesses and institutions to increase their ROIs as well as protect the environment.
“It’s about smart business—it’s an incredible opportunity to save money and conserve for better sustainability,” said Nate Shepley Streed, sustainability manager for Kroger’s Corporate Brands & Manufacturing, one of the three business panelists during a discussion titled Sustainability in the Supply Chain. The supermarket giant drives customers to its brand through sustainable sourcing initiatives in the supply chain as well as developing unique health and wellness offerings. The chain was honored with Rainforest Alliance’s Supply Chain Partnership Award later that evening during the nonprofit’s spring gala, at which time excellence in sustainability and climate goals were recognized.
The day summit also included a personal story of perseverance by a Peruvian community leader who fought against deforestation in her region to provide a better life for her children and grandchildren; the honoring of Norway, the leading country in its extraordinary efforts to protect forests and mitigate climate change (this was the first time that Rainforest Alliance honored a nation); and lastly, a keynote address by David Blood of Generation Investment Management, founded in partnership with U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who spoke about sustainable capitalism.
The 30-year-old nonprofit organization vowed to continue staying focused on its core strategy: stronger partnerships/alliances amongst organizations, applying more technology for farmers, making sure that farmer rights and forests are protected, and pushing for greater accountability by companies that have not yet committed to the cause.
“Climate change is an utterly defining issue for human civilization; if we don’t deal with this we won’t be here,” Sizer concluded. “The ultimate question—can we grow the economy or protect the environment is a myth and we need to put it to bed. Productivity and quality translates into income.”
A crucial point made at the conference was that private capital can and must play a role in filling the sustainability goal by bringing financial resources to farmers.
More than 50 organizations participated in the summit, including Bloomberg, Clearwater Paper Corp., Estee Lauder, Mitsubishi Corp. Foundation of the Americas, Scholastic, Inc., Staples, and Unilever, to name a few.
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