Rainforest Alliance VP on the limits to certification, Forest Stewardship Council and consumer awareness of deforestation

Dominique Gangneux is the sustainable markets vice president at the Rainforest Alliance, where he is working on forestry, food & agriculture and tourism.

I sent him a few questions recently. Here’s what he had to say.

Dominique Gangneux

What does Rainforest Alliance do today? What’s your elevator pitch? 

It is easy for people to assume that because of the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal all we do is certification, but we are about so much more than that.

We work to help all actors in the value chains we are focusing on – forestry, food & agriculture, and tourism – to embed sustainability practices in their business practices and personal lives.

That includes landowners, producers, farmers, foresters, tourism operators, workers, governments, traders, buyers, producers, brands, and retailers, and consumers.

Standard development and certification is just one tool in our toolbox but we also use education – via technical training, schools programmes and reaching out to consumers about what sustainable choices look like. If you like we are sustainability guides.

How can you scale up certification so it goes mainstream?

Standards and certification is an important tool and one that requires new innovation – something we are currently working on for example with the Sustainable Agriculture Network for our work in agriculture.

Some of the easy wins have already been made, so now it is about repurposing the tool to help us reach smallholders and those producers who are harder to reach to help them access the benefits certification brings – and that’s the key to mainstreaming.

Certification has to focus on meaningful outcomes on the ground; better productivity, growing more on the same amount of land or less, improved quality, better treatment of workers, better livelihoods, healthier environment etc.

And in doing so it helps at the other end of the value chain.  Consumers trust third party certification, and as the benefits the Rainforest Alliance is delivering at the field level become more apparent to them, the trust and value in the standards we work with and with our seals can grow.  Giving consumers a real choice to be part of something better.

Does it matter no one really recognises what sustainability logos mean?

Consumers are already closely connected to many of the brands they buy and use. Through our seal they also connect with the producers, so knowing what our seal stands for is important yes.

We shouldn’t under estimate the importance of 3rd party trusted seals to help consumers to make the right choices and show their support for achieving better outcomes for farmers, foresters and communities. And we shouldn’t underestimate how many consumers are actually making the choice to buy a more sustainable product everyday – actually more than ever across the regions of the world.

For example, according to the last Ethical Consumer Markets Report in 2013, consumer demand for ethical food and drink rose by 36 percent in the UK in 2012, and was worth £10.16 billion.

We also know that from 2012 to 2013, Rainforest Alliance Certified (RAC) coffee production grew globally by 20% (it’s now 5.2% of global production), RAC tea grew 28% (now 14% of global production) and RAC cocoa grew 41% (now 13% of global production).

All in all, today, up to 15% of the world’s cocoa and tea supply is now under sustainable management.

That’s close to being a tipping point, right? That is significant. But, there’s still 85% to go. So, we are no longer niche but we are nowhere near there yet.

Could we do a better job of explaining what lies behind that seal? Of course, that’s why we are running our Follow the Frog campaign and working with the Guardian to expand our outreach to consumers worldwide.

At the end of the day the seal is a shorthand for a better choice, so if that’s all a consumer takes away I can live with that.

Labels under pressure

What is your view on the current credibility challenge facing FSC?

The FSC has been one of the world’s most successful sustainability standards. But we need to remember that this is a system that is still relatively young – 20 years this year.

It is facing strains, and there is a need for change but it still represents the best option for delivering responsible forest management globally.

We had a team in Seville Spain few weeks ago for the seventh FSC General Assembly – a gathering of the membership every three years to determine the future direction for the standard and organisation behind it.

There were some clear signals sent by the membership with votes to focus on a global strategy, on working to bring small producers into the system by streamlining the process.

I think the FSC and certification in general is in a really critical juncture – watch this space, it is going to be very interesting.

What’s your outlook on sustainable forestry in general? Brazil is improving but SE Asia worsening. Are you optimistic or pessimistic and why? 

We are seeing some really interesting developments in forestry at present. The zero deforestation agenda has reignited debate around the role of forests in the world.

While we are seeing real gains we are also still struggling with the biggest pressures on forests, which are urban sprawl and agricultural expansion. In the case of agriculture expansion the Rainforest Alliance supports standards that build in protection of natural areas as well as the regeneration of ecosystems.

We are increasingly working on these issues in SE Asia, Africa, and Latin America in agriculture – including palm and cattle, and also through our forestry, tourism and climate programmes.

I think we are going to see some innovation in this area, a rethink of the role plantations can have and how they can play a positive role in the protection and enhancement of natural forest for example.

The challenge is far from over, but I think there are signals that are positive and I chose to focus on how we can build upon those.

More from Rainforest Alliance at: / @RnfrstAll_UK

Richard Donovan, VP for forestry at Rainforest Alliance, will be speaking on a number of sessions at Innovation Forum’s “How business can tackle deforestation – Collaborate effectively with suppliers and NGOs, understand policy and enforcement trends” on 28th-29th October, 2014, London. (That’s next week people)

For the full agenda take a look here. Here’s the full conference website.

There are still a few places left. If any blog readers would like to come, email me as soon as you can. 

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