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Rainforest Alliance Turns 25, Pt. 1

The Rainforest Alliance is an environmental group that believes "that the best way to keep forests standing is by ensuring that it is profitable for businesses and communities to do so," and they're celebrating their 25th anniversary this year. They are now active in over 60 countries.

Vice President Richard Donovan has been at Rainforest Alliance since 1992, overseeing their forestry program. He has spent more than 30 years putting boots on the ground through tropical forests around the world, working with local communities, certification programs, and the Peace Corps. He was kind enough to give me some time to discuss RA's past and future both.

Q: I understand it is RA's 25th anniversary this year. Congratulations! Can you tell me about your history?

A: Rainforest Alliance was created 25 years ago in order to create solutions to deforestation. From the very beginning we acknowledged that environmental, social, business and community dynamics must be understood in order to create solutions. Forestry certification was our first tool-our SmartWood Program started certifying forests globally in 1990, three years prior to establishment of the FSC-which we helped to create.

Q: What would be one of your greatest successes?

A: We pioneered forest certification as a global tool for positive change. We are now focusing on creating credible, rigorous systems and standards for due diligence (1st, 2nd or 3rd party) on forest legality and think that over the next year we can work with others to foster success in this arena-something that will require public and private action. There is no magic solution-it will take continued long-term effort, and we need to leverage private and public sector action/support. Ultimately we think the good performers, the leaders, are what will set the standard and Rainforest Alliance is focused first and foremost on working with such leaders. We keep looking for innovators to work with… to create solutions that none of us have thought of before. Or to take existing solutions to a level not seen before. It is all about innovation and leadership.

Q: What would you like to change--not necessarily a failure, but is there anything you would have done differently?

A: We should have started working on the consumer end of things sooner. We are starting to do this now. Consumer education is critical, but it is not "the answer"-there is no single answer. Companies and other leaders can be ahead of consumers-examples abound-so we don't need to wait for consumers, but we need to bring them along.

Next week Richard will answer, "What can you do for the flooring industry?"

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