Building a More Sustainable Ecosystem with Rainforest Alliance’s Ana Paula Tavares

November 20, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have on the show with us today Ana Paula Tavares. She’s the Executive Vice President of The Rainforest Alliance. Welcome to Green is Good, Ana Paula. ANA PAULA TAVARES: Oh, thank you. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re so happy to have you on again. This is the second time, Ana. We were talking a little bit off the air. We’ve had The Rainforest Alliance on before years ago when we started the show. It’s such an important organization. You’re doing really, really relevant and critical work and I just want to say thank you for coming on today. Before we get into the important work of Rainforest Alliance, talk a little bit about your journey, Ana Paula. How did you end up at The Rainforest Alliance and how did you end up Vice President leading this great organization? ANA PAULA TAVARES: Thank you. Thanks for having us back. Actually, I moved to the U.S. from Brazil about 26 years ago at exactly the same time that Daniel Katz was founding the Rainforest Alliance along with some other people and I moved to New York to study dance and to study ballet, to study dance, and came to study with Martha Graham and was working there and dancing and performing and traveling and once I got what I was looking for out of that experience, which was wonderful, I was ready to join the environmental movement in some way and started focusing on that. How can I help that movement? And, I ended up working for the New York Botanical Garden as Director of Science Development there, worked there for a couple of years, met Daniel Katz, and joined The Rainforest Alliance and I have been there for 13 years, so it’s been a wonderful journey getting here and I am enjoying very much being part of this organization and help to green the world one day at a time. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, we’re lucky you’re there and we’re lucky to have The Rainforest Alliance and for our listeners out there who have never been exposed to it, I’m online right now while I’m speaking with you and I’m on your beautiful website. It’s www.rainforest-alliance.org. Ana Paula, what is The Rainforest Alliance, for our listeners who are just new to all of this? ANA PAULA TAVARES: The Rainforest Alliance is a nonprofit organization work to protect the environment and improve livelihoods of local communities working in over 80 countries and really working in this two pieces, the environmental and the people, the livelihoods, helping to build a more sustainable world. Really, we see ourselves as a sustainable development organization and really, working with companies, with producers, with government together come up with a standard for better practices that really promote responsible land use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior so looking, using. What’s unique about the organization is that we are utilizing the market to achieve our biodiversity protection and livelihood goals. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I love it, and for our listeners out there that don’t really understand the issue, why are forests so important to our planet? ANA PAULA TAVARES: Oh, my goodness. Do we have 12 hours? Just kidding. JOHN SHEGERIAN: For you, yes. ANA PAULA TAVARES: Just kidding. Well, I will name a few: Carbon storage — so we’re all listening about climate change and the issues associated with that and we are all living it now so trees store carbon and forests act as water filters so they have a very positive impact, of course, on water systems, quality of air, clean air, but there are a lot of resources that come out of forests such as food, oils, not only for cooking but for cosmetics and a number of other uses, wood, paper, furniture, construction, medicine. There are plant species in forests that we don’t even know yet and many that we don’t know what kind of properties they have that may help us come up with cures for a number of illnesses. Habitat for indigenous communities. Habitat for wildlife. It provides livelihoods for local communities, purity, spiritual place for all of us to enjoy so very important for the health and balance of this planet. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know Ana Paula, when I was 40 years old, I went on a retreat in your great country of Brazil in the rainforest and it literally changed my life. I thought it was one of the most amazing experiences and it changed my perspective on the environment and I’ll never forget it and I always think about it and when people have that kind of opportunity, whether it’s through internet or whether it’s in person, it just makes you never want to do anything wrong to degrade the environment and it makes you want to do everything right in terms of our behavior and we’re so glad The Rainforest Alliance is there to help us on the right track. Can you explain a little bit about what are some of your initiatives, just the highlights with regards to sustainable agriculture, forestry, tourism, and other important issues that you’re touching, both with regards to fair trade and also your transformative work with regards to big business and bridging the gap with big business and moving the sustainability needle? Can you explain how you bring everybody together and effectuate change? ANA PAULA TAVARES: The Rainforest Alliance, as I mentioned, our mission is to protect biodiversity and issues of sustainable livelihoods and we do it by transforming land use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior so when we look at land use practices in addition to forestry, agriculture is one of the human activities that uses most water and causes the most deforestation and as well can have a very positive or a very negative impact on the environment and the local people. It depends on how it’s done so The Rainforest Alliance is working in this three sectors: Our main programs are sustainable agriculture, sustainable forestry, and sustainable tourism and we also have the education program in the U.S. that’s important for us to let all teachers know that they can go to The Rainforest Alliance website and find a lot of resources for teaching kids all kinds of areas from science to literacy to math through the lens of nature so those materials is there and it’s part of our education program and we also have a climate program that runs across these other programs I just mentioned but we’re working within these sectors throughout the supply chain so starting working with producers promoting these standards that we have together with scientists, government, businesses, put together better standards for best practices within these sectors and then working, whether it’s with farmers, community based forest operations, big companies, tourism in small to large companies to help them adopt these practices and if appropriate, get certified and then those that get certified can sell their products, whether it’s wood for paper or furniture or coffee, bananas, tea, they can sell it as sustainable to a market that more and more requires knowing if that product was grown in a responsible way. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, that’s where I’m going to pause you because first of all, we have about five minutes left and I want to tell our listeners again if you’ve just joined us, we’re so honored to have Ana Paula Tavares on with us right now. She’s the Executive Vice President of The Rainforest Alliance. Learn more about their work at www.rainforest-alliance.org. Let’s pause. You just said something so critical. You framed the topic what’s going on in the world, what the problems are, what The Rainforest Alliance does and now you started talking about products that are made in a fair trade and sustainable way. Now, we’re going to talk about the all important green frog seal. What is the green frog seal and what does it mean and how can The Rainforest Alliance influence consumers to change their behavior to support green frog seal endorsed products? ANA PAULA TAVARES: Well, we can vote with our dollars. Anything that we’re purchasing will have an impact. Again, positive impact, negative impact on the people that are involved in the production of that product so it’s important that we, as consumers, as questions. Where does this come from? What is the impact that this is having on people across the world but also on the environment? We have a population that keeps growing. We have a need for food that keeps growing and our planet is not growing so how can we grow food? How can we house people? How can we do all of this and keep our water, which is a limited resource, there’s a limited amount of water in this planet, how can we keep it clean? How can we use it responsibly? How can we protect the soil and keep it healthy? How can we avoid putting harmful chemicals in forests and in the soil of forests and farms and so on? So, it’s really important and together, an NGO like The Rainforest Alliance with consumers, with businesses, we work with businesses and farmers and everybody in the supply chain. We can build a sustainable future where there will be food for everyone and we can enjoy our furniture made out of wood but that’s all these products come from responsible places and the frog is giving that assurance to consumers. The ability for consumers to differentiate that if this has The Rainforest Alliance frog, I can be sure that this product did not cause deforestation, does not come from irresponsible place that has irresponsible practices so this is really important. You have organic. You have fair trade, you have Rainforest Alliance so Rainforest Alliance is very comprehensive. It looks at integrative task management practices, respects local culture, no deforestation, biodiversity protection and a series of other principles related to environmental, social, and economic practices. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, on your website right now, just for our listeners to see this, because we want to make this really simple, are your beautiful Rainforest Alliance seals. The frog seal is right there so they can go look at the seals and when they’re out shopping and looking for products at great stores around the world, whether it’s Whole Foods or Walmart or wherever, and that seal is on there, that’s like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval with regards to sustainability and The Rainforest Alliance and they’re supporting then The Rainforest Alliance and the products that you’ve endorsed and that you’ve also checked out. Is that correct? ANA PAULA TAVARES: That’s beautiful. That is correct. That’s exactly what our message is, so really important to look for the frog, to follow the frog, and to make sure that your purchases are making the world better, not taking away from it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, that’s a perfect way to wrap it up today. We’re going to have you back, Ana Paula. We want our listeners to continue to support both The Rainforest Alliance and any products that have the green frog seal. Please go and look at Rainforest-Alliance.org to further support The Rainforest Alliance. Ana Paula Tavares, you are an important sustainability leader and truly living proof that green is good.