Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Your choices can improve the world market

Most of us realize our society has to make some serious adjustments to avoid chewing up what’s left of our planetary biosystem for the sake of convenience and a better lifestyle at a lower price. We can’t make it an all-or-nothing battle, because then too many will feel that total change is too hard and instead choose nothing. Instead, each of us, whether an individual, family, government or company, needs to start moving in the right direction of lowering our ecological impact. But where to start, and how do we afford these changes?
One simple choice for consumers is to seek out organic and free trade food products, like coffee. Years ago I switched to fair trade organic coffee, and so far it hasn’t been too hard to find. Even if I can only find one on the shelf that is certified organic or fair trade, but not both, I generally figure that’s good enough, because both approaches have enough significant overlap that if you achieve one, you pretty much do the other.
Trust the three-legged tree frog.
But occasionally when shopping, the store is short of our usual brands. On one such occasion, I found a major brand product sporting a frog-shaped seal declaring that 30% of their product was Rainforest Alliance certified. I decided to give it a try, and to look up the certification to see if it was real or just a greenwash.
It turned out to be a real, independent organization, not something Nabob had cooked up to put on their own label. It’s an NGO with a number of programs aimed at protection and conservation of rainforests, including certification of tourism and forest-grown foods that meet standards of environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
Although some criticize Rainforest Alliance, since they don’t insist on 100% organic and don’t set a minimum price the way Fair Trade certifications do, or because they’ll allow their seal on a product that only contains 30% certified content, I believe there is a genuine role for this kind of program, particularly in helping large organizations gradually shift the market.
You see, although some call for places like Tim Horton’s or McDonalds to serve Fair Trade coffee, the problem is there simply isn’t enough supply in the world for them to do so. If they made such a commitment, they’d find that the world had run out of Fair Trade coffee just a few weeks into the year. What’s more, they would be buying up all the global fair trade supply to the effect that there would be none left on shelves for those of us who prefer to make our own cup of java. A direct jump from business-as-usual to fully sustainable simply isn’t possible.
However, a company like Tim's or the Arches can make a commitment to source a certain percentage of their supply from fair trade (or organic) sources, and then commit to increasing that amount over time, as supply increases in response to their demand. Any improvement beats doing nothing.
And in fact that is what has happened with Nabob’s Rainforest Alliance certified coffee, which now features 60% certified content, instead of the original 30%. As they near 100%, I hope it puts pressure on other brands to start including, and increasing, their own sustainable supply. Your choices at the grocery store can help this process.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Grocery store choices can help rainforest"

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a director of Living Green and the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation

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