Rainforest Alliance and UTZ to ‘redefine sustainability standards’ with merger

EXCLUSIVE: Businesses look set to benefit from a streamlined certification process within agriculture supply chains, after the Rainforest Alliance announced an intention "redefine the certification landscape" by merging with fellow sustainability certifiers UTZ.

The merger will bring the two companies together under the Rainforest Alliance brand to retain well-established recognition amongst consumers. For businesses, the merger will avoid a double administrative load by combining the Rainforest Alliance’s history of tackling deforestation with UTZ’s work with agricultural farmers.

Specifically, the new Rainforest Alliance provides a blanket conservation of entire landscapes, covering rainforests, pastural land, farms and carbon sinks, in priority regions such as India, Indonesia, Guatemala and Ghana.

As part of the merger, UTZ’s executive director Han de Groot will act as the new chief executive of the Rainforest Alliance. The current Alliance president, Nigel Sizer, will take on the role of chief programme officer for advocacy, landscapes and livelihoods.

Speaking exclusively to edie, de Groot noted that alongside better management in relation to child labour and human rights, the new merger would finally provide cost and efficiency benefits for farmers and businesses.

“Certification teams have more in common than we’d like to admit so that calls for more cooperation,” de Groot said. “Our merger is an important step towards redefining the certification landscape in the right direction.

“Our new standard will combine the best of both the organisations and will incorporate the best of what we currently know and will help farmers be certified more efficiently. Many farms at the moment are either double certified or even triple certified to other standards, and this doesn’t do a good service to them or bring many additional benefits. The new standard will give them better guidance and one system to comply with; it saves them a lot of costs and efforts.”

The future alliance will simplify the certification process for farmers, helping them meet growing demands for more sustainably-sourced products. The Rainforest Alliance will maintain its membership in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN), a coalition of non-profits aimed at promoting sustainability in agriculture through certification and standards.

A single certification programme will be created that draws on the experience of SAN, while a single auditing process will be introduced for certificate holders. One of the main aims of the merger is to create an “easier path” for companies to achieve certification across their supply chains.

Currently, 182,000 cocoa, coffee and tea farmers are certified under both standards, and the introduction of a single standard will allow farmers and businesses to invest in sustainable practices without having to cater to numerous overlapping systems.

Certain solutions

A key area that needs to be acted on by businesses is deforestation, which is responsible for approximately 15% of total greenhouse gas emissions globally. This merger aims to combine deforestation action with that of sustainable farming.

Farming is responsible for around two-thirds of global water consumption, while one-third of arable land is used for crops and livestock. The agriculture sector is also having an impact on climate change, with around one-seventh of all emissions linked to meat production alone.

In 2015, the Rainforest Alliance released a report which praised a surge in deforestation-free pledges, but warned that company ambitions needed definition, focus and accountability to turn the objective into reality.

de Groot claimed that the merger would enable businesses to back these pledges in a way that introduced a “quicker solution” to issues surrounding deforestation and sustainable farming.

“We must help sectors at large to move towards good commitments,” de Groot added. “But we must work together towards the same goals. We need to be efficient and smart in using in our resources and collaboration can help all companies move in the right direction.

“To be able to overcome our organisational barriers, seeking collaboration is key, and it gives us a more efficient solution at a quicker rate to bring more value to farmers.”

Fortunately, businesses are realising the potential of collaboration. Companies such as Mars, L’Oreal and Tetra Pak have all collaborated with the Rainforest Alliance in the past on a cross-sector initiative to help tackle deforestation and develop better climate change accounting methods.

Last month, fast-food giant McDonald’s, global cosmetics firm L’Oréal and healthcare specialists Johnson & Johnson were among the first eight major companies to agree to disclose key supplier information to CDP newly-expanded supply chain platform to manage deforestation risks.

Matt Mace

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