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What Does “Rainforest Alliance Certified” Mean?

5/21/2009 9:10:32 AM

Tags: Rainforest Alliance, Naked Juice, sustainable agriculture, Megan Hirt

Naked Juice 

One of my favorite beverage brands, Naked Juice — so named because of its bare, no-sugary-frills-added fruit ingredients — recently announced that all of its drinks containing bananas will now sport a label that says “Rainforest Alliance Certified.”

The certification sounds like a good thing, but as with many product claims in this era of green washing, it can be difficult to tell whether a label represents a worthwhile cause, or even represents anything at all.

So, what does “Rainforest Alliance Certified” mean?

A Rainforest Alliance Certified farm is one that complies with 10 standards set in place by the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). These standards include ecosystem conservation, wildlife protection, and fair treatment and good working conditions for workers.

Abby Ray, Rainforest Alliance communications associate, says farms are evaluated by SAN-authorized auditors and must score at least 50 percent in each of the 10 standards and 80 percent overall in order to receive the certification. “This prohibits a farm that, for example, has beautiful forest cover but poor worker housing from passing,” Ray says.

Most farms need at least two years to achieve certification, and certified farms are re-evaluated every year by local auditors who give extra attention to any areas of the criteria in which the farms may have previously fallen short.

Since the beginning of 2008, the Rainforest Alliance Certified seal — a green frog nestled in a circle (shown near the bottom of the bottle at right in the photo) — has been popping up on coffee, tea, cocoa and fruit products all over the world. In the United States, brands such as Lipton Tea and Newman’s Own Organics contain products from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. (See the Rainforest Alliance Marketplace for a full list of certified products.)

A criticism that has arisen regarding the Rainforest Alliance certification is that brands are allowed to use the green frog seal on a product if even just 30 percent of the product comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. Ray says, however, that 30 percent certified content from a multinational brand still has a significant impact.

“What matters to the Rainforest Alliance is the impact on the land and workers, so a company buying 30 percent of 100 tons has more of an impact than one buying 100 percent of 10 tons,” Ray says.

As for what the certification designates for Naked Juice: The delectable drink brand now buys every banana that goes into its beverages (80 percent of Naked Juice products contain bananas) from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, making it the first U.S.-based beverage to contain sustainably produced bananas.

Megan Hirt is an Associate Editor for MOTHER EARTH NEWS. Find her on .

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3/9/2014 10:43:46 PM
Don’t be fooled by RA certifications. The most important greenwashing is the use of the term “sustainable”. RA-certified bananas are not produced organically (something other producers are able to do) and are grown in monocultural plantations (many other, smaller-scale producers grow bananas under a canopy of shade, along with other trees and don’t clear the ground cover). I have been through an RA-certified operation and compared with shade-grown organic cooperatives, the RA plantation was a nightmare of destruction. To call it “sustainable” is a travesty and a use of the word that is an outright subterfuge. A few years back, Rainforest Relief worked to get some banana products into the US from operations that were about as close to sustainable as one can get and still produce a large amount of product — but with no funding, we could do only a very little. But RA took a different approach, going over to certifying Chiquita. The compromise they had to make was… well, astonishing. Relatively speaking (compared to, say, the difference between conventional, monocultural production and the shade-grown organic cooperatives with whom we worked), the difference between an RA-certified plantation (what they first called “Eco O.K.” and later, “Better Banana” (after protests of the “Eco O.K.” label) are almost not significant. Since the banana certifications, RA has taken this tack with all their other certifications. They only slightly tweak the conventional production, in my opinion, when so much more can (and should) be done to truly spare rainforests and the people who live in and near them. Yet they make more than 50% of the organization’s budget from certifying products in this way. There’s hardly a more-perfect model of greenwashing, in my opinion. It’s too bad, because when they first started their certifications (with logging), they were pretty strict. But they went over to a darker side for the funds.

6/8/2009 11:57:07 AM
A product containing only 30% of a "Rainforest Alliance Certification" ingredient will be able to display the little green froggy!! This might be a little confusing to a consumer buying the product, but I think we have to begin somewhere. My only concern is about the remaining 70% of the ingredients. Can they contain GMO products? How about any rulings on insecticides? I would like the label to clearly state exactly what the certification quarantees. Good work, as always.

Brent Loken
5/21/2009 11:48:57 AM
Good for Naked Juice for taking this step. We need to educate as many people about products like this to support their bold efforts. Brent Loken Co-Founder Ethical Expeditions -

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