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 Google+.