An Eco-Checklist To Take With You Every Time You Go Shopping
Welcome to the last day of Planet for All—a series that will empower you to change our world. This week, we’ve teamed up with sustainable thought leaders to unpack five of the biggest threats to our environment and pinpoint accessible, meaningful, and heart-driven action that we can all take to make a huge difference. Today, we’re talking deforestation with Laura Donnelly of the Rainforest Alliance.
As the global population continues to soar, there will be more mouths to feed, more backs to clothe, and more homes to build. And that means more land to clear.
"Forty-five million acres of forests are destroyed each year. How long can we keep doing that? We've already degraded 50 percent of the world's forests," Laura Donnelly of the Rainforest Alliance tells mindbodygreen. As part of the organization's market transformation team, Donnelly works with brands to source raw materials that were grown sustainably, without playing into harmful deforestation practices.
Chopping down old-growth forests that house established ecosystems threatens human populations just as much as animal ones. Beyond destroying habitat, chopping down trees degrades our soil and accounts for as much as 30 percent of our global greenhouse gas emissions each year. While it may seem unlikely that your actions can protect forests thousands of miles away, Donnelly has seen firsthand how everyday purchasing decisions contribute to a healthier planet.
"It's not time-consuming or expensive to help promote environmentally and socially responsible practices in areas that are far from where you live," she says. "But everyone needs to be aware of where their products are coming from and how they were made."
The deforestation crisis through Laura's eyes.
When thinking about drivers of deforestation, many people think of palm oil. This ubiquitous vegetable oil is found in nearly half of packaged products in the United States, and the high demand has caused the palm industry to expand rapidly—sometimes leaving clear-cut forests in its path. But while palm oil is a huge driver of deforestation, Donnelly warns it's not the only one.
"Sadly, deforestation is happening everywhere," she says, explaining how the Rainforest Alliance works to regulate everything from food crops like coffee, cocoa, and tea to household items like paper, beauty products, and clothes to ensure they were not made in a way that harms forests. These products are harvested around the world, and deforestation is responsible for the death of koalas in Australia, orangutans in Sumatra, and birds in the Amazon. According to NASA, if current rates of tropical deforestation continue, the world's rain forests as we know them will vanish within 100 years.
However, Donnelly sees glimmers of hope in this destructive market. Watchdog organizations like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil now monitor around 10 percent of palm farms to ensure they operate in a way that is respectful to workers and wildlife, and governments like that of Costa Rica are enforcing sweeping biodiversity laws to protect local ecosystems from being exploited for financial gain.
In the end, she thinks that it will take a wide array of policies, labels, and laws to protect our forests. "The solution needs to come from all angles. It needs to be a combination of corporate commitments, governmental commitments, local NGOs on the ground, and consumers demanding transparency and awareness," she says.
That last part is where you come in. Being an informed, conscious consumer can have far-reaching effects. Get started with Donnelly's simple forest-friendly shopping checklist:
- The next time you're thinking about buying a product, look for a certification from a third-party verification that is unbiased in evaluating claims and practices, like the Rainforest Alliance or RSPO seal.
- If you don't see one, go to the brand's website and read what their commitments are. Do they seem to know what is going on in their supply chain? Are they making public goals to improve their sourcing? "If a company isn't 100 percent sustainable right now, don't give up on them," she says. "But make sure they are publicly committing to getting there."
- If you don't see any sort of commitment to sustainable sourcing on their site, reach out to ask if you're missing something. "If you do it publicly, you'll probably get a faster response," Donnelly says, speaking from personal experience. Tweet at them asking if they have any initiatives in place, without being accusatory or pointing the finger. If it's a brand you've shopped with in the past, you can say that you enjoy the product but are wondering about its sustainable accolades.
While researching brands until you find one that meets a higher standard will take a few minutes, your diligence will pay off. Donnelly has seen socially minded, eco-friendly brands continue to attract more customers (she notes Patagonia as a great example) and therefore encourage competitors to follow suit. "Brands are seeing that there's a real business value to sustainability," she says. "Shop for sustainably produced products and make responsible choices. It shows with your dollar that this is important to you, and companies will listen. They absolutely will."
How you can live in a way that supports the world's ecosystems.
Constantly striving to make more responsible purchasing decisions is one part of the equation. Your eco-friendly actions are infinitely heightened when you get a little vocal about them. "I think that's the most powerful thing people can do is start the conversation with friends and family," Donnelly says, encouraging all of us to make our values—whether they relate to deforestation, ocean health, or anything else—heard. "Don't be afraid to be that person who sees a friend throw plastic in the garbage and tell them there's a recycling bin down the block or gift your family reusable coffee mugs and make them listen to you for a minute about why you chose them."
Today, talk to three other people about the environmental issues that matter to you and ask them to take a stand with you.
Armed with the information we've shared this week across five key areas, you're equipped with enough to start a movement in your life, your community, and your world. Let's get out there and forge change together.