Following our blog posts on carbon neutral certifications like Climate Neutral and CarbonNeutral, this article will focus on one of the certifications that approach sustainability from a different angle – the Rainforest Alliance certification.
The Rainforest Alliance certification is one of the oldest and most recognised sustainability certifications globally. With the mission of driving more sustainable agricultural production & supply chains they work with thousands of companies & farms towards better practices.
This article will examine the details on how to receive the certification and what it takes to receive it so you can decide if it’s a good fit for you and your business.
Before we dive into the details let’s look at the history of Rainforest Alliance. It’ll be important to know that we can trust the quality of the certification and, if you’re going to invest time and money, that it will be around and valuable for decades to come.
About the Rainforest Alliance Certification
Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1986 when it became increasingly apparent that business practices were contributing to the major decline of the Amazon rainforest.
In 1992 they started certifying farms and today, 29 years later, nearly two million farmers and thousands of businesses use the Rainforest Alliance certification to create a more sustainable world by using social and market forces to protect nature and improve the lives of farmers and forest communities.
The Rainforest Alliance standards focus on the following themes:
- Forest: Protecting existing forests, preventing expansion of cropland into forests, fostering health of trees, soils and waterways, protecting native forests
- Climate: Promoting responsible land management methods that increase carbon storage and avoid deforestation; building resilience to draughts, flooding and erosion
- Human Rights: Addressing and avoiding child labor, forced labor, poor working conditions, low wages, gender inequality and the violation of indigenous land rights
- Livelihoods: Improving sustainable livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers and forest communities
The seal’s signature frog has a special meaning – in nature it functions as a biomarker and its population as an indicator of the health of an ecosystem. That fits Rainforest Alliance’s mission to restore the natural health of an ecosystem through their promoted practices.
If a product has the RA seal it means that its ingredients were produced using methods supporting the three pillars of sustainability: social, economic and environmental.
Farmers that wish to certify their produce get evaluated by independent, third-party auditors. They need to meet the requirements in all 3 areas – only then will they become available as suppliers to the thousands of companies looking to source RA certified ingredients.
All products that seek certification (except for palm oil and herbal teas) must contain at least 90% of the certified ingredient to be eligible.
Let’s take a look at a real-life example – Below you can see the information of a Clif Bar product, containing the RA label for certified cocoa. For having received that label at least 90% of the cocoa used in Clif Bar’s production process must be Rainforest Alliance certified.
In 2020 Rainforest Alliance launched the new Rainforest Alliance 2020 Certification Program that comes with improved farming requirements and increased supply chain transparency efforts. Farming methods are now emphasising climate-smart agriculture, biodiversity conservation and living wages instead of minimum wages.
How the Rainforest Alliance Certification Process Works in Detail
The following certification process is specific to brands that look to have their products and respective supply chains certified.
If you operate your own farms and would like to certify your fresh produce, please find further details on requirements and the certification process here.
For brands looking to certify their products, let’s say a natural cacao bar, you “simply” have to change your sourced ingredients to Rainforest Alliance certified ingredients. You can find a list of certified farmers here.
Once you have adjusted your sourcing the formal process to receive the Rainforest Alliance badge includes 5 steps:
- Register in Rainforest Alliance’s platform, MultiTrace.
- Once your account registration has been confirmed, you will be able to build your company profile.
- The profile completion process includes a series of questions about your operations which is known as the Supply Chain Risk Assessment (SCRA). The SCRA evaluates the potential risks of your company’s operations on an individual site level in order to determine the type and frequency of verification required. Your company’s profile is based on the activities, location and crop information captured through this process in combination with other internal and third-party data (volumes, compliance, social risks, and others). Rainforest Alliance will then calculate which one of the five verification levels your company fits into.
- Once you have completed your MultiTrace registration, you will be able to view the set of requirements specific to your context. Rainforest Alliance’s Supply Chain team will review your SCRA to inform you about your verification level and next steps. You will be able to see your results and next steps in your MultiTrace profile.
- The certification body that you select for the audit process will provide a schedule and budget for your audit. The frequency of audits will depend on your risk category.
- After your first audit the certification body will share the audit results with you. If the results are positive, your company will receive approval for a Supply Chain certificate and the license to access Rainforest Alliance’s traceability platform. The license allows a company to trade certified product in their online traceability platform.
Better World Products’ Certification Framework applied to the Rainforest Alliance Certification
As we’ve talked about before, it’s so important to put effort into selecting the right sustainability certification. With the Rainforest Alliance certification your main challenge will be to change your suppliers which can be a costly and lengthy process that will directly influence your products’ quality.
Have a look at the Better World Products certification framework to help you see if RA’s certification is the right one for you.
Fees & Involvement
There are 5 costs for companies (application depends on individual case):
- Supply Chain Risk Assessment (SCRA) fee of US$100 per site once per certification cycle
- If an audit is required: supply chain audit fees (vary significantly depending on locations, size, complexity)
- Sustainability Differential (SD), which is the premium price paid to farmers by their buyers to reward them for implementing more sustainable farming practices and achieving certification. This amount is on top of the market price of the commodity in question and irrespective of any other (quality) premiums and differentials.
- Sustainability Investment, which is an investment that buyers of Rainforest Alliance certified agricultural products make to help farmers meet the Rainforest Alliance certification requirements.
- Volume-based royalty to the Rainforest Alliance, once in each supply chain, based on the volume of certified goods purchased. The Rainforest Alliance License Agreement General Terms & Conditions outline the total amount of the royalty per certified product, how it is collected, and at which point in the supply chain it is invoiced. Royalties are applicable whenever companies claim that a crop is from a Rainforest Alliance Certified farm or sell it “as certified”. This happens whether the claim is on a product, on packaging, in a contract or invoice, or on promotional materials on or offline, regardless of whether the seal or other marks are used. Here is an example of how royalties vary by product type:
For example, if you were looking to sell a Rainforest Alliance certified coffee product, these are the cost that would apply:
- $100 SCRA fee once per cycle (every 3 years)
- + Sustainability Differential & Sustainability Investment (specific for produce region)
- + Volume based royalty = $0.015/pd green (unroasted) coffee
- (+ Supply chain audit fees if audit is necessary)
The estimated time for the Supply Chain Risk Assessment (when Rainforest Alliance is reviewing your completed MultiTrace registration) is 3 weeks.
The Supply Chain certification follows a cycle of three years. Depending on your assessed risk category yearly audits may or may not apply.
Certification Popularity & Trend
Rainforest Alliance is one of the most recognised sustainability certifications worldwide. They work with 5000+ farmers and count 2.3 million certified farmers with sustainability projects in 70 countries. Popular brands using the seal include Hershey’s, Nescafe, Bulletproof, McDonalds, Clif Bar, CostCo and many more.
Here is an overview of Rainforest Alliance’s impact:
Because of their significant presence in all countries the RA certification is suited for all main markets. This is reflected by the number of recognised RA certified products on different Amazon marketplaces:
Amazon US = 620
Amazon UK = 527
Amazon DE = 419
There are three categories eligible for the RA certification:
- Agricultural products
- Forestry products
- Tourism businesses
For brands selling on Amazon, the certification of your products in categories 1 and 2 are relevant. The product certification means that its sourced ingredients come from a RA certified farm. You can decide how many products you want to have certified as there is no requirement for the entire portfolio to be certified.
The Rainforest Alliance certification focuses on improving farming practices especially in developing countries for higher quality crops, increased productivity, more sustainable income and better alignment with nature.
Because of the nature of their farming practices and associated risks most certified farms grow one of these products:
- Herbs & Spices
If your products fit into one or several of the above categories or use them as main ingredients, the Rainforest Alliance certification is especially suited for you. Besides providing a steady and secured supply of certified produce the certification can also help your brand meet consumer expectations and create additional trust.
Getting the Rainforest Alliance certification supports their work which provides these direct and indirect benefits to your brand:
- Providing systems to trace and verify certified products throughout the supply chain.
- Developing certification policies and standards, managing a certification database and a quality control system for certification bodies, managing complaints and appeals.
- Offering field training and technical support to farmers.
- Engaging in advocacy activities to encourage sustainable government policies and programs.
- Promoting the Rainforest Alliance certification seal in the marketplace, measuring its impact, and creating communication tools to raise public awareness and support companies in their marketing efforts.
Target Audience Fit
Because of Rainforest Alliance’s global popularity, the certification is suited for all locations and all demographics. Even less environmentally conscious people may have heard of the certification.
The only audience that might not respond well to the certification are highly environmentally conscious people. Because of the criticism connected to Rainforest Alliance and their efforts that specific audience might perceive the certification more as ‘greenwashing’ than anything else.
The Rainforest Alliance was founded in 1986. They certified their first farms in 1992 which brings the certification age to 29 years. It makes it one of the oldest sustainability certifications.
Fit to Current State of Product
If your current product does not source RA certified ingredients, the necessary changes might be quite high since you have to undergo the process of changing your suppliers which might lead to changes in quality, reliability, prices, etc. If a farm loses its certification for some reason that also means you have to change suppliers yet again.
The Rainforest Alliance certification as one of the oldest sustainability certifications is a great option for your brand. It shows you care about fair and sustainable farming practices especially if your products contain ingredients from certain categories.
Prepare yourself to pay price premiums for RA certified produce. It might influence your products’ price points and/or your margins.
In this article we have explored
- What is the Rainforest Alliance certification, who is behind it and what are the details?
- How does the certification process work in detail and what is the main thing I have to change?
- What does the Better World Product certification framework applied to the Rainforest Alliance certification look like?
Hopefully this article brings you one step closer to choosing the right sustainability certification. If you have further questions about the Rainforest Alliance certification, you can contact their team HERE.
Are wondering if you make the most out of your Amazon sales? Feel free to reach out to us HERE.