First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Thierry Touchais: COVID19 has been and still is an extraordinary time, in the most basic sense of the word. We have weathered the weeks and months. On the positive side, we have enjoyed discovering the silence of a world without cars or motorcycles, listening only to the noises of wind and nature; we also confirmed that it is possible to change some habits without losing quality of life. However, we have missed personal contacts with family and friends as well as having all cultural events cancelled. Nowadays, we are out of lockdown, but our behavior has not gone back to what it was before, nor will it ever. Some things have fundamentally changed.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Rainforest Alliance
Thierry Touchais: I have a dual degree in engineering and business administration and a diverse cultural background, as I was born in France, but grew up in Mexico and have also studied or worked in the US and other parts of Europe and Latin America. I have built strong professional experience in technology, sales and marketing, and general management within multinational corporations, technology start-up and NGO’s.
I joined the Rainforest Alliance early 2020, after 14 years of being active in foundations and think tanks dedicated to climate science, ecology, humanism, sustainable development and responsible capitalism. The red line of my career being international development, as well as caring for people and the common good, I found a close match between the Rainforest Alliance’s values and those of my own.
How does your Rainforest Alliance?
Thierry Touchais: The Rainforest Alliance is an international non-profit organization working in more than 70 countries. We use the power of the market to drive sustainable transformation at the intersection of business, agriculture and forests. We work towards making responsible business the new normal through our certification program, landscape and community work, tailored supply chain services and advocacy.
The extraordinary global events of 2020, coupled with the escalating climate crisis, highlight the urgent need to transform our relationship with our natural resources and tackle systemic social injustices head-on. The need to embrace sustainability has never been greater. As experts in sustainable agriculture with more than 30 years’ experience, we recognize that now is the time to begin to reimagine certification as we know it.
We recently published our 2020 Certification Program, which defines our long-term vision for the future, and the path required to get us there. The Sustainable Agriculture Standard, along with its assurance and technology systems, are designed to deliver more value to the two million farmers and thousands of businesses that use Rainforest Alliance certification to drive more sustainable agricultural production and responsible supply chains.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Thierry Touchais: Like most of the world’s most vulnerable workers, people from forest and farming communities do not have the financial resources or the government support to weather an even minor loss of income, let alone a prolonged one. At the same time, they play an essential role in forest conservation—which is a critical aspect of the global climate solution and future pandemic prevention.
The forest and farming communities we work with are facing a humanitarian crisis due to COVID 19’s disruptions to global markets. In addition to the local measures our field teams are taking to address challenges in their regions, we launched an emergency fundraising campaign in April 2020 to support our partner communities.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Thierry Touchais: Rainforest Alliance acts in a sector that did not stop, but rather had to strive and adapt through the pandemic: a sustainable food supply chain, from farmers to retailers and consumers. Some choices were made to deal with uncertainty about the future and duration of the situation, and to help our farmers and communities. One of the main lessons learned is that a strong alliance of partners caring and doing their part is a real asset for resilience.
We are still busy tackling the impacts of a pandemic, but this should not distract us from future shocks around the corner, such as climate change. Exposure of the vulnerability of people at the source of the supply chains, such as farmers and workers, underlines how important and valuable our work is.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Rainforest Alliance in the future ?
Thierry Touchais: People at the Rainforest Alliance have adapted very quickly to meet the challenges raised by the pandemic, both in the field as in office jobs. The organization had immediately implemented a COVID-19 crisis team at highest level and communicated on regular basis about guidelines and recommendations. If anything, the pandemic has reinforced our commitment, both as individuals and as an organization, to pursue our mission as an international non-profit organization working at the intersection of business, agriculture, and forests to make responsible business the new normal. Building an alliance to protect forests, improve the livelihoods of farmers and forest communities, promote their human rights, and help them mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis is also one way to mitigate the risks of future pandemics.
Personally, I could qualify myself as a person who is realistic and optimistic. When faced with a challenge, I always tackle it as an opportunity to use some degree of creativity mixed with past learnings and experience. Anxiety has little room in my life as I always have lived in accordance with the motto of one of my former presidents, photograph and film director Yann Arthus-Bertrand: acting makes you happy. Reaching out to Rainforest Alliance partners and future partners throughout the lockdown has kept me busy and happy because I could confirm that our mission is well recognized as it brings value to a large number of stakeholders.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Thierry Touchais: Rainforest Alliance does not consider being in competition. Many NGOs, foundations or associations are active throughout the world with similar goals of sustainable development and better livelihoods for farmers and communities. We may differ in our strategies to get there, but all of us have similar objectives and the challenge is huge; it is only by coalescing our energies that we will all succeed together.
Your final thoughts
Thierry Touchais: The lockdown quarter has triggered a reduction of the carbon emissions across the world. Its magnitude in a short period of three months is about equivalent to what it should be annually, year after year until 2050 if we want to meet the committed targets of the Paris Agreement on climate. All sectors must contribute: transportation, housing and heating, energy, food, etc. This demonstrated through extreme conditions that individual behavior as citizens and consumers is a powerful factor. Our challenge is now to learn from this forced experience and sort out the actions that will allow us to walk a sustainable track and not get back to the former “business as usual”, while caring for the social and economic wellbeing of people. Programs for sustainability such as Rainforest Alliance certification are a small but important contribution to corporate supply chains and consumer choices.
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