Rainforest Alliance promotes forest sustainability through direct mail

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The Rainforest Alliance, a nonprofit international conservation group, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year by certifying 100 million acres of forest in 58 countries through its SmartWood program.

The milestone, which represents nearly a 50 percent rise in the number of certified acres from 2005 to 2006, complies with the environmental and social standards set by the Forest Stewardship Council in Washington. Retailers such as Lowe's, Home Depot and IKEA as well as paper companies Domtar and Tembec use wood from FSC-certified forests. The alliance also uses only FSC certified paper in its mailings.

"This allows us to send the message that these products are out there and that they can do these positive things in the process," said Liza Murphy, senior manager of forestry marketing and business development for the Rainforest Alliance, New York. "The piece of mail is not a piece of junk mail, but rather something that is saving forests."

Increasing the number of FSC-certified acres means that a growing supply of wood products from responsibly managed forests is available to companies and consumers. Through its SmartWood program, the alliance has certified 3 percent of the world's forest area that is designated mainly for production, ranging from community forests to large commercial operations.

Part of the Rainforest Alliance mission is to mainstream the sustainability of produced goods. Premium offers for donators include samples of Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee or cocoa.

"Not only does the premium attract more donations, but it is also an easy opportunity to promote Rainforest Alliance Certified products to those that may not be familiar," said David Chrystal, membership coordinator at the Rainforest Alliance. "Additionally, people are interested in hearing about global corporations like Kraft, McDonalds and Chiquita making progress in corporate social responsibility."

The alliance plans to continue to build consumer interest in FSC-certified products to ensure that forest operations have economic incentives to manage their lands responsibly.

"We saw our membership rates climb to over 30,000 members," Ms. Murphy said.

About 25 percent of the alliance's funding comes from its own revenue generation, which it receives through certification services and engagement with other companies. The rest of the organization's funding is from corporate sponsorships.

"We just signed a deal with Scholastic for a paper procurement policy," Ms. Murphy said. "We feel strongly that when companies do make a commitment that they get the rewards that the marketplace can offer."

The alliance offers certification services worldwide via international offices and partnerships with groups like the Institute for Agricultural and Forestry Management and Certification in Brazil.

In collaboration with the institute in Brazil, the nonprofit certified 3.7 million acres of rainforest in the Central Amazon that is owned and managed by Kayapo indigenous people. The area is the world's largest FSC-certified tropical forest. The certification lets the Kayapo connect with new markets and sell the oils produced from the Brazil nuts they harvest as a certified sustainable product.

"We are able to collaborate with others to develop a system for the consumer to look at the wood and know when they buy it that they are not creating any harm in the forest, but they are actually creating good," Ms. Murphy said.

The alliance markets its programs through direct mail acquisition and outreach. It also sends weekly e-mail newsletters.

"We would love to see more people who are doing direct mail opportunities use the methods that we use," Ms. Murphy said. "It's important to make sure that the platform matches the message."

The nonprofit's direct mail program began to use exclusively FSC-certified paper and print on FSC-certified printers in the fall of 2005. To better inform members of what this meant, it created a special appeal package that explained the benefits of FSC certification. Perforated notes with information about the FSC and additional information requests were included for members to detach and send in with their next bill.

"We also asked our members to encourage the companies that send paper bills and statements - banks, utilities, phone and cable companies - to use paper and other products that are FSC-certified," Mr. Chrystal said. "The package saw a higher average gift and response rate then our typical appeal packages."

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