When it comes to protecting the environment and conserving natural resources, it’s easy to feel like industry is the enemy. Big corporations are notorious polluters propagating the idea that it’s impossible to make money in a world where the environment is a priority. Still, it’s important to remember that not all companies operate with a profit-only bottom line.
In May 2012, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Switzerland launched a global challenge to discover and highlight those for-profit enterprises that have a positive impact on the conservation of tropical forest biodiversity. Today, the winners were announced, with an energy drink company and an agroforestry startup taking top honors.
The winner chosen for the Company category was Runa, an Ecuador-based organization creating US markets for guayusa, a rich tasting naturally caffeinated tea sustainably grown by indigenous farmers. Saddened by the fact that desperate farmers were being forced to adopt intense agricultural techniques just to make a living, Runa’s founders used their business savvy to pave a new path. By creating a market for guayusa, Runa helps farmers maintain shade grown crops while making a decent profit. Since its inception in 2009, Runa has generated over $100,000 of direct income to over 2,000 farming families – representing an impressive average farmer income increase of 30% – and has planted over 200,000 trees.
The second winner of the WWF Switzerland competition was a startup called Planting Empowerment. This company grows tropical hardwoods in partnership with rural communities in Panama. Planting Empowerment seeks to develop mixed native species agroforestry projects that provide alternative income streams to slash and burn agriculture. The company leases plots from small landholders to encourage long-term land tenure and stewardship of natural resources while providing hands-on forestry management skills and traditional classroom knowledge. To date Planting Empowerment has planted more than 27,500 trees and has ensured that farmers are earning 45% more than previous income levels.
Winners of the challenge receive an investment, cash or in-kind rewards.