Earth Day was born on April 22, 1970, as the first-ever nationwide protest against the pollution of the environment. Amidst the scores of environmental advocates emerged backlash from an array of parties concerned about the human implications of focusing on the earth. Senator Jacob Javits warned “that the fight against environmental and physical pollution is so popular that it will [detract from] the longstanding and at least equally vital efforts to deal with poverty, alienation and other economic issues.” On the same day, 2,000 low-income residents boycotted another Earth Day rally in Philadelphia, arguing that “the nation’s newfound infatuation with the environment has distracted attention from the misery of the poor.”
Today, 43 years later, social responsibility is considered a fundamental tenet of Earth Day. Even more striking is the role of business in the environmental discussion. On April 22, 2013, both the social and business cases for environmental sustainability were powerfully demonstrated at the first-ever REDD+ Talks. The event was co-hosted by Code REDD and Wildlife Works – organizations leading the global fight against deforestation by taking the earth’s appeal to large corporations, policy makers, and local communities. These partners aspire to protect over 5 million hectares of highly threatened forests, yet their model revolves around people and financial incentive.
Specifically, Code REDD and Wildlife Works leverage corporate partnerships and the emerging marketplace for carbon offsets to create jobs and implement community development projects in regions threatened by deforestation. So far, projects in Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor protect over 500,000 acres of forest while bringing the benefits of direct carbon financing to more than 100,000 people in nearby communities. Before these projects, these communities relied heavily upon environmentally destructive enterprise like poaching and habitat-degrading agriculture. Now, these same poachers have secured more lucrative and fulfilling jobs as conservation rangers, horticulturalists, machinists, seamstresses, foresters, carpenters and mechanics.
Now, don’t fall prey to the assumption that these jobs are created by Wildlife Works. As Mike Kordinsky of Wildlife Works explains, projects are community driven: “If you provide a community with enough incentive, they’ll figure out how to best create value in place of cutting down trees.” Just ask Mama Mercy Ngaruiya, Women’s Group Leader of the Kasigau District, who flew from her village in Kenya to visit the U.S. for the first time to speak at REDD+ Talks: “It is not Wildlife Works who makes decisions in the community. It is the community who choose people to lead them and projects to focus on.” In the words of Chief Kizaka of Kasigau Corridor, “REDD+ brings a positive change to our region with real and direct solutions for poverty alleviation that will uplift our community. This is not charity. Carbon money helps us meet basic needs and improve our lifestyle. The money is earned through conservation activities that afford us the ability to protect our environment.”
So what do these projects look like? They range from programs involving education and agriculture intensification to profit generating social enterprises focused on sustainable charcoal production and ecotourism. Click here to watch videos featuring such examples.
However, the best known project is PUMA’s eco-factory, also based in Kenya’s Kasigau Corridor. So far, the factory has created dozens of jobs to make apparel from sustainably sourced materials which are sold through PUMA’s Creative Factory, a prominent storefront in their commitment to produce 30 percent sustainable apparel. This is just one manifestation of the REDD+/Wildlife Works mission to partner with large corporations to protect the environment while empowering local communities.
Rajendran Pachauri, Chairman of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), captured the core message of REDD+ Talks with a powerful call-to-action aimed at the private sector: “Business cannot succeed in an environment that fails.” As proved on this year’s Earth Day, the key to a successful environment starts with its people.