Having spent my entire career working with a business whose suppliers are based in the tropics, I am only too familiar with the problems facing indigenous peoples and have long been involved in working with them to find solutions to the destruction of their environment.
Bettys and Taylors of Harrogate has been an exponent of trading fairly and ethical sourcing for over 20 years. During that time, the company has planted three million trees on four continents, as well as donating more than £1m to Oxfam. However, we realised that the speed at which we were able to plant trees could not keep up with the rate of destruction and, therefore, decided to focus on protecting the rainforests. We also saw that we would not be able to have enough impact on our own – we needed to create a community of businesses committed to playing an active role in saving the rainforests.
As a Yorkshire company, we were fortunate to have one of the world’s leading academic centres for the study of the social and economic dimensions of sustainablility on our doorstep at the School of Earth and Environment at the University of Leeds . Headed by Nobel Peace prize winner Professor Piers Forster, the team of academics led by Dr Dominick Spracklen, have been able to verify projects from all over the world to create a bank of ‘off the shelf’ projects. This bank now comprises 70 projects, run by 30 NGOs in 36 countries – the largest collection of certified rainforest projects in the world.
For most businesses, the subject of rainforest preservation and grass roots projects involving NGOs and indigenous peoples, is completely alien and outside their comfort zone. By creating this unique bank, we are giving businesses an easy, low risk way of getting involved. Businesses are able to choose a specific environmental project to partner which has synergies with their own organisation, providing an easy and reliable route to working with a project and knowing that their participation will make a real difference.
The purpose of UBoC is to provide a link between the corporate world and rainforest protection and so we involved a third founding partner, global business advisory firm Deloitte, to bring a commercial perspective to the collaboration. Its involvement gives us access to excellent business advice, enabling us to offer companies projects which stand up to the financial scrutiny which they would expect of any other part of their business. It also enables us to explore the future potential of carbon credits.
There’s no doubt that for Bettys and Taylors, the consumer buy-in to our UBoC rainforest project has played a key role in the continued success of our business. For other firms, there may be different benefits such as staff engagement, corporate social responsibility programmes or carbon credits. The motives really aren’t important, what’s crucial is that as many businesses as possible become involved.
Already, we have involved a number of leading firms who are either sponsoring their own rainforest projects or providing support to the UBoC initiative. We hope that they are the first of many and that the UK will lead the way in demonstrating how organisations can work together to protect rainforests and have a real impact on climate change.
Jonathan Wild, Chairman of Board of Trustees of UBoC and former Chairman and Chief Executive of Bettys & Taylors Group