Monday, March 19, 2007

Market Driven Conservation (1)

Have you noticed the number of times that global warming articles have appeared in the news lately? Have you noticed how many transnational corporations are now acknowledging that global warming is no longer a fringe idea but a serious worldwide concern that must be addressed?

For that matter, have you noticed how many small businesses are now calling themselves "green" or "environmentally friendly"? Isn't this good? After all, many of these small companies start the trends, create the new ideas and then the large corporations follow. Haven't we finally turned the proverbial corner?

Market-driven conservation is the latest buzzword. Simply put, it refers to profit making companies that want to incorporate both economic justice and environmental restoration as a central part of their business plan.

The types of businesses are varied. They could include companies that manufacture paper from wild grass, offer organic ant bait, sell organic pizza or make soybean candles. Many of these small businesses contribute part of their earnings to environmental organizations such as the Natural Resources Defense Council or sponsor fundraising events for a local woman's shelter to an Ethiopian orphanage or perhaps contribute to the construction of a school kitchen in Guatemala.

Sambazon, founded by an American several years ago, is a company often used as an example of market-driven conservation. Its products are found in many health food stores around the world. The company "discovered" a fruit called acai (ah-sigh-EE), found in the Amazon region of Brazil. The fruit is apparently highly nutritious and contains large amounts of antioxidants.

Regarding the social justice and environmental priority of the company, Sambazon states that it buys the acai from local growers and pays its workers at the local processing plant wages considerably high than prevailing rates. As well, the company wants to make the small farmers organic certified.

The intention is not to harm the local flora and fauna but preserve it, nor exploit the indigenous people or cut down the tropical forests in order to create soybean plantations or cattle ranches, which unfortunately is a reality in Brazil at the present time--in spite of what the government oftentimes claims.

These market-driven conservation companies are a small but growing segment of the overall organic market. Terms like "fair trade" and "beyond organic" are now heard more frequently. It remains to be seen what the eventual economic, social and environmental impact will be on the larger markets, especially in North America, Europe and Asia. But have we actually turned the proverbial corner?....

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