I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Ronald Sanabria, the Vice President of Sustainable Tourism for the Rainforest Alliance. He is an inspiring man and you can feel his passion and clarity of vision when he speaks. Even more unusual, he is an excellent listener, who hears what you have to say and actually responds to your point rather than cutting you off or giving an answer that beats around the bush. Before I go into more detail on the interview with Ronald Sanabria, let me give you a little background on the Rainforest Alliance and his position there.
The Rainforest Alliance Mission
The Rainforest Alliance works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods by transforming land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior.
The Rainforest Alliance Innovative Approach
“We believe that the best way to keep forests standing is by ensuring that it is profitable for businesses and communities to do so… The Rainforest Alliance harnesses the power of the marketplace to arrest the major drivers of environmental destruction: timber extraction, agricultural expansion, cattle ranching and tourism. Our work ensures that hundreds of millions of acres of forests, farms, ranchlands and hotel properties meet rigorous sustainability standards and that the rights and well-being of people employed by these enterprises are safeguarded. And by giving consumers a reliable way to identify responsibly produced goods and services — via the Rainforest Alliance Certified™ seal and Rainforest Alliance Verified™ mark — we demonstrate that sustainable businesses thrive in our global economy.”
Can you hear my standing ovation, folks? It sounds great, right? Well, believe me, it sounds even better after talking to Rainforest Alliance Verified hotel managers and tour operators as well as Rainforest Alliance Certified farmers and farm managers. After asking tons of questions, I saw that they all shared the excitement of the Rainforest Alliance because the training provided by the Rainforest Alliance made it economically sustainable for them to be environmentally and socially sustainable.
Funny But True:
About Ronald Sanabria
“Ronald Sanabria leads the Rainforest Alliance’s efforts to make tourism a viable conservation tool — one that protects the environment and promotes the well-being of local communities.”
Interview with Ronald Sanabria
Ronald was born and raised in Costa Rica. He said that he was very fortunate that his parents were adventurous and always traveled for vacations.
“As a city kid, through tourism, I fell in love with nature.”
He believes that tourism has preserved many of the beautiful treasures that the country of Costa Rica has because Costa Rica found a way to make money with nature. Seeing the growth of nature tourism now affirms that it makes sense. The eco tourism trend is growing and it depends on a healthy environment for a sustainable future.
Ronald said that the Rainforest Alliance found that the main barrier to sustainable tourism is the access to knowledge. The Rainforest Alliance goal is to bring that knowledge to businesses. One of the main benefits that the Rainforest Alliance offers is training with proven practices, consistent guidelines, and recognition for sustainable criteria.
Having joined the Rainforest Alliance in 1998, Ronald said that it was very hard in the beginning to get people to come to the workshops on sustainability. The tour operators, such as Horizontes Nature Tours, were a key part of the success of workshops as they helped get their suppliers to attend the sustainability workshops.
Ronald Sanabria says that now the tour operators are hosting workshops on their own. The workshops are so valuable because they offer the opportunity for exchanges between the similar types of businesses. They share their practical actions and see what works for others. The aim of the sustainability workshops is to answer the question, “How can you, as a small business, begin doing something today?”
The Rainforest Alliance offers training manuals for each area of sustainability. They hold the workshops in a Rainforest Alliance Verified site where all can see some sustainable practices in use and ask questions about how to implement and what the results are. The Rainforest Alliance works in a beautiful way that spreads sustainability because each business to become certified or verified is required to look at their suppliers and make sure they have sustainable practices. The Rainforest Alliance “trains the trainers” so that the message keeps traveling like a growing wave.
My favorite image from Ronald Sanabria-
“using tourism as an engine for conservation.”
Even with all the fantastic work the Rainforest Alliance is doing, he did say that there are still things that keep him up at night. One was that it is difficult to institutionalize sustainable practices with ever changing governments so the challenge is to make the public and private sector responsible protecting the environment.
People want clean environment and healthy places to visit so the Rainforest Alliance created sustainabletrip.org to make consumer choices easy and to connect those that are verified with the global marketplace.