Rainforest Alliance

More Impact and Scale: A Conversation with Justin Leavenworth of UTZ

Margaret checks young tea saplingsBy Justin Leavenworth, Global Markets Director, UTZ

Climate Week New York City 2017 kicked off on September 18, but for the Rainforest Alliance, based in New York, and UTZ, based in Amsterdam, every week is climate week and every day is dedicated to driving a more sustainable world. In June the two organizations announced their intention to merge later this year, bringing more impact and scale to our work, and greater benefits to companies, increased innovation and enhanced market transformation. 

Justin Leavenworth, Global Markets Director for UTZ, shares his thoughts on the objectives and opportunities the merger can bring.

How will this merger help market transformation towards more sustainable supply chains?

“This merger allows us to become more innovative: by combining our resources and expertise, we can better coordinate critical investment in new technologies and system design. At the same time, the merger also gives us greater power to push for the policy changes needed to create a world where sustainability can thrive. That’s the aim of both UTZ and Rainforest Alliance, and as the saying goes, we’re stronger together. Finally, from the perspective of farmers and markets, the merger will also reduce the complexities of certification, and these better services for the market will result in more sustainable supply chains.“

What is your mission as UTZ’ Global Markets Director for the new organization?

“To make significant change we need 100% commitment from all partners in the supply chain to a world where sustainable farming is the norm. So my mission is both to help create conditions where business, sustainability and profit best align, and effectively communicate that sustainability is not about increasing cost, but increasing value.” 

“My goal is to make sustainability business as usual. What’s important here is reducing complexity. Merging the UTZ and Rainforest Alliance certification standards will make it easier for companies to use certification, while for suppliers and farmers, registration and auditing will become far simpler.”

If you have to name 3 concrete benefits for companies, what would they be?

“I’d say the top 3 benefits are:

  • Reducing the complexity of the certification process. It will be easier for companies to integrate sustainable certification into their business practices. It will increase efficiency and flexibility, and reduces the costs of certification for participating companies.
  • Access to a greater range of services to fit the needs of our customers. In particular, certified companies will have a stronger voice to communicate brand values. We will be able to offer a greater range of strategies to communicate with the audience, building both on Rainforest Alliance’s strong consumer facing brand, and on UTZ’s brand endorser approach.
  • The ability to gain greater impact with one strong organization. In particular, we will be able to better coordinate our engagement with policy makers, large distributors, and the broader public, to create business conditions to contribute towards 100% sustainability in the market.”

Why are you so enthusiastic about this merger?

“Well, it’s really quite unusual for two large NGOs to merge, and so that in itself shows innovative thinking and a desire to focus on the future. I really believe that collaboration is the best way to address the world’s greatest challenges, such as poverty and climate change. Both UTZ and Rainforest Alliance have a wealth of experience. By working together we can increase our effectiveness fourfold, tenfold – maybe even 100-fold! This is what excites me most.”

What can business partners expect in the months to come?

“We will focus on developing transparent communication channels so that partner companies are informed and can give their input during the entire process. We also aim to keep business speed throughout the merger process so that we create clarity as soon as possible and make sure companies can get answers to their questions. But above all, we ensure that during and after the merger, all decisions are made with the firm intention to increase our credibility towards farmers, market partners and consumers.”

What is your personal message to companies?

“Now more than ever, we have an opportunity to work together and find real solutions to the most urgent challenges that we face. This merger is designed to bring more innovation, but real innovation only succeeds if we work together.”

“That’s why I want to invite you all to share all your questions and thoughts, so that we design an organization where all systems converge around one single goal: supporting businesses in making their supply chains more sustainable.”

This interview was originally posted on the UTZ website.

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