Protecting the Amazon’s tropical rainforests has become a multidimensional affair with global implications.
WRITTEN BY Kiley Jacques

Opening: The Amazon rainforest, covering much of northwestern Brazil and extending into Colombia, Peru, and other South American countries, is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Above: The Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS) and SDSN-Amazon network open registration for the second edition of Amazon Summer School. The goal of the project is to provide a learning experience on sustainability, educating leaders for change.

Brazil is at the forefront of the BRICS nations—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—and is home to a valuable environment serving a global population. The largest remaining area of tropical forest in the world measures just over 410 million Brazilian hectares, which are under immediate threat. Despite a hike in deforestation due to an increase in soy and beef consumption, Brazilian President Michel Temer has announced a 44 percent slash to the federal science budget, which has scientists concerned on multiple fronts—including the fate of the country’s rainforests; the cuts include removing many safeguards to prevent deforestation, such as monitoring sensitive biomes and investigating illegal logging and burning operations. The announcement comes at a time when the need for environmental monitoring is considered more urgent than ever before. After two decades of forward movement, the fear is rolling back Brazil’s achievements, which include fighting deforestation, preserving indigenous lands, and establishing conservation areas.


Environmental Advocates

However, an ever-growing network of individuals, communities, and organizations are taking action on multiple fronts to protect it. Among them is Gabriel Ribenboim, consultant on Innovation for Sustainable Development at Amazonas Sustainable Foundation (FAS). He describes the nonprofit’s mission as promoting sustainable involvement, driving environmental conservation, and improving the quality of life for communities and users of protected areas in the state of Amazonas, which is covered almost entirely by the Amazon rainforest.


Green Initiatives

Launched in 2008, FAS set out to implement an environmental stewardship public policy, which Ribenboim explains is a mechanism for paying the local communities that serve 16 protected areas comprising 10 million hectares (home to 40,000 people). “They are the guardians of the forest,” he says, noting that their stewardship enables ecosystem services to benefit both the local peoples and the world. Once they join the program, participants sign an agreement stating they will not increase deforestation in their area, and FAS supports them with new technologies and methods for increasing productivity under a sustainable management system—applied to both plantation farming and logging.


Tied to this monthly cash payment is the idea of sustainable involvement, which refers to a set of participatory processes focused on strengthening relations between local communities and local ecosystems by recognizing and expanding social connections and commitments—cultural, economic, spiritual, and ecological—in order to establish sustainability on all fronts. “There is no way of doing such things without involving local communities and supporting and empowering them,” says Ribenboim, adding that all FAS programs are focused on bringing poor and marginalized people to the table rather than “putting them on the menu.”

Improving the quality of life for local people includes increasing access to education, transportation, and communication services.


Maria Francisca, a resident of Sustainable Development Reserve (SDR) Uacari is one such participant. “The arrival of FAS really changed the community, and greatly changed the way I value the [local ecosystem] because I can produce, sell, and live in cooperation with nature,” says Francisca. “I’m going to leave nature for future generations, and there is nothing better than knowing that you work with sustainability in your own community.”


Advancing the Cause

To push their mission forward, FAS facilitates community meetings to help decide where to invest resources on a yearly basis. One of the goals of these meetings is to improve quality of life for local peoples by increasing access to education, transportation, and communication services. Income generation is another topic of discussion at these meetings. “We support them in improving the production chain of their region,” says Ribenboim. “There are between 18 and 20 main production chains such as logging, Brazil nuts, vegetable oils, tourism, fishing, and many others.”


Grassroots organizing is yet another way in which FAS works to protect the environment and support local peoples. It provides trainings and hosts two annual seminars to bring together representatives and leaders from remote protected areas as well as those from Manaus, the state capital. Discussions and courses are meant to help monitor and improve the program by reviewing rules and strategies. The hope is to increase participation. “This is a very important component that helps to empower the local communities and local leaders,” notes Ribenboim.


Traditional indigenous peoples cultivate manioc, tubers, fruit, and palm trees in rotating plots, supplementing their farm plots with forest resources of rubber, nuts, fruits, fibers, and medicines.

Traditional indigenous peoples cultivate manioc, tubers, fruit, and palm trees in rotating plots, supplementing their farm plots with forest resources of rubber, nuts, fruits, fibers, and medicines.

Ultimately, it was decided that more could be done. “We saw that we needed to improve in the health and education areas,” says Ribenboim. To that end, they formed partnerships with Brazilian and foreign research institutes as well as corporations such as Samsung. Efforts have resulted in the development of Conservation and Sustainability centers, which are built in remote areas to provide infrastructure for government-supported public services. Each center includes an education lodge, a transportation system for students to get to the school, a research center used by researchers from around the world, and a healthcare facility. “There have been a lot of positive results since 2008,” notes Ribenboim. “We now have nine of those centers in nine protected areas. And we support school programs in all other reserves.”


Those positive results are reflected in the words of Roberto Brito de Mendonça, a resident of the Tumbira Community in the SDR Rio Negro: “FAS brought health and knowledge into the community, and I have had the opportunity to do activities other than take out timber—to take advantage of the forest in another way, and work on community-based tourism. It was an opportunity that changed my life.”

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) is an effort to create financial value for carbon stored in forests,
offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.

The Amazonas Sustainable Foundation’s mission is to promote the sustainable involvement, environmental conservation, and improvement of the quality of life of communities, residents, and users of protected areas in the state of Amazonas.

The Amazonas Sustainable Foundation’s mission is to promote the sustainable involvement, environmental conservation, and improvement of the quality of life of communities, residents, and users of protected areas in the state of Amazonas.

Enter GBC Brazil

This is the point at which the country’s Green Building Council (GBC) entered the picture. “When we met Felipe Faria, CEO of Green Building Council Brazil, we invited him to join us on a field trip so he could better know the communities and the work we are doing there. He was amazed and said he wanted to do something,” recalls Ribenboim. Together they brainstormed ideas about how GBC Brazil could work with FAS. They considered ways in which FAS could benefit from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification, and gave thought to how GBC Brazil could benefit from the partnership.


Two ideas emerged. One was aimed at protecting and restoring natural habitats, which, up until 2016, meant funding for the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). Today, FAS is in a position to receive similar funding through a pilot Alternative Compliance Path (ACP) for the Habitat Preservation and Restoration LEED credit, which was set up as an incentive to decrease deforestation. It gives LEED project managers the option of donating to FAS to earn one point toward certification. “We are now working on a strategy to disseminate information,” says Ribenboim. “We are working on a video and a website explaining how [the] ACP works and how we apply these funds.”


The second idea revolves around Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+), a United Nations Collaborative program launched in 2008 that builds on the convening role and technical expertise of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The idea was to extend the reach of that program. “We are doing a good job in one specific protected area—the Juma Sustainable Development Reserve,” notes Ribenboim, explaining that the Juma project is the result of a partnership with Merit International that enabled the establishment of the first internationally certified REDD+ project in the state of Amazons.



Green Building Component

A year later, in partnership with the World Bank, FAS developed a methodology under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) that can be applied to all of their deforestation projects. “The World Bank asked us to merge our methodology [with those being used in the Congo Basin] so we could have a broader adherence and could [address] different kinds of deforestation to reach more diverse territories,” explains Ribenboim, noting a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation as a direct result of the project.


After an initial review, it was determined that the methodology was too specific to the Juma project. It has since been expanded, such that any REDD+ project in the tropical rainforest can provide offsets. Additionally, the scope of carbon emissions has changed. Originally, offsets were strictly for electrical generation or consumption. Today, the ACP enables FAS to issue renewable energy certificates (RECs), which means LEED project managers can earn points by purchasing renewable energy to offset electricity-related carbon emissions.


“Here in Brazil we have a green building movement, and many of the big companies are doing their own emissions inventory based on the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI),” notes Ribenboim, explaining that part of the goal in creating the ACP was to force companies to supply a carbon emissions inventory for verification by a third party. Once verified, 100 percent of its emissions can be offset for two LEED points (or 50 percent for one point).


“The idea with LEED now is to have funds to apply to general schemes,” explains Ribenboim, adding that FAS’s annual report is meant to demonstrate accountability. “We want to really get this wheel rolling. We already have two buildings that are using the ACP.” The hope is that, in time, they will be able to designate all ACP-generated funds to one project to give it more specificity; that is, develop a project to its full potential to have the greatest impact. Ribenboim envisions the funds supporting one of the already implemented projects, one that could use further development.


“This partnership with [GBC Brazil] represents a historic opportunity to connect a sector that is responsible for a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions with reduced deforestation in the Amazon,” explains Virgilio Viana, general director of FAS. “This is a practice that should be adopted in a broader manner by different sectors, and the fact that we have developed a mechanism for the construction sector has a very relevant historical symbolism. We hope it will become a successful instrument for both those who build and those who struggle to conserve the Amazon forest.”

Education centers will be constructed to train and transmit scientific information on conservation efforts to local communities as well as to provide opportunities
for the training of professionals specializing in biology, forest management, and environmental education, among other things.

Brazilian Nation

In 2006, Colombia, Brazil, and other developing countries approached the United Nations (UN) about then-named RED, and how it could work to provide global benefits. (The additional “D” was added to include degradation and the “+” refers to forest management, biodiversity, ecosystem services, etc.) “Things have been getting more exciting for us since the Paris Agreement,” says Ribenboim. “REDD+ is now again on the table but with more promises in terms of a worldwide method to support conservation.”


To date, Brazil is not part of the UN-REDD program. Though, when it was created in 2008, the state of Amazonas played an important role in both the UN and national discussions; and a bilateral agreement was made between some of Brazil’s Amazonian states, California, and Mexico. “There were a lot of things going on in terms of state discussions but the federal government was sitting back and watching—not making a solid effort to [support REDD+ projects] but also not burying them,” recalls Ribenboim. In time, agencies that supported REDD+ in Brazil put pressure on the government to start discussing its risks and safeguards. “We have a lot of discussions here on all levels—from state to federal . . . and more actions are being taken. We have a committee, a kind of task force, that the federal government put in place to analyze REDD+ schemes under the national approach.”


Ribenboim notes that things are uncertain on the federal front, but he remains optimistic with respect to “voluntary markets” that are working well, despite not having a fully developed national approach in place. Of FAS’s leading role in tackling the problems associated with Brazil’s deforestation, he says, “We were created as a new way of doing things in Brazil. . . . [and have] a strategy to keep things going. We have innovation in our DNA, we never stop inventing. . . We are an ongoing evolution.”