The latest news about global warming may tempt you to throw up your hands and run for the shade-preferably some with a hammock. After all, it's a vast problem that can easily make individuals feel inadequate. Yet consumers can help quite a lot, not only by conserving fossil fuels but also by choosing certified, forest-friendly products. While gasoline-fueled vehicles and coal-burning power plants release CO2, trees absorb it. Forests also support a rich diversity of species and help keep our water clean-not to mention providing shade.
Here's a sampler of forest-friendly staples, produced in ways that conserve these precious resources. To be sure that a product complies with its green claims, check to see that it's certified by an independent, third-party organization.
Coffee. Shade-grown organic coffee, raised beneath rainforest canopies, is perhaps the easiest forest-friendly product to find. It's now carried by Starbucks (stores in 28 countries) and Procter & Gamble (their line is called Millstone). Many smaller companies also sell it in grocery stores and online. These include Café Mam, Caffe Ibis, Equal Exchange, and Grounds for Change, whose products are also certified fair-trade. A portion of proceeds from Thanksgiving Coffee Company Gorilla Fund Coffee helps preserve the habitat of these forest dwellers.
Cocoa. Cocoa farming's effect on tropical forests is mixed, but in some places-in thinned native forest in south-central Cameroon and Bahia, Brazil, for instance-it has helped preserve these habitats. La Siembra Cooperative, Green & Black's, Plamil, and Sunspire carry shade-grown, organic, and/or fair-trade certified chocolate. Yachana Gourmet donates profits from sales of its Jungle chocolates to an Ecuadorian rainforest foundation.
Certifiers or labels to look for: Bird-Friendly, Rainforest Alliance, Quality Assurance International, Soil Association, Transfair, USDA Certified Organic. For more info, see Coffee and Chocolate Product Reports at www.thegreenguide.com.
Wood. Four billion hectares of the world's forests-half the original cover-are now gone. "Standing forests is what we're after," says Ned Daly of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), an outfit that certifies products from "well-managed" forests worldwide. Daly stresses the need for consumer demand to support this management scheme. If you're building or furnishing a home, FSC-certified wood is available from major companies such as IKEA, Home Depot, Lowe's Home Improvement, Potlatch Corporation, Stora Enso, and Tembec, Inc. Hundreds of smaller source companies can be found at www.certifiedwood.org. Also, consider reusable wood salvaged from old buildings, boats, and fallen trees. Find it locally by looking in your phone book for salvage, deconstruction, and demolition companies, or go to The Rainforest Alliance's SmartWood website (www.rainforest-alliance.org/programs/forestry/smartwood).
Paper. At home, at school, and in the office, we consume paper products made from wood pulp every day. Look for the highest percentage you can find (30 percent is now common for office papers) of "Post-Consumer Waste Recycled (PCW)" that's also "Processed Chlorine Free (PCF)." Staples, the world's largest office-supply retailer, along with Office Depot and FedEx-Kinko's, are now selling and using these papers. In the bathroom, use 100 percent PCW/PCF toilet paper and tissues from Seventh Generation, which also sells PCW paper towels. For personal stationery and cards, consider tree-free papers made from cotton, flax, kenaf, hemp, or bamboo, and recycled fibers taken from everything from bluejeans to dollar bills. For more info, see Wood Furniture and Paper Product Reports at www.thegreenguide.com.
Other Rainforest Products. Every year, 20 million hectares of rainforest are cut down. You can support local economies and help save the Amazon's canopy and the Earth's "lungs" by purchasing products made with natural rubber, Brazil or tagua nuts, or indigenous herbs and plants, all harvested without logging trees. Some ideas: Lifekind natural latex mattresses (www.lifekind.com), EcoYoga mats (yoga.co.uk/ecoyoga/acatalog/Yoga_Mats), Rainforest Remedies lotions (www.abundantearth.com); tagua chess sets and boxes (www.oneworldproducts.com).
Shrimp. While not your typical forest product, conventional shrimp production does result in deforestation: as much as 35 percent of the world's tropical mangrove forests has been destroyed in the last 20 years, mostly for shrimp farms. Look for organic farmed shrimp, raised in inland ponds and certified by Quality Certification Services, or wild spot prawns, caught in traps without harmful bottom dredging. An alternative is stone crab, which is not overfished.
Mindy Pennybacker is editor of The Green Guide, a consumer publication of The Green Guide Institute (www.thegreenguide.com).