Fair Trade Supports Climate Solutions

In 2014, the U.N. reported that at current erosion rates, less than 60 years of farmable soil remains on our planet before we lose this precious living membrane to wind and water erosion. Meanwhile, increasing temperatures are causing more frequent and severe climate catastrophes. No one is immune to the global climate crisis, but those least responsible for human-caused climate change are often the most severely impacted.

In Central America, for example, a 5-year drought has caused catastrophic crop failures. Central American small-holder farmers and their families have become climate refugees, forced to choose between a perilous migration north, or face starvation in their home countries. More extreme weather means either too little rain or too much all at once. Indian farmers have weathered their worst 15 floods on record—all within the past decade. These unpredictable weather events cause massive crop failures. Deaths from extreme weather have increased as families are stranded in disaster or try to escape with minimal resources.

We need simple and direct climate solutions—and we need them now. But what are climate solutions? We know that carbon emissions are a primary cause of climate change—so practices that draw carbon out of the atmosphere are a good start. Storing carbon in the soil is how our planet has been self-regulating for millennia, and regenerating our soil carbon levels through agriculture is an effective, low-tech approach. Increasing soil carbon levels has the added benefit of improving soil’s water percolation and holding capacity. The soil’s ability to absorb and hold water not only supports thriving ecosystems, but also helps mitigate major rain events. Land that can absorb water is less likely to flood and wash away from erosion.

Climate solutions must also focus on community empowerment and climate resilience. Communities with solid social structures in place—like an emergency response plan that includes identification of people with special needs, how resources will be distributed, and reliable external relationships—are better situated to cope with and recover from climate disasters. Fair trade relationships give back financial resources and encourage local organizing to help build this kind of climate resilience.

Fair Trade and Environmental Stewardship 

Fair trade goes beyond paying fair prices for raw materials—we believe that environmental stewardship is also a key part of long-term trading relationships. If fair trade truly honors the people and communities who produce our raw materials, in addition to ensuring a stable economic future for them, we must make sure these farmers and producers have a healthy, thriving environment. To this end, Dr. Bronner’s is dedicated to adapting our major raw material supply chains to regenerative organic practices—to improve soil health, revive ecosystems, and protect communities around the world.

So-called “conventional” agriculture—with its heavy use of chemical inputs, aggressive tillage, mass deforestation and monocropping—is highly destructive to the environment and a major contributor to climate change. Regenerative organic agriculture, on the other hand, gets back to our roots of farming in harmony with nature. Apart from helping small-holder farmers increase yields and profits, it also promotes biodiversity and land conservation, while prohibiting genetic engineering and highly toxic agricultural chemicals inputs. It also seeks to grow (or regenerate) soil, which is crucial if we are to succeed in reversing out-of-control erosion and mitigating the effects of climate change.

Dr. Bronner’s is implementing Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) standards with several of our supply partners around the globe. While already organic and fair trade—baseline requirements for ROC—Dr. Bronner’s suppliers are taking additional measures to increase soil organic matter, or carbon. These practices include 1) conservation tillage, mulching and intensified crop rotations (mint oil, Pavitramenthe, India), 2) vermicompost and mulching (coconut oil, Serendipol, Sri Lanka), and 3) Dynamic Agroforesty (palm oil, Serendipalm, Ghana).  Some of our suppliers are currently undergoing audits in hopes of those raw materials becoming Regenerative Organic Certified by the end of this year.

Additionally, farmers at Dr. Bronner’s Ghanaian fair trade palm oil supply partner—Serendipalm—practice tree conservation and plant buffer zones around waterways. Trees and diverse vegetation help draw carbon into the soil, increasing fertility and native wildlife species. Tree plantings and buffer zones help the soil hold more water. More water in the soil means less water moves over the ground surface—less erosion! The soil is literally held to together by thick, stable root systems from firmly rooted plants! These practices benefit both economic security and environmental resilience.

Fair Trade Helps Communities Weather the Storms

A key part of fair trading is the fair trade premium—an additional 10% over a commodity’s fair trade price. The fair trade premium paid by our customers goes into a Fair Trade Fund for each supply partner we buy from. Money from the Fair Trade Fund is democratically allocated to community projects by a Fair Trade Committee. Committees are diverse and composed of farmers, farm workers, processing facility staff and laborers. Some of the funds help build infrastructure, like freshwater pumps, bridges, medical facilities and public toilet facilities. Other funds go toward school fees, uniforms and supplies for local children. Vocational training for young adults is also supported, with an emphasis on educating girls and young women.

Educating girls and young women is not only a social benefit to local communities—it also happens to be one of the top-ten climate solutions laid out by Paul Hawken in his meticulously-researched book Drawdown. Hawken shows how education better prepares individuals and communities for climate crises, by connecting traditional knowledge with the current context. Women in particular are lynchpins of families and communities, and when empowered with education, they increasingly support resource management. In times of disaster these are critical skills for supporting the organization of communities as they work to salvage what was lost and rebuild their futures.

While we work to lessen the catastrophic impacts of climate change through fair trade and regenerative organic agriculture, Dr. Bronner’s recognizes that climate solutions are not just the responsibility of farmers and producers. Each of us can do our part! From backyard composting and organic gardening, to knowing your farmer and their sustainability practices, choosing fair trade brands and brands committed to regenerative organic agriculture, to practicing the 5-R’s of sustainability—Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose, Recycle—every little bit helps!


Author Profile
Nancy Metcalf

As Dr. Bronner's Marketing Campaign Manager, Nancy Metcalf has worked on many public education, sales and marketing, and political campaigns to advance hemp, regenerative organic agriculture, social equity, the environment and other issues.

See all stories by Nancy Metcalf
  • Angelica


  • Mike Brewer

    If we, “dont” concern ourselves now, there may be, “no later”..!

  • Kate Heyde

    All important facts about the 5 Rs. I am a consumer of price on many item choices throughout my home and knowing the 10% additional cost on top of Fair Trade is worth it to me when it goes to funding environmental and school initiatives.

  • ging er

    The most important thing I learned was, “those least responsible for human-caused climate change are often the most severely impacted.” Its very concerning how the people who are doing the least amount of harm are the ones seeing the biggest impact of climate change and have to deal with the effects first hand. It seems as though the people causing the most harm dont have to deal with the effects..out of sight out of mind kind of thing.

  • Marie Lopez

    I learned about Dr. Bronner’s Regenerative Organic Certification (ROC) standards. Thank you for giving back to the community. Not only with money but also by being involved in helping to conserve the land that give you the raw materials. <3 I'm proud of Dr. Bronner's being the only soap I use in my house.

  • Summer Robbins

    It’s time to start caring!

  • Dawn Slicker

    Dr. Bronner’s is giving back as we all should be doing. You are a large business, but every single one of us are responsible for following this model. Even if it is on a small scale. It all matters. I work for a company that follows the very same principles and gives back big time. I’m so proud to be a part of this company and teach what we do while selling our products. I am very concerned about the planet and what we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. It sends shivers down my spine. I teach my granddaughter to be responsible for the planet. At eight years old she takes a bag with her and picks up garbage when she and her Grandfather go for walks, among other globally responsible things we try to instill. Maybe the schools should teach such things. Thank you for doing the right thing. You Rock!

  • Kristy Mahan

    I learned that the people who actually must live off the land are being hurt by others who make money and extract resources from the land.
    I know as a consumer I can make a difference by purchasing items that do the least damage to the land. I can also help by planting trees to stop erosion. I can reuse water bottles especially since I live by a large fresh water source. I can refuse to allow those water bottling companies steal from our fresh water sources and ruin farm land. India and coca-cola is a huge reminder to me. They left india high and dry and made their farm lands into deserts.
    I can repurpose item I own that no longer are able to be used what they were bought for.
    Towels can be cut up into rags. Socks into dusters. Jars into vases. Junky wood furniture I can use for a summer fire.
    Learning to see will help me a lot in making things last longer. I RIP clothing and am hard on it. I just ripped my purse zipper. If I could see I could make that purse last for at least another 20 years.
    I am going to get rain barrels to water my gardens and clean my outside furniture.
    Another thing I can do is write those who legislate laws and regulate companies. Cloud seeding is a huge problem that is leading to flooding of farmlands and desertification of dry land.
    Making sure brush is cleaned up in the forests and parks is another way to keep our lands safe. Fires spread quickly by brush. That also means loss of life, cattle, crops, and homes.
    There is so much we can all do to help keep our earth sustainable. There is so much we can do to make sure our global neighbors are not starving or losing their homelands.
    Buying from responsible companies if very important in this fight to keep our global mothers, fathers, and kids out of slavery. Responsible companies that pay decent wages and have safe working conditions and do not pollute the water and land the employees must live and eat from.
    It sounds like a huge job but with all of us in on the fight we can make things change for the better.

  • toni syring

    its good for us and everything on our planet

  • Starr Ortiz

    I did not know that some of the funds are put towards school fees, uniforms and supplies for local children as well as vocational training for young adults with an emphasis on educating girls and young women