Practical ways to protect tropical forests

For Go Green Day 2021, this guide shares the many ways you can take action to stop deforestation.

You download a PDF of this guide here.

Steps to eliminate tropical deforestation from your diet, whether at home, work or school.


Step 1. Eat less but better quality locally produced organic meat.

Beef: Forest clearing for cattle is the main cause of tropical deforestation, especially in South America. In the Amazon, it is estimated that around 80% of deforestation has been carried out to create pastures for grazing cattle. This does not include the amount of land used to grow crops, such as soy, to feed the cattle. Much of this beef is imported into Wales in the form of corned beef and processed beef e.g. burgers.

Meat: Imported soy, which is also used to feed animals reared in Wales, especially chickens and pigs, is the second biggest driver of tropical deforestation, particularly in South America. Therefore, by eating meat from animals reared on soy from high-risk areas, we are indirectly contributing to the problem of deforestation without knowing it.

So, by reducing your overall intake of meat, you will also help reduce your forest footprint.

When you do eat meat, look for the Soil Association Organic logo or Pasture for Life logo, which guarantees 100% grass fed beef, lamb and dairy products and eliminates deforestation risk soy feed. Buying locally sourced organic or 100% grass fed beef products also significantly reduces the impact on tropical forests.

Step 2. Eat more plant-based foods.

Eating a diverse range of fruit, veg, legumes, nuts and seeds can help you reduce the amount of meat you eat and the amount of soy you consume through animal products. High-protein pulses like beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas and protein alternatives, such as organic tofu and tempeh (made from organic soybeans), are high in protein, calcium, iron, and fibre, making them a great way to supplement your diet when reducing your meat intake.

To supercharge your impact, look for seasonal and locally grown produce, which not only supports local growers, but helps to reduce the travel miles associated with imported produce and the energy required to grow out of season. Choosing certified organic is even better, as this guarantees nature-friendly farming methods.

And remember, diversity is important! A rich variety of plants is not only better for nature’s ecosystems, but it also helps support a healthy gut microbiome – that is, all the friendly bacteria that live in your gut. Research suggests we should be eating at least 30 different plants a week to support a healthy microbiome – our own internal ecosystem!

Step 3. Avoid highly processed foods.

Not only are highly processed foods generally bad for our health, but they are often bad for forest health too. As mentioned in Step 1, imported processed beef from South America and meat and dairy from animals reared on soy have a huge impact on tropical forests. By avoiding processed foods, such as ready meals, you have more choice over the kind of meat and dairy you do consume. Additionally, many processed foods contain unsustainably sourced palm oil, which is responsible for huge swathes of deforestation in South East Asia. In Indonesia alone, palm plantations were responsible for up to nine per cent of global emissions between 2000 and 2010.

Step 4. Try to buy products containing sustainably sourced palm oil.

Palm oil and its derivatives are found in over 50% of packaged products in our supermarkets, ranging from foodstuffs to household and body products. It is incredibly difficult to avoid, with over 200 names that make it almost impossible to spot in the ingredients list.

Palm oil is a highly stable and versatile oil, with a neutral flavour and aroma, making it an ideal ingredient in many food preparations – hence its widespread usage.

While many organisations have called to boycott palm oil, switching to other oil crops would require much more land to produce the same amount of oil, resulting in wider deforestation and environmental degradation. So, when you are out shopping, look for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo, which now includes a no further deforestation criterion. Chester Zoo has compiled this handy shopping list of common brands that source 100% of their palm oil through RSPO certified physical supply chains.

Step 5. Buy Fairtrade coffee and cacao.

Fairtrade not only ensures fair prices and decent working conditions for farmers and workers in the Global South, but it also ensures local sustainability and environmental protection. Through training, farmers are supported to switch to more environmentally friendly practices, such as encouraging wildlife to help control pests and diseases. Furthermore, since 2019, Fairtrade has included a no-deforestation criterion.

So, by choosing Fairtrade products, such as coffee and cacao, we can support farmers, workers, and their families, helping them to better adapt and survive the climate crisis, while reducing imported tropical deforestation here in Wales.

Everyday adaptations to reduce your forest footprint, protect indigenous communities and support biodiversity.


Step 6. Adopt a circular economy approach.

A linear economy is one that takes, makes and produces waste. A circular economy is one that reuses, recycles, repairs and remanufactures existing products, materials and components. Circular models have been around a long time e.g. second-hand clothing, furniture refurbishment and bottle return schemes, and now many governments and organisations are adopting this approach to help reduce carbon emissions and preserve valuable resources.

Circular approaches can also help to protect tropical forests, such as buying second-hand clothing (see step 9 below) and furniture, upcycling and using recycled wood and paper products (see step 7).

For businesses and organisations, see Public Health Wales’ case study on circular economy procurement, which saved 134 tonnes of CO2e and diverted 41 tonnes of used furniture from landfill.

Step 7. Buy recycled or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood and paper products.

The UK consumes nearly twice as much paper as the global average i.e., 145 tonnes compared to 55 tonnes per person. In Wales, demand for paper and wood pulp requires 172,000 hectares of forest every year, which is equivalent to a land area the size of Ceredigion.

Using recycled or FSC certified products can help you reduce your forest footprint, but remember, if you are buying online always check with the stockist or supplier that the item you are buying is indeed FSC certified. Many companies have an FSC certification for their own brand products, but this does not necessarily apply to every product they sell.

You can also buy recycled paper products, which require much less energy and water to produce, or alternatives, such as paper and tissue made from bamboo fibre. When buying bamboo products look for the FSC certification to ensure they have been produced sustainably.

Step 8. Buy eco-friendly home and body products.

Palm oil:

Around 70% of cosmetics and household detergents contain ingredients derived from palm oil. As mentioned above, palm oil is incredibly difficult to avoid, so look for companies and brands that use RSPO certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO). Use the Giki app to help you identify which products use palm oil from certified physical supply chains – this means the CSPO has not been mixed with uncertified palm oil.

To supercharge your impact, why not have a go at making your own household cleaning products?

Cocoa butter:

Cocoa butter from cacao also contributes to tropical deforestation, so look for products containing sustainably sourced cocoa butter. Certifications include Fairtrade and the Soil Association Organic COSMOS standard.

Step 9. Embrace slow fashion.

Fashion has a high social and environmental price tag, with certain materials, such as viscose, rayon and leather taking their toll on tropical forests.

Clothing made from natural fibres is often considered more sustainable, as it will eventually biodegrade and does not shed plastic microfibres, like polyester does for example. However, fabrics such as viscose and rayon are made from wood pulp, which is a major driver of tropical deforestation, especially in Indonesia.

Likewise, clothing, shoes and accessories made from leather also contribute to tropical deforestation, as forests are cleared to make way for grazing cattle. This is having devastating consequences for forests, wildlife and indigenous communities in Brazil, which is the second largest exporter of leather globally.

In the UK, it is estimated that around 350,000 tonnes of wearable clothing with a value of around £140 million are sent to landfill every year, and in 2019, we spent a massive £59.3 billion on clothing. When the clothes, shoes and accessories we wear can have such a destructive impact, waste and over consumption means bad news for forests.

To reduce your impact on tropical forests you can embrace the concept of slow fashion. Slow fashion means keeping your clothes for longer and getting good use out of them, as well as upcycling, repairing (check out visible mending) and buying second-hand (or pre-loved) items. It also means buying well and fairly made garments that will last.

Step 10: Make your money count.

Between 2013 and 2019, global financial institutions provided $44 billion worth of financing to companies driving tropical deforestation. This is having devastating consequences for indigenous peoples, biodiversity, and the health of tropical forests.

Switch to an ethical bank, insurer, or pension pot to make sure your money is not being used to finance destructive industries, such as intensive beef, soy and palm production or oil drilling in the Amazon biome.

For businesses and organisations, take steps to make sure that all lending and investments, including pension funds, do not contribute to overseas deforestation.