Daabon Group gained the Rainforest Alliance certification in January 2012 for all five palm oil plantations in different locations, a significant sustainability achievement and new milestone for the largest employer in northern Colombia. Daabon has over 3,000 employees and 4,678 hectares of organic, fair trade and sustainable palm oil planted and 1,500 hectares of organic and fair trade bananas owned and operated by the group. Separately, there are 2,770 hectares operated by small farmer shareholders.

The diversified producer is a pioneer for organic and sustainable agriculture, but besides palm oil, bananas, coffee and cattle its operation includes other components such as manufacturing, refining, a biodiesel joint venture, a soap company, and a port facility - 13 companies in total. “Each company has an environmental engineer and a social worker and every company has its own agenda due to its different location and setting,” says the Group’s sustainability engineer Felipe Guerrero.

The banana plantations have been certified by Rainforest Alliance for 12 years, while the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) sustainable certification was gained in 2010. “Daabon was the first producer in the world to market sustainable palm oil and the focus of the certification is multi-stakeholder, which also offers biodiversity and social benefits,” says Mr. Guerrero.

Initially hired as an environmental engineer on the clean development, methane capture and energy generation project for the extraction mill, Mr. Guerrero joined the company three years ago. His team reports to the executive vice president. “This gives us independence within the company and autonomy and allows us to act as a project manager and internal auditor but like a consultant.”

Mr. Guerrero explained that in the Tequendama palm oil company’s methane capture project, effluent is recovered to produce energy, while waste water is treated. “We operate the largest composting plant in Colombia and we use the treated water for irrigation in the banana plantation,” he says. “The biodiesel and soap companies are part of a cluster using the energy created. We are also implementing waste product recycling. Solid food waste and fibre go to the composting, including manure from the cattle operation, ashes, sludge, banana peels and leaves.”

The Rainforest Alliance’s certification of palm oil also includes local biodiversity and sustainable farm management. “We worked with a certification foundation that audited our plantations. They were cautious as sustainable palm oil has been misunderstood as a crop. They audited all our processes and consulted all our stakeholders.”

At the Tequendama palm farm, Mr Guerrero points out that 65 species of birds are listed for conservation. “We take into account the natural areas we have and how they are interconnected to each other as part of the certification, the height of the trees and how this is enhancing the biodiversity,” he says. “The sustainability department was formed to take into account people in the environment in an agricultural setting; now we also have to take this approach to our facilities in a urban setting.” Today, the Daabon Group enjoys a total of 27 sustainability certifications.