To protect the environment, we also need to tackle poverty

Solving poverty is inextricably linked to protecting the environment.

In 2016, I travelled to Malawi, a small country located in south-eastern Africa. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to. In the south, monolithic mountains rise to cover the horizon. In the north, Lake Malawi provides a home to thousands of unique fish species, making it one of the most biodiverse lakes in the world.

Sadly, illegal logging and overfishing have become commonplace, defacing the landscape with deforestation and depleting already endangered fish stocks.

But you can't blame Malawians. Malawi is one of the least developed countries in the world - over 70% of people live on less than $2 a day.

90% of Malawians lack access to power; trees are cut down so they can cook food. Fishing sustains the local economy; families rely on fishing for food, nutrition and income.

What’s clear from this is that where people cannot earn a decent living, they are often forced to put pressure on the land to make ends meet.

This is a critical issue. Some of the most vulnerable ecosystems exist in the poorest regions of the world: the Amazon, Sumatran rainforests, the Congo Basin, to name a few.

The direct, devastating environmental impacts of big business and industry are well known. However, the impact of economic inequality may have a bigger reach than we imagined.

To protect our planet, we also need to tackle poverty.

Are we making progress on poverty?

Yes and no.

We've lifted more than a billion people out of extreme poverty in the last 30 years (defined as living on less than $2 a day). This progress has occurred mostly in China and India.

But most people in the world still live in poverty (defined as living on less than $10 a day). And the rate of progress is slowing - extreme poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa hasn't fallen since the 90s.

At this rate, we are not on track to end extreme poverty - more than half a billion people are expected to still be in extreme poverty by 2030.

Making this worse is the fact that the poorest in the world will be hit hardest by climate change. The struggles of living in poverty will be compounded by extreme weather events and less access to resources to manage and adapt to climate change.

How can we tackle poverty and protect the environment at the same time?

To benefit both people and planet, we need to find solutions that help people make a living while protecting the environment.

Providing good economic opportunities is fundamental to protecting our wildlife and ecosystems. If people can earn a decent living without degrading the environment, less pressure will be placed on our environment.

Sound too good to be true? Here are 2 ways you can support these efforts.

1. Support conservation projects helping locals protect vulnerable ecosystems.

Supporting conservation projects is a simple and direct way to benefit both locals and the environment.

Let’s take the Amazon rainforest, for example. Deforestation continues to threaten the Amazon, as cattle pastures encroach further into the rainforest. We’ve already lost 15–17% of the forest and we are losing rainforests the size of 3 football fields per minute.

One conservation projects, the Jari Para project in northern Brazil, protects an area of rainforest almost twice the size of Luxembourg. The project works with local communities who are highly dependent on local ecosystems, but have few resources to protect the land.

Carbon-Slider-Jari-Para-3 - Sustainable Travel International

Resources are provided to develop sustainable forest management plans that enable the community to make a living while improving forest protection. The project also improves basic structural issues in the community, such as health, education, and infrastructure access.

To support these projects, you can donate directly to conservation groups like Rainforest Foundation, or purchase carbon credits from organisations like Pachama to offset your carbon emissions while protecting the Amazon rainforest.

2. Choose products with ethical supply chains.

Choosing products with ethical supply chains secures fair pay and good working conditions for farmers and workers so they can improve their livelihoods and breaks cycles of poverty. This in turn encourages long-term thinking about the environment.

So, how does this work? 👇

First, let's look at Kua Coffee - they're a social enterprise based in Sydney who provide ethically sourced coffee to workplaces.

Typically, less than 10% of the money you spend on your morning coffee reaches the growers. Low prices means growers are incentivised to put quantity ahead of quality, leading to poor agricultural practices that damage the land.

Financial Times on Twitter: "In a £2.50 brew, the coffee itself accounts  for just 10p, only a fraction of which goes to the farmer…"

To combat this, Kua pay farmers in Uganda a premium price for their coffee and have formed multi-year partnerships with local producer groups, so that farmers can think long-term and put quality ahead of quantity. On top of this they donate 100% of profits to help these farmers adapt to the changing climate.

By paying farmers a fair price, Kua are able to help farmers earn a decent living and care for the environment.

👉 You can learn more about Kua here.


Another way to make a difference is by choosing Fairtrade products. Fairtrade is a global certification that promotes fair pay and working conditions for more than 1.8 million people across more than 70 countries.

Fairtrade helps workers and the environment in three ways. First, Fairtrade guarantees farmers a safety net with minimum price protection so they can plan for their future. Second, the Fairtrade Premium earns farmers extra money to be pooled and used to improve their social, economic and environmental conditions. Third, Fairtrade provides climate change adaptation and mitigation training to farmers.

👉 You can find Fairtrade tea, coffee, and chocolate here.


We can’t address environmental issues without also tackling poverty. Not only will the poor be hit hardest by the impacts of climate change, they also look after some of the most vulnerable ecosystems in the world.

We need to find solutions that help people make a living while protecting the environment.

🌎 Support conservation projects helping locals protect vulnerable ecosystems
👩‍🌾 Choose products with ethical supply chains, e.g. Fairtrade certified

👩‍🌾 ethical supply chain

Leave a comment

All comments are moderated before being published

About Us

Zenko makes workplace sustainability simple so you can help protect our planet. We make it simple and easy to buy planet-friendly office supplies, all in one place.