Palm Oil It's Time to Save the Rainforests

Accelerated growth of illegal palm oil plantations and the deforestation of the rain forests, threatens the very lives of orangutans, rhinos, tigers, elephants and indigenous people.

Palm oil is a vegetable oil derived from the fruit of the African Oil Palm tree. Oil palms are native to Western Africa, but can be grown in any warm, wet area. Oil palms are now grown in Africa and Asia, as well as North and South America however, 85% of all palm oil now originates from Indonesia and Malaysia. According to the World Wildlife Fund, an area the equivalent size of 300 football fields of rain forest is cleared each hour to make way for palm oil production.

According to Say No to Palm Oil, “Sustainable palm oil is an approach to oil palm agriculture that aims to produce palm oil without causing deforestation or harming people.

Sustainable palm oil at the moment is still a ways off. The RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) was formed in 2004 as a not-for-profit organisation with members from all sectors of the palm oil industry. The Smithsonian says “some critics argue that the RSPO, doesn’t go far enough: Its standards forbid deforestation only in “high conservation value areas,” a term that has no legal definition. And a trader who earns an RSPO certificate can go on to mix “clean” and uncertified oil.” Many are hopeful that this NGO could help to slow or stop deforestation related to the industry.

The WWF (World Wildlife Fund) claims that “large areas of tropical forests and other ecosystems with high conservation values have been cleared to make room for vast monoculture oil palm plantations – destroying critical habitat for many endangered species, including rhinos, elephants and tigers. In some cases, the expansion of plantations has lead to the eviction of forest-dwelling peoples.”

According to Save the Orangutan, the orangutan is losing its home at an alarming rate, and is now considered critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). In total 80 per cent of their natural habitat is thought to have been lost during the last 20 years. It is estimated that 3,000 orangutans continue to die each year due to habitat loss and land conversion, which is a decremental number in a population estimate of around 104.000 individuals, down from 288.000 in 1973. The IUCN consider the Bornean orangutans as critically endangered due to an estimated 86 % population decline between 1973 and 2025, illustrating a very high risk of the orangutan going extinct in the wild.

So now that we understand what is going on in the Palm Oil Industry, what can be done to solve the problem? It is obvious that we must get everyone on board using sustainable products. The WWF is pushing the RSPO agenda and states that if major sustainability markets in the US and Europe boycott palm oil, producers will simply turn to other markets with fewer incentives for improved social and environmental practices. Sadly, only 20% of total global palm oil production has been certified.

It is now up to us to demand adherence, by the brands we support, to ensuring that they can trace their supply chains back to the plantations and smallholders.

One Green Planet offers the following list of companies that are pledging to work towards 100% sustainable Palm Oil sourcing. Many promised to make the switch by 2015. At the moment, some of these corporations have made more progress than others toward this goal. At the very least, these companies are taking a step in the right direction to a more sustainable future and hopefully others will follow suit.

1. Hershey
In 2011, Hershey Co. agreed to purchase all of its palm oil from 100 percent sustainable, traceable sources by 2015. Since then, the company has made incredible progress and now plans to reach this goal by the end of 2014.

2. Walmart
In 2010, Walmart launched a Global Sustainable Agriculture campaign to help small farmers bolster their business. Walmart highlights its goal to change its practices of sourcing beef and palm oil, naming these industries as the most environmentally damaging. By mandating that private Walmart brand products be sourced from sustainable palm plantations, Walmart estimates it will reduce over all greenhouse gas emissions by five million metric tons by 2015.

3. Avon Inc.
The makeup giant, Avon Inc. joined the RSPO as part of the 2011 “Avon Palm Oil Promise” campaign. While Avon Inc. does not consider itself a “significant” user of palm oil, they have committed to using sustainably sourced palm oil to help drive the future of the industry.

4. P&G Chemicals
Proctor & Gamble (P&G) manufactures basically every consumer good you could imagine. Because of this, they have a pretty big stake in the palm oil industry. To ensure the palm oil used in their wide range of products is sustainably sourced, P&G offers “supplier and partner coaching” on the principles and criteria to meet RSPO standards. P&G has also partnered with nonprofit organizations and other stakeholders to hold their practices accountable.

5. ConAgra
ConAgra is an American packaged food company that produces brands such as Marie Callendars, Orville Redenbacher, and Slim Jim. The company has a bit of a shady track record and has faced criticism for its environmental policies in the past. However, ConAgra believes palm oil is a “healthy” alternative to trans fat and in an effort to make both the planet and their customers a little healthier, they have committed to sourcing 100 percent sustainable palm oil by 2015.

6. Johnson & Johnson
In 2010 and 2011, Johnson & Johnson purchased 100 percent of their palm oil needs from sustainable sources through RSPO’s GreenPalm program. Although Johnson & Johnson is responsible for only 0.2 percent of the world’s palm oil consumption, they have a highly comprehensive plan in place to ensure the palm oil they do use is sustainably sourced.

7. Heinz
Heinz started their mission to convert to sustainable palm oil in 2010. The company has since reduced their global demand for palm oil by 25 percent and achieved their goal of sourcing 100 percent sustainable palm oil by 2013.

8. Marks & Spencers
Marks & Spencers (M&S) is the British equivalent to Target. Marks & Spencers manufactures their own product brand that includes food, household goods and beauty products. M&S launched a sustainability program in 2007 and is committed to sourcing all palm oil for their brand from sustainable sources by 2015.

9. Earth Balance
You probably know Earth Balance as the vegan, GMO free margarine company but, in 2009 Earth Balance had vegans and animal lovers up in arms for its use of palm oil. Even though the faux-butter spread was free of animal products, its link to palm oil implicates its support of animal cruelty. Since then, Earth Balance has verified its commitment to 100 percent sustainable palm oil. The palm oil used in Earth Balance comes from organic farms in Brazil as well as RSPO certified sources in Malaysia. Earth Balance also purchases GreenPalm certificates and actively supports Orangutan Foundation International.

10. Dunkin’ Donuts
In 2013, Dunkin’ Donuts announced it was changing its recipes, using only 100 percent sustainably sourced palm oil to fry their signature donuts. While this might not make doughnuts any better for you, it does set a standard for other fast food companies.

Even though adopting sustainable practices may seem like the obvious thing for ALL corporations to do, they are historically slow to hop on the wagon. If you want to see a change in the brands you buy, the power is in your palm!

The WWF, while not totally unbiased, provides us with this handy scorecard that allows us to evaluate leading retail, manufacturing and food service industries on their use of sustainable Palm Oil. Let’s let our dollars do the talking.

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