A lot more than you think! Palm Oil sneaks into over half of products sold in our supermarkets, from shampoo, to chocolate, to detergents, and even biodiesel. Palm oil has received a lot of negative attention from the environmental community. While it can be a boon to developing economies, the production of palm oil also comes with a host of ethical issues including child labor and human rights violations. When palm oil is produced with only profits in mind, it contributes to egregious amounts of deforestation via uncontrolled clearing of land for conventional oil palm plantations. Obvious problems associated with this habitat removal include species loss, soil loss, and water quality loss ... to name a few.
But there's a glimmer of hope. Producing palm oil can be less destructive and the good news is that efforts are underway by industries and plantations to implement these methods. Certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and palm kernel oil (CSPKO) are produced by plantations which have been independently audited and found to comply with the globally agreed environmental standards devised by RSPO, (the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Environmentally-conscious consumers are now looking this information on their product packaging and labeling to ensure that they are using products that contain palm oil that
A recent UCS report authored by Lael K. Goodman and Asha R. Sharma entitled Fries, Face Wash, Forests: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments explores this landscape.
"...2014 was a historic year for businesses addressing the risks of buying palm oil irresponsibly. Many companies have already pledged to only purchase palm oil produced using these higher standards of deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil. These pledges were bolstered by commitments from some of the largest palm oil traders that supply palm oil to large American brands.”
UCS’s report also includes a palm oil scorecard featuring 40 companies, measuring their commitment levels from strong to none, and using five determining criteria; deforestation-free, peat-free, traceability, transparency, and current sourcing. Criteria covered four product sectors including; packaged food, personal care, fast food, and store brands. The results are more varied than you might think. For example, Nestle, which has gained a lengthy rap-sheet on its past environmental transgressions, received the highest rating (90.5/100) with Kelloggs, Danone and Colgate-Palmolive in a close second. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Whole Foods, the beacon of feel-goodery-grocery received a 30/100 for their store brand 365 Everyday Value and Whole Foods Markets store brands, (barely beating Wal-Mart).
As awareness grows, we will see these scores rise. In fact, compared to a similar UCS report from last year, 21 companies have shown improvement. In the meantime, following this list is a great way to “vote with your wallet.” While each purchase of a product made with responsibly-sourced palm oil seems like a small item on your receipt, making these purchases collectively can add up in a powerful way.
Photo: Clearing of forests for palm oil destroys the habitats of species like the Bornean orangutan, pictured at top— the only species of primate that inhabits Asia.
Images courtesy of CIFOR (The Center for International Forestry Research)
The Palm Oil Score Card:Fries, Face Wash, Forests Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments via Union of Concerned Scientists
Which Everyday Products Contain Palm Oil via worldwildlife.org
Creating Ripples for Positive Change via worldwildlife.org
Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson