CSR Consultant Calls Sustainable Palm Oil A Myth

While the following announcements are positive, immediate action and compliance on all fronts is necessary. There has been a great deal of smoke and mirrors in the past regarding deforestation and conservation issues in Southeast Asia. The key barometer now is the tiger and orangutan (not to discount climate change factors). Sumatra has just 250-350 tigers left in the wild. Hopefully, the companies involved will do everything within their power to save each and every last one. We only have a few thousand orangutans on Sumatra and Borneo. Further decline in their numbers and in their habitat is not acceptable. Furthermore, “sustainable” plantations do not allow wild animals to enter. Monoculture in place of biodiversity and habitat is not sustainable. So, please, don’t let these details slip through the cracks under the guise of sustainable practices.   

Palm oil generates $50 billion annually and is used in about half of all packaged foods and many personal care products. U.S. imports alone have jumped almost five times in the past decade. The demand from places such as India have even been stronger.

sustainable palm oil deforestation

Many palm oil from plantations destroy rainforests in Southeast Asian nations, primarily Indonesia and Malaysia. The forests are home to endangered species, including the orangutan and Sumatran tiger. Palm oil cultivation has wiped out more than 30,000 square miles of rainforests in Indonesia and Malaysia alone, according to some conservation leaders.

Kellogg Co. said it will buy palm oil only from companies that don’t destroy tropical rainforests to produce the additive used in many processed foods. The cereal giant responded to a campaign by environmental groups.

Kellogg announced that it would require its suppliers to trace their palm oil to plantations that have been verified independently as complying with the law and meeting standards for protecting the environment and human rights. The policy also applies to processors and growers, said Diane Holdorf, Kellogg’s chief sustainability officer.

Indonesia wildlife conservation

“We must ensure they are all producing palm oil in a way that’s environmentally responsible, socially beneficial and economically viable,” Holdorf said.

Palm oil is a minor ingredient in Kellogg products such as Pop-Tarts, cookies and waffles, although most of its cereals don’t contain it, she said.

The announcement drew praise from some environmental groups. They described the new policy, which requires compliance or substantial progress by Dec. 31, 2015, as the industry’s toughest.

“Kellogg is sending a strong message to palm oil producers that traceable, deforestation-free and exploitation-free palm oil are core conditions for global market access,” said Deborah Lapidus, campaign director for Catapult.

Environmental groups also credited Kellogg with influencing joint venture partner Wilmar International Ltd., the world’s biggest palm oil trading company, to overhaul its policies. Wilmar announced in December that its plantations and suppliers would protect forests with high conservation values, prohibit using fire to clear land and ban development on peatlands.

palm oil and deforestation

Meanwhile, as you may have noticed, P&G has aggressively leveraged motherhood in its advertising. Greenpeace seized the opportunity to release a spot that puts a spotlight on the company’s role in tropical forest destruction in Indonesia, which has killed thousands of orangutans, not to mention tigers and elephants. Many home products use palm oil, which Greenpeace says is sourced from companies that are connected to substantial clearance of endangered orangutan habitat in Indonesia. The spot puts a heartbreaking (nearly) human face on the issue.

The spot debuted just days before a group of nine Greenpeace protesters were arrested on burglary and vandalism charges after breaking into Procter and Gamble’s Cincinnati offices, where they used zip lines to unfurl protest banners from the 12th floor. A P&G spokesperson told the Washington Post that the company is “on the same side of the issue” as Greenpeace and it is committed to 100 percent sustainable sourcing of its palm oil by 2015.

Meanwhile, Unilever, the world’s largest buyer of palm oil has made rapid shifts to so-called sustainable palm oil. Again, the question remains how that definition applies to biodiversity and endangered species–especially tigers, orangutans and elephants.

Indonesia orangutan conservation

I applaud the response. We hope that the intent is to save endangered species at all costs. Otherwise, the term “sustainable palm oil” will be a legacy of shame.

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