Palm Oil Buyers Beware! WWF’s latest Scores on Companies are In
Palm oil can be produced in environmentally friendly ways. Often, however, it is not. Photo Credit: WWF
The results are in and they are so-so. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has released its latest Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard, on which it has evaluated the performance of numerous companies worldwide based on how well they have done on fulfilling their pledged commitment to buying and using only 100% environmentally sourced palm oil in their products.
The 2016 edition of the scorecard, the non-profit explains, “looks at 137 major retailers, consumer goods manufacturers and food service companies from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, Japan and India. Evaluated companies include such iconic brands as Carrefour, L’Oreal, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Tesco, and Walmart among others.” As with its previous Scorecards, the latest one, too, has measured “how companies performed on basic steps such as joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), committing to and buying sustainable palm oil, and transparency,” it adds.
Half of the companies WWF has surveyed have made progress since last year’s survey. A whole fifth of them, however, have either failed to respond to WWF, have done precious little to improve their performance, or else have dodged the issue altogether. “That is unacceptable behaviour considering the easy availability of certified sustainable palm oil,” WWF observes. “More than half of the companies had promised us and their customers that they would be using only certified palm oil by 2015. While most of them did achieve their targets, it is a disappointment that 21 companies did not.”
Larger companies that have proved themselves to be laggards are of especial concern because they may buy large amounts of palm oil that have been produced with great environmental costs. They should follow the examples of a few leaders in the field which are “showing their peers exactly how they too should be driving industry change by sourcing significant volumes of certified sustainable palm oil from any of the RSPO approved supply chains,” WWF explains. These noteworthy companies include Unilever, Ferrero, Reckitt Benckiser, Colgate-Palmolive and ConAgra Foods. “Medium-sized users of palm oil scoring equally well on buying certified palm oil included Walmart, Mars, Associated British Foods, General Mills, Kellogg’s, and Danone,” the nonprofit notes.
All in all, however, only three companies have proved themselves to be fully committed to going all out to ensure that they use nothing but 100% segregated and certified sustainable palm oil in 2015: Ferrero, Danone and Arnott’s. “Of these companies, only Ferrero uses large volumes of palm oil,” WWF observes. The 2016 Scorecard is the fourth WWF has published since 2009. It scores 94 companies that were also assessed in 2013: 75 of these companies have since made progress, but 11 have not. Another eight have gone backwards.
Palm oil is the world’s most produced, traded and consumed vegetable oil, accounting for all 40% vegetable oil around the world. It is used in a seemingly endless range of products from lipstick to chocolate and from margarine to laundry detergent. It’s also used to fuel vehicles, generate electricity and feed animals.
So far so good. The trouble is that when it’s grown in the wrong place and the wrong way, palm oil can wreak havoc with wildlife, local communities, the environment and even the climate,
The “wrong place” is anywhere tropical forests are felled to make way for palm oil plantations. The “wrong way” is environmentally unsustainable manners that deal a blow to local ecosystems and environments. “Palm oil grows best in low-lying, wet, tropical areas – exactly where tropical rainforests grow naturally,” WWF notes. “Clearing for palm oil plantations has led to widespread destruction of rainforests, most significantly in Indonesia and Malaysia. This has damaged the habitats of unique wildlife including elephants, orangutans, rhinos and tigers, alongside a teeming array of other plants and animals.”
Palm oil cultivation has been a very lucrative business to countries like Malaysia and Indonesia. Yet chasing profits at the expense of the environment has helped decimate these countries’ unique ecosystems, at times irreparably. Carrying on in the old ways won’t do. The palm oil industry will need to clean up its act once and for all.
“The industry is at a critical stage on the journey to sustainable palm oil,” stresses Adam Harrison, head of WWF’s Palm Oil project. “More major brands are now using only certified palm oil yet laggard companies continue to drag their feet. That needs to change,” he adds. “WWF urges consumers to visit the Scorecard website and use it to reach out to companies to commend those that are leading the way and to tell the others to do better. We all have a role to play in demanding full participation and transparency of all palm oil buyers across the globe in order to stem the tide of deforestation and affect true sector wide transformation.”
In other words, we can all make a difference as individual consumers by buying products from only those companies that use wholly green palm oil, which has not come any further costs to the environment. “The last thing on your mind as you’re munching away on your buttered toast is a rainforest thousands of kilometres away,” WWF observes. “And yet, it’s quite likely that parts of your breakfast may have imperiled that fragile ecosystem.”
That does not mean, however, that all products with palm oil in them have been produced with terrible costs to those forests. More and more companies are trying to cultivate palm oil in ways that do not harm local ecosystems and human communities. Companies can ensure that that is the case by, among other steps, 1) joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); 2) by making it clear to their suppliers that they require all supplied products to contain only certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO); and 3) by moving towards sourcing only segregated CSPO.
The palm oil industry can become sustainable. It’s only a matter of will and dedication.