Now here’s a story that I think will leave you feeling a whole lot better than eating a fast food meal will. It’s a relatively small bit of news in the overall scheme of things, but it’s one that gives me hope that the numerous efforts and organization that are putting their hearts, bodies, and minds into trying to turn this big ship we call our modern society towards a more sustainable direction are not entirely wasting their time.
Last week, Burger King announced that it would no longer buy palm oil from the Indonesian conglomerate Sinar Mas after learning that one of the company’s subsidiaries has been destroying rainforests and carbon-dense peatlands in Borneo and Sumatra. According to BSI Group, an independent auditor, Sinar Mas’ PT Smart subsidiary had cleared forests and peatlands without proper permits in eight of the eleven concessions audited, in violation of Indonesian law and environmental rules of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil certification system.
Burger King’s statement said:
Burger King Corp. is committed to sourcing our products from sustainable suppliers. After completing a thorough review of the independent verification report conducted by Control Union Certification (CUC) and BSI Group, we believe the report has raised valid concerns about some of the sustainability practices of Sinar Mas’ palm oil production and its impact on the rainforest… As a result, we have decided we will no longer purchase palm oil from Sinar Mas or its subsidiaries. We are in the process of transitioning to a new palm oil supplier for the 176 BURGER KING® restaurants that were supplied by Sinar Mas.
PT SMART’s response included the following language.
We have made mistakes, but these are not to the extent that it has been made out to be. This must be put into context. We have also made clear that where mistakes were made, we have taken the necessary action to ensure that this is not repeated. We will co-operate fully with our customers who are assessing their supply chains. The parent company of SMART, Golden Agri-Resources (GAR) aims to obtain RSPO certification for all of its existing palm oil operating units by 2015.
Without getting into all the particulars of the case, I think the important thing to recognize is the fact that companies like Burger King are taking their sustainability commitments seriously. This sends out a clear message to their entire supply chain and to all suppliers of palm oil and other related products. Losing Burger King’s business is undoubtedly a serious blow to Sinar Mas.
At the same time, this does not appear to be an isolated incident. A Greenpeace report critical of Sinar Mas’ pulp and paper subsidiaries, called How Sinar Mas is Pulping the Planet claimed that the company was stripping critical natural areas in Sumatra, destroying precious rainforest and endangering the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan.
The report states: “Sumatra’s peat swamp forests not only provide habitat for endangered species …, they are also of critical importance in mitigating climate change. The clearing and draining of peatlands is the key reason why Indonesia is the world’s third largest GHG emitter.”
Greenpeace is asking Indonesian President Yudhoyono to extend the moratorium on new deforestation licenses to cover all forest and peatlands that are currently slated for destruction by Sinar Mas and other companies.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether these same areas being stripped for paper pulp were the same one being planted with oil palms.
As the result of the Greenpeace report, a growing number of international consumer companies including Unilever, Kraft and Nestlé suspended multimillion dollar palm oil contracts with Sinar Mas.
Palm oil is a highly productive vegetable oil crop, requiring less land than most other oils. However it is often cultivated at the expense of existing forest lands which has a negative environmental impact. The oil is also attractive because it contains no trans fats and it has an extended shelf life.
RP Siegel is co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails which takes readers through Ecuador and Indonesia among other ecologically critical areas where corporate interests are causing serious problems in the ecosystem.
Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.