Brownies Take on Girl Scouts USA over Palm Oil in Thin Mints

About two months ago I received a phone call from my 6-year-old niece, asking me if I wanted to buy Girl Scout Cookies. Two words that have become associated with these popular cookies quickly came to mind: palm oil. But how could I resist? Not only would my niece not understand, but I do admit that I have been in love with Samoas since I sold Girl Scout Cookies. I caved and bought a few boxes.

It was after I received my cookies that I read an inspiring story about two young Girl Scouts who were determined to make a difference after they found out that their cookies contained unsustainable palm oil. As many know, palm oil production is the major cause of deforestation of rainforests. The shock came for young Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen was when they found out that the clearing of rainforests threatens the survival of orangutans.

Now there are advocates out there who are major proponents of sustainable palm oil, such as McDonald’s, but there are also major companies such as Burger King and HSBC that have both made big strides in no longer supporting Indonesian producers. So why are the Girl Scouts and their baking company, Little Brownie Bakers, still including the ingredient in their cookies? Madison and Rhiannon set out to find out and make a difference.

In 2008, inspired by both their Girl Scout training and the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, the two 11-year-old girls had a conference call with Barry Horowitz, Vice President and General Manager of Girl Scout Merchandise. They requested a switch from palm oil to a truly sustainable alternative. Horowitz seemed as though the issue concerned him and promised that he’d be in touch with next steps after contacting the cookie manufacturers.

According to the Girl Scouts website, palm oil is used because the “licensed cookie bakers tell us it continues to be necessary to use palm oil in specific cookies to ensure their shelf life, quality, and to serve as a healthful alternative to trans-fats. Many top bakers have tried to stop using palm oil, but without it, their products do not meet quality and production standards.”

As time passed, Madison and Rhiannon decided they wanted to do something more. They organized Girl Scout troops across the country to generate pressure on Girl Scouts of the USA and convinced Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Biological Diversity, Cultural Survival, Orangutan Foundation International, and Rainforest Action Network to send letters of concern on their behalf  to the national Girl Scout headquarters in New York City.

Three years later, the young girls still haven’t given up and both take a strong stance on palm oil. Head on over to The Understory to read more about Madison and Rhiannon’s quest for a sustainable alternative.

The good news is the Girl Scouts website states Effective in 2011, Little Brownie Bakers and its parent company, Kellogg, have committed to covering 100% of their global palm oil use through the purchase of GreenPalm certificates. Funds from GreenPalm certificates help growers invest in the transition to sustainable palm oil.”

Next year, the Girl Scouts will be celebrating 100 years of “building girls of courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place.” We can only hope that perhaps it will be on this celebratory year that a major change will be made once and for all.

Shown in the photo above: Rhiannon (left) and Madison (right) campaigning to save orangutans in seventh grade. Photo via: The Understory.

Kara is 3p's writer from New England. In her Newport, RI community, Kara is the organizer of Green Drinks Newport, is a member of Newport's Energy & Environment Commission, is a volunteer for the Neighborhood Energy Challenge, Norman Bird Sanctuary, and has also volunteered as a panelist for Rhode Island Farmways, speaking to farmers from around the state about how they can better market and promote their businesses. Beyond the moat that surrounds her island home, Kara has backpacked Mt. Washington in New Hampshire too many times to count and she hopes her next adventure will be to ski the gnarly Tuckerman's Ravine. Kara is a member of the Appalachian Mountain Club, a graduate of the Colorado Outward Bound School and in real life, she is a public relations director who'd just plain like to see the world a greener place. Kara has been writing for TreeHugger.com since January 2005 and began writing for 3p in January 2010.