Update: A Starbucks spokesperson has confirmed the company’s commitment to sustainable palm oil and issued the following statement: “I can confirm that our products in the US and Europe currently use RSPO certified palm oil and we have committed to extending our use of RSPO certified palm oil to 100 percent of our products globally by 2015.” The company is currently in the process of updating their online ingredient information to reflect this commitment.
Green Century Management announced last week that Starbucks agreed to purchase all palm oil from suppliers with sustainable certification by 2015. The reason for the commitment is a shareholder resolution filed by Green Century Balanced Fund, an environmentally responsible mutual fund. Green Century filed the shareholder resolution due to concerns that some of Starbucks’ palm oil suppliers use practices that are bad for the rainforests from which palm oil is derived. Starbucks also agreed to become a member of Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, plus continue to work with Green Century concerning its palm oil commitments.
“Shareholders needed Starbucks to address the business risks associated with sourcing conventional palm oil and it has delivered,” said Leslie Samuelrich, Senior Vice President, Green Century. “As the pace of global warming has accelerated, we are pleased Starbucks has decided to curb the increasingly apparent and threatening impact that global warming has on our lives and planet,” added Samuelrich.
Rainforests being destroyed for palm oil production
Palm oil is used in 50 percent of all consumer goods, including lipstick and body lotion. In the last decade, palm oil imports to the U.S. have increased by 485 percent, “pushing palm oil cultivation into the rainforests and making this crop one of the key causes of rainforest destruction around the globe,” according to the Rainforest Action Network. About 85 percent of palm oil is grown in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea on industrial plantations. North American food and agribusiness companies both purchase from and own and operate many palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia.
Palm oil production in Indonesia is causing massive deforestation. Indonesia’s rainforests are some of the world’s most diverse, and provide a habitat for species such as Sumatran tigers, which RAN describes as being “highly endangered.” The Indonesian government announced plans to convert about 18 million more hectares of rainforests, which is about the size of Missouri, into palm oil plantations by 2020. That kind of wholesale destruction of rainforests causes environmental and economic damage.
Razing rainforests to plant palm oil releases stored greenhouse gases (GHGs), including carbon dioxide. Deforestation causes 80 percent of Indonesia’s carbon emissions. Indonesia is the third largest emitter of GHGs in the world. Burning is a common way to raze forests, and burning forests releases smoke into the atmosphere which causes air pollution. Palm oil mills cause water and soil pollution, plus soil erosion. The people who live in Indonesia rainforests, numbering in the tens of millions, depend on the rainforests to survive. When a rainforest is destroyed, whole communities face poverty.
Slowly moving towards a more sustainable palm oil supply chain
Starbucks is not the only company to make a commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil. Other companies in the last few years have made similar commitments, including Unilever, Nestle, P&G, SC Johnson, General Mills, Mars, McDonalds and Walmart. Starbucks is also not the only company with a shareholder resolution concerning palm oil. A shareholder resolution* filed with Dunkin’ Donuts states, “Our company has not made such a commitment and we believe has not addressed the risks described above.” The official status of the resolution is “Withdrawn, company will address.” Dunkin’ Donuts has yet to make a commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil.
Clearly, it is time for North American food and agribusiness companies to make a commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil to ensure that rainforests in Indonesia are not completely destroyed. In a time when climate change is causing destruction through major weather events, it is completely irresponsible to be the cause of more GHGs being released into the atmosphere.
*CORRECTION: A previous version mistakenly attributed the shareholder resolution to Ceres.
Image credit: Flickr user, DrLianPinKoh