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Who's Who in Sustainable Palm Oil Sourcing

Jan Lee headshotWords by Jan Lee
Leadership & Transparency

The push for sustainably sourced palm oil has been gaining prominence in the past few years. Quite a number of organizations have stepped up to the plate recent months to lobby for improved sourcing methods that don’t destroy forests in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Environmental advocates ranging from Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network to local zoos like Woodland Park, Cheyenne Mountain and St. Louis have taken a stand to encourage oil producers and purchasers to make the switch to sustainable sources.
Many companies have heard that call and set commitments for change. But as the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out recently, there’s a difference between making the commitment and making the comprehensive change.

To be fair, conversion to sustainably sourced palm oil is no small feat. It’s expensive for a company to do so. It requires commitment and it requires planning. But companies like Unilever, which spearheaded a successful transition to sustainable, certified sources three years earlier than anticipated and Nestlé, which at the behest of Greenpeace supporters, partnered with its supplier, Golden Agri Resources and The Forest Trust to develop a better model for sourcing back in 2010, underscored the urgency of this change.

So how do consumers know who has made the pledge to switch to sustainable sources, and who hasn’t yet? And how do they know what that pledge really means?

You can find out here, on the pages of Triple Pundit, where we try to feature not only the names of those companies and organizations that push for conversion, but what it took and what they see as an outcome of their sustainable farming and sourcing efforts.

But if you are looking for a company-by-company comparison of the top ten companies already working toward that goal, the Union of Concerned Scientists has undertaken that effort.

Its online Palm Oil Scoreboard is exactly that: a register of the progress that each major palm oil user has made over the past few years. As the UCS has noted, ethical sourcing isn’t always just what the company buys that counts. Oftentimes its environmental rating depends on how it grows or produces the ingredient itself and how it manages a responsible supply chain.

Does the company have a commitment to ensure the oil it uses is deforestation free? Does it also acknowledge the importance of ensuring the preservation of peat land that is essential to sustaining a healthy forest? Are its products and sources traceable? Does it support transparency in its operations? And given the devastated conditions of some areas like the islands of Sarawak and Sabah, are their actions timely?

The list also gives a summary of what each company has done, what its stated commitment is toward each area of concern, and what it needs to do to be able to say it is sourcing ethically. And, it doesn't just look at packaged food producers, but personal care manufacturers and fast-food services.

Sadly, none of the companies on the list has yet received a sterling review on all counts (although some come impressively close). But as we said in the beginning transitioning to sustainable sourcing isn’t easy when world sources have relied upon other methods for so many years.

Hopefully the UCS scoreboard will serve as another encouragement for companies to make the change. And hopefully as well, the UCS will consider expanding this list so that mid-sized and small companies are reminded that big or small, the effort counts.

Image of palm forest: Fallacia

Image of deforestation due to unsustainable palm tree harvesting: H Dragon

Image of successive deforestation: Sandra Diaz

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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