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Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Dunkin' Donuts Commits to 100% Sustainable Palm Oil

Is this an excuse to eat more donuts? Another major food company joined the ranks of companies with commitments to buy 100 percent sustainably sourced palm oil. The company is Dunkin' Brands Group, the parent company of Dunkin' Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, and the New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli made the announcement a few weeks ago. DiNapoli filed a shareholder resolution asking Dunkin' Donuts to address the environmental problems associated with palm oil production. He withdrew the shareholder resolution, as a result of Dunkin' Brands Group's commitment. DiNapoli is the trustee of New York's pension fund, which owns about $1.9 million worth of the company's stock.

Currently, all of Dunkin' Donuts products use a palm, soy and cottonseed oil blend, and have used the blend since October 2007 when it transitioned its menu to 100 percent trans-fat free. Other companies that the New York pension fund invests in have agreed to adopt sustainable practices where palm oil is concerned. Sara Lee agreed in 2010 to purchase palm oil from Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) members. J.M. Smucker Company agreed last year to source 100 percent of its direct palm oil from RSPO-certified sources by 2015

"Dunkin’ Brands should be commended for taking the necessary steps to use only sustainably harvested palm oil in its products," said DiNapoli. "Shareholder value is enhanced when companies take steps to address the risks associated with environmental practices that promote climate change."

Palm oil production & rainforest destruction

Palm oil is used in 50 percent of all consumer goods, ranging from food products to lipstick. During the last decade, palm oil imports have increased 485 percent. Palm oil offers a greater yield at a lower production cost than other vegetable oils, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). About 85 percent of the world's palm oil supply is grown in Indonesia, Malaysia and Papua New Guinea on industrial plantations.

The Rainforest Action Network (RAN) calls the palm oil crop "one of the key causes of rainforest destruction around the globe." When rainforests are destroyed it causes social and environmental problems, including destroying endangered animals' habitat, like the Sumatran tigers, elephants and orangutans. Tens of millions of Indonesians rely on rainforests to make a living, and razing rainforests destroys their livelihoods. Rainforests are the largest carbon sinks on the planet, according to RAN, and when they are destroyed massive amounts of carbon are released, further adding to climate change. Indonesia is the world's third largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter, behind only China and the U.S.

Rainforest destruction causes other environmental problems. A palm oil mill generates 2.5 metric tons of effluent for every metric ton of palm oil produced, and the direct release of effluent can pollute freshwater. Soil erosion occurs when the rainforests are cleared to plant palm oil.

The Indonesian government announced in 2009 its plans to convert about 18 million more hectares of rainforest (about the size of Missouri) into palm oil plantations by 2020, almost doubling the 9.7 million hectares licensed for production in 2009. The demand for palm oil is predicted to double by 2020, and 1,160 new square miles will have to be planted every year for 20 years to meet that production increase. That would wipe out the remaining orangutans, rhinos and tigers on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. Orangutans are only found in Indonesia and Malaysia.

Image credit: Flickr user, nitebot

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshotGina-Marie Cheeseman

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

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