Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Dr. Bronner’s Takes the Lead in Sourcing Sustainable Palm Oil

By Leon Kaye

Palm oil production has surged across the world in recent years, and often with devastating results. More companies have pledged to source palm oil more responsibly, but the consequences to the environment, wildlife and people have been severe as more tropical rainforest has been razed to cope with global demand.

When it comes ensuring fairness for people who harvest palm oil, one company making a difference is Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps, the iconic manufacturer of castile soap and other natural personal care products. With palm oil in countless items eaten or applied — from cosmetics and toothpaste to packaged crackers and cookies — Dr. Bronner’s leadership on the development of more responsible sources of palm oil is a template for other companies pledging to do less harm.

Dr. Bronner’s efforts date back to 2007, when Serendipalm, a sister company located in eastern Ghana, opened up for business. By then palm oil production had long drawn the ire of environmentalists and human rights activists for a bevy of reasons —from the clear-cutting and slash-and-burn techniques that scarred the land to indigenous peoples being forcibly removed from their lands.

According to Dr. Bronner's, the palm oil operation in Asuom, Ghana nixes several of the problems associated with conventionally-grown palm oil. The factory, an employer of more than 200 people, sources the organically-certified reddish palm fruit from approximately 700 local farmers. Those growers in turn cultivate the palm fruit on over 4,000 acres using organic methods that replenish the soil and help boost local biodiversity. Unlike the sprawling palm oil plantations in Indonesia, Ghana is not a natural home of orangutans, the giant Asian apes that have lost much habitat to palm oil production.

The difference that Dr. Bronner’s takes towards sustainable palm oil, in contrast to RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), is the emphasis on both organic palm oil production and fair trade practices. While RSPO focuses on conventionally-grown palm oil and the large companies that source this raw material, Dr. Bronner’s sought palm oil production that emphasized both the socially and the environmentally responsible.

As this video shows, the palm oil production in Ghana has generated a better way of life for local farmers and their families. Proceeds from the fair trade premiums have paid for wells providing drinking water; a dormitory for nurses was built at a local hospital; and the rise in incomes have allowed many families to send their children to school. And with Dr. Bronner’s business continuing to grow, the company has pledged to buy even more than the 450 metric tons of palm oil that Serendipalm produces annually — generating even more economic opportunity, safely and fairly.

Image credit: Serendiworld

Leon Kaye has lived in Abu Dhabi for the past year and is on his way back to California. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye