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Why We're Growing the Sustainable Palm Oil Dialogue in North America

By 3p Contributor

By Dan Strechay and Amy Braun Senter 

Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world, found in everything from chocolate and ice cream to detergent and biodiesel. Walk into a supermarket and you’ll find it in the ingredient list of nearly half of all consumer packaged food items. Globally, it has an estimated turnover of around $40 billion. And the industry is still growing, with demand for palm oil increasing year over year. By 2021, turnover is expected to reach $91 billion.

But as demand increases, so too do concerns about the social and environmental damage caused by the crop. Allegations made against the industry include deforestation, displacement of local communities, pressure on endangered species and exploitation of workers. Companies have repeatedly been called on to address these negative impacts and strengthen their supply chains, but struggle due to a lack of transparency to the source.

Despite these historical challenges, palm oil can be grown sustainably using best practices, and steps are already being taken to make sustainable palm oil the norm for suppliers and purchasers alike. In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded with the goal of creating a more sustainable palm oil industry by bringing together growers, NGOs, and financial institutions. The RSPO has developed and implemented global standards for palm oil cultivation; ensuring palm oil is produced sustainably for both the earth and its people.

We at the RSPO work every day to transform the palm oil industry into one that is responsible and sustainable; collaborating with other organizations to grow the volumes of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) that are produced and bought around the world. Continuous improvement is vital to our organization, as we know we still have great strides to make as an industry.

That’s why last week, at our 15th Annual Round Table Meeting, RSPO members announced the formation of the North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON). The newly formed coalition brings together an independent group of associations, civil society organizations, consumer goods manufacturers, food-service retailers, and palm oil traders and producers committed to increasing the use of certified sustainable palm oil and certified sustainable palm kernel oil in North America. Moving forward, we will work with NASPON members, like Kellogg Company, to collaboratively find industry-wide solutions that secure CSPO in their products and ensure respect for human and labor rights, local communities and biodiversity through the palm oil supply chain. Ed note: Read 3p correspondent Leon Kaye's take on NASPON here

“We’re proud to be a founding member of NASPON. This robust and diverse network will help lead the charge to deliver on global commitments to source sustainable palm oil. Together with others across the palm oil supply chain we’re implementing guidance and programs with our suppliers to ensure that we are proactively sourcing fully traceable palm oil,” said Amy Braun Senter, Kellogg Director of Sustainability. “NASPON is helping us identify certified sources that are environmentally appropriate, socially beneficial, economically viable and in compliance with our Global Supplier Code of Conduct. Together we can better address the environmental and social impacts of palm oil agriculture. These partnerships are important because the challenges are far too large for any one company or organization to tackle alone.”

To date, the North American market has been underserved from this perspective of collaborative engagement; this effort will provide a much-needed platform for members to ensure the market’s specific needs are considered and information is shared on important issues. And for organizations focused on solely North America only now engaging with RSPO, NASPON provides an opportunity to tap a collaborative network, accelerating the learning curve and quickly identifying partners to leverage in the market in a similar fashion to the successful market-led coalitions that exist in Europe.

Today, about one-fifth of the palm oil produced globally is certified sustainable by the RSPO, leaving us far from meeting our goal. NASPON will help us in our ongoing work to close that gap, continuing our progress toward 100 percent CSPO both in the North American market and across the globe, and encouraging supply chain actors to move all palm oil consuming industries to commit to enhanced supply chain transparency and continuous improvement.

Visit RSPO.org for more information about how you can help us on our journey toward making sustainable palm oil the norm.

Dan Strechay, U.S. Representative, Outreach & Engagement at Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO): Dan joined RSPO as the U.S. Representative in July 2016. Based in New York, he is now responsible for outreach and engagement activities to members and stakeholder in the U.S., as well as formalizing the RSPO’s presence in this important market. Prior to joining the RSPO, Dan was the Senior Manager, Sustainability Communications for PepsiCo, located at the Purchase, NY headquarters where he worked on the implementation and communication of its “Performance with Purpose” vision, as well as providing support for the Office of Sustainability, Procurement, Public Policy and Government Affairs teams on sustainability issues and policies.

Amy Braun Senter, Director of Sustainability, Kellogg Company: As Sustainability Director at the Kellogg Company, Amy leads responsible sourcing including Kellogg’s commitments to sustainable agriculture, women and smallholders.  Responsibilities include embedding sustainability within procurement by working with Kellogg’s supply chain for ingredients, packaging and services. She represents Kellogg in many industry groups including RSPO, Field to Market, BICEP, and World Business Council for Sustainable Development, as well as working with external stakeholders and partners.  Amy has experience working in both private and public organizations and has a B.S. in the Program in the Environment and an M.S. in Environmental Policy and Planning from the University of Michigan.

Photo credit: Flickr / Aul Rah

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