Sustainable Palm Oil – does it do what it says on the tin?

The other day I came across a RSPO accreditation on a jar of chocolate spread  for sustainable palm oil which got me thinking if this actually does on the ground what they say they are doing?

Food and other products will have both direct and indirect impacts on climate change due to the land use changes that occur when land is used to grow palm oil , soya, graze cattle or is harvested for timber. In the case of palm oil, most controversially, the land use change can result in rainforest destruction. These ecosystems are hugely diverse and important to the whole planet and yet when local people are struggling to make a living it is understandable that they would want to clear some forest to make way to grow a crop that could guarantee them a steady income.

The New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF) is a group of businesses, governments and NGOs which was set up to halve deforestation by 2020 and to ultimately end it by 2030. This agreement looks at timber, palm oil, cattle and soya production.

Research by WWF, Climate Focus, Carbon Disclosure Project, the World Resources Institute and Stockholm Environment Institute has found that there is progress but this progress is generally slow and needs to be integrated. Studies of companies in the NYDF found that 56-70% of producers, processors and traders and 64 – 87% of retailers and manufacturers have rules about how they source and produce goods but this usually relates to one product within one geographical area. This could mean that their good work in one area is being displaced by bad practice in another area.  Only 10% of companies had a more holistic approach. Those companies that are looking at deforestation in all problem areas appear to have the best results.

The problems around deforestation are many, including long supply chains and poverty. There are also questions around how deforestation and corruption is measured.   The introduction of models used by M&S and Unilever appear to be more successful than those previously used, so there is hope that as best practice is shared, things will improve. Buying food containing RSPO certified palm oil is certainly no guarantee that deforestation was not involved in its production. However it is a step forward and better than not buying RSPO certified goods and the direction of travel looks more positive as improved measurement and more holistic practices are adopted.

(Data source: The Environmentalist, February 2017)

If you would like to know more about how to source raw materials ethically and sustainably, call us on 01746 552423 or email

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