How sustainable are shampoo, toothpaste and bread?

The path to responsible palm oil
PostedMarch 11, 2015, in  Step 6: continuous innovation
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You find it in shampoo, toothpaste and your daily sandwich: palm oil. Palm oil is added to about 50% of what you buy. Palm oil is found in tropical rain forests and that is not without consequences: the production increases deforestation, lowers bio-diversity and raises CO2 emissions. At the same time, palm oil gives small farmers the opportunity to free themselves from poverty. It’s a dilemma, but the solution is close by.  

Palm oil plantation. Photo: Achmad Rabin Taim, Wikimedia Commons.


Those who speak out against deforestation can count on quick support. After all, doesn’t everyone want a healthy Earth with a pleasant living environment? But the minute individual action is required, that support disappears like snow in the sun.  The group of consumers who consciously choose sustainable palm oil is small, most people are simply not concerned with that. Given that palm oil is processed in about 50% of our purchases, the conclusion is obvious. The solution must come from somewhere else.    


Fortunately, Unilever has taken the lead. This multinational has consciously opted for sustainable palm oil for the production of foodstuffs, cleaning products and personal care products. The objective: 100% sustainable palm oil by 2020, from certified and traceable suppliers. That is good for businesses, but also for the small farmers in the field.   


Also, steps have been taken by other stakeholders: the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) was established in 2004 to create a more sustainable market.  With 1,600 members, 40% of the palm oil industry is represented, including manufacturers, retailers, investors and nature conservation organizations. The concept of a ‘Roundtable’ is based on equality: all participants are equally important, regardless of background or size. A noble premise, but dark clouds are already appearing on the horizon: over the last few years, the RSPO has been receiving a lot of criticism from workers and NGOs who are committed to human rights. Apparently, not all members take sustainable palm oil seriously...  


Marketing trick

It's a recurring phenomenon: sustainable ambitions regularly clash with commercial interests. Or sustainability is only used as a marketing trick, as no more than a nice label. That is the reality, but it is also a question of time. Sustainability is gaining ground and transparency is increasingly becoming the norm. Integrated Reporting is becoming more important, both to governments, the public and investors. We still have a long way to go, but we are definitely moving in the right direction. And that’s an uplifting thought.

The story of palm oil

If you would like to know more about palm oil, then take a look at The story of palm oil. In just a couple of minutes, this interactive presentation will give you a really good picture of how far-reaching the effects of palm oil production are, not just on the rain forests but also on daily life. Palm oil is a core business on all fronts. An injection of sustainability is desperately needed.  

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PostedMarch 11, 2015, in Step 6: continuous innovation
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