The products we buy have various impacts on communities, wildlife, and the environment, despite often being far removed from the point of sale. By making informed choices, consumers can bring about positive change in the palm oil supply chain, from more sustainable practices in oil palm plantations to more transparent product labelling. From the downstream end of the supply chain, consumers are in a strong position to drive retailers and manufacturers to use certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) in their products.
What are the challenges for consumers?
Being an ethical consumer can be challenging. It is not easy to navigate the complexities of product labelling, ingredient lists, and the many different certification logos on hundreds of everyday products on supermarket shelves. End-users are often unaware that they are consuming palm oil, which is present in at least half of the items sold in most supermarkets—shampoo, margarine, ice cream, baked goods, cleaning products, and cosmetics, to name just a few—as it may be ‘hidden’ behind a whole array of different names on ingredient lists. It is often simply listed as vegetable oil.
What positive actions can consumers take?
Consumer demand for sustainably produced products can be an extremely powerful force. It drives changes in the market and the creation of more sustainable and transparent supply chains. Through informed choice, consumer demand can influence retailers towards providing products that are manufactured to higher environmental and social standards, as defined by the various certification schemes in place for different commodities. In turn, retailers will then put pressure on their suppliers, i.e. manufacturers, to source certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and be more transparent about product ingredients. This demand ultimately works its way along the entire supply chain to growers, who must then respond by adopting best practices for sustainable production and increasing the supply of CSPO.
Researchers found that Singaporean shoppers were willing to pay 8.2–9.9% more for common palm oil-containing products that are deforestation-free. Given the current premium for segregated certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO; 1.5–5%), there is an incentive for manufacturers to use CSPO. Greater demand for ethically produced products drives up the profit margin for such products and causes a shift in the market away from unethically produced products. Therefore, by demanding products that contain CSPO, consumers provide the financial incentive that drives better production methods.
Many retailers are now working hard to establish sustainable and environmentally friendly practices throughout their business operations, from recycling and energy conservation to ensuring sustainable supply chains for commodities such as palm oil, but it is important to remember that these initiatives depend on consumer support in order to succeed.
Here are a few suggestions for becoming a more active, ethical consumer of sustainable palm oil:
- Ask manufacturers and retailers via their customer service departments, to source certified sustainable palm oil, not only in their own-brand products, but in all the products they make or sell.
- Support companies that have made commitments to using only certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO), especially those with a preference for physically segregated supply chains over Mass Balance or Book and Claim.
- When out shopping, look for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) logo on the products that you buy.
- If a product does not have the RSPO logo on it, it might still contain CSPO.
- Visit the RSPO website or download the RSPO Android App to check whether companies hold supply chain certificates and source from certified growers.
- Use Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping App when shopping in the US.
- In the UK? Take Chester Zoo’s Palm Oil Challenge and follow their Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping List.
- Contact your parliamentary or government representative and demand that they call for improvements to national legislation.
- Join or support organisations that are actively campaigning for better standards in palm oil production.
- Learn more about what ingredients are in your food and how they might impact your health and the environment.
The capacity that consumers have to bring about positive change in business and agricultural practices has been demonstrated time and again by various campaigns orchestrated by civil society groups. Greenpeace has organised a number of campaigns which have captured the public imagination and harnessed people power, while a recent campaign by Rainforest Foundation Norway has resulted in a dramatic decrease in Norwegian palm oil consumption.
In 2008, Unilever listened to the demands of tens of thousands of consumers to source palm oil produced sustainably without causing deforestation and responded by supporting Greenpeace’s call for a moratorium on rainforest destruction in Indonesia. The company is committed to purchasing 100% of its palm oil from certified sustainable sources by 2015, and it currently holds the presidency of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
In 2010, following a highly publicised campaign against its use of palm oil from sources linked with deforestation, Nestlé UK made a commitment to stop sourcing palm oil from companies that owned or managed ‘high risk plantations or farms linked to deforestation’. Since then, the company has been working in partnership with The Forest Trust (TFT) and its main supplier Golden Agri Resources to adopt a policy of zero deforestation for its products.
This section of the website provides a range of resources to inform consumers on the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production, broader sustainability issues, and how they can take an active role as stakeholders in the CSPO supply chain.
The resources include a range of tools for proactive engagement with retailers and manufacturers to push for firm commitments on sourcing CSPO—these are courtesy of Philadelphia Zoo and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
- Cutting deforestation out of the palm oil supply chain – company scorecard by Greenpeace
- Greasy palms – palm oil, the environment and big business
- Greasy Palms: European buyers of Indonesian palm oil
- RILA Releases 2015 Retail Sustainability Report
- RSPO 3rd EURT – Interactive Conference Report
- Saving tropical forests by knowing what we consume
- Case Studies
- Further Information
- A Square Meal: How encouraging greener eating fits the UK government’s ambitions for the environment, farming and the Big Society
- Act for Wildlife: Sustainable Palm Oil Companies
- Act for Wildlife: Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping List
- CPET sustainable palm oil newsletters
- European Commission Food information to consumers – legislation
- Food Ethics Council
- Food regulation information
- Forests For All Forever
- Good Oil: A solution to destructive industrial-scale oil palm plantations
- Green is Normal: ASDA Sustainability Study
- Making Sustainability Simple
- Palm Oil Action News Articles
- Philadelphia Zoo UNLESS Project
- RSPO – Consumers
- RSPO Supply Chains
- Sustainable Palm Oil Challenge at the Zoo
- The Consumer Goods Forum
- The Frog Blog – Is there palm oil in that?
- UK consumption of sustainable palm oil: annual review
- Understanding climate change – A primer
- Understanding the Palm Oil Supply Chain
- UTZ Certified: Better Farming, Better Future
Last updated: 09/06/2016