1.1 Editor's Pick
April 23, 2015

Palm Oil Scorecard: What does Your Brand Say about You?


Sustainable Palm Oil

Which products, brands and retailers support sustainable sourcing of palm oil and which ones don’t? Are you supporting the companies and retailers that are making an effort to improve their sourcing practices or ones that continue to disregard ethical sourcing of their raw materials?

Any mention of a palm tree and insta-visions of sunny tropical vistas come to minds. Palm fronds swaying in the warm breeze, beams of the sun kissing your tanned skin as you relax amidst the tropical sounds of nature…except when it comes to the oil palm, the majestic producer of palm oil.

The production of palm oil has been closely associated with the deforestation of the tropical rain forest and driving plant and animal species to extinction. Not a pretty picture.

Who is to blame? The producers, for trying to farm a global commodity? Manufacturers for making consumable goods? Retailers for making these products widely available? Or you the consumer who buys these products either as food or for personal care?

Not all products made with palm oil come from unsustainable sources, but after checking out the 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard you might think twice before heading over to Target to pick up some Burt’s Bees.

A globally traded commodity, palm oil from the oil palm (elaeis guineensis) is used in a wide variety of consumable products from lotions and shampoos to foods, cookies and animal feed. Traditionally palm oil was harvested and manufactured in a way that contributed to the destruction of tropical forests and peat-lands.

For many reasons it makes sense to use palm oil instead of soya, rapeseed or sunflower, as the oil palm yields an average of 10 tons of fruit per hectare, far more than the other crops. Oil palm also requires 10 times less land than other crops for a wider variety of oils. One hectare of oil palm produces 0.4 tons of palm kernel expeller (used for animal feed), 0.4 tons of palm kernel expeller and 3.74 tons of palm oil.

So what’s wrong with harvesting palm oil?

The oil palm is a tropical plant and grows in the tropical rainforests 10 degrees north and south of the equator. In 2013 there was an estimated 14 million hectares of palm oil plantations in the oil palm growing region, producing over 56 million tons of palm oil.

Tropical rainforests are home to large habitats of biodiversity, harvesting oil palm from the rainforests puts the habitats and all its residents at great risk. Palm oil production is not the only cause of rainforest deforestation, however it plays a large role in both producing harmful emissions that contribute to climate change and destroys the ecosystems of the rainforest.

Orangutans are one of the species most threatened by rainforest deforestation. Since 1990 their population has dwindled from over 300,000 to less than 50,000, with little hope for their survival, as the growth of plantations keeps the orangutans in small groups.

As global demand for palm oil increases new plantations are being developed and smaller plantations are expanding. Reducing the land mass of the rainforest destroys the ecosystems and threatens the survival of plant and animal life in the habitat and has long term global consequences as well. As demand grows the good news is that palm oil can be produced without deforestation of the rainforest.

Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainable palm oil is based on a set of principles with defined environmental and social practices. Over 40% of the world’s palm oil producers, as well as retailers, environmental groups and governments are members of the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil). Established in 2004, the RSPO promotes sustainable production and use of palm oil to ensure the success and protection of producers, labor and the planet.

Growers, manufacturers and retailers have made commitments to use sustainable palm oil in the products and goods they sell. In 2014 the Union of Concerned Scientists sent out the Palm Oil Scorecard. The Scorecard looked at 30 companies and their commitment, or lack thereof, to using sustainable deforestation-free palm oil. The UCS evaluated major brands that produce personal care products and foods; the results were mixed. But after the 2014 report, many companies stepped up and began sourcing and using sustainable palm oil. While many companies made huge progress there are still companies lagging behind and some companies not even making an effort.

Who’s Leading the Way?

Five of the companies evaluated in the scorecard have made a public statement and a commitment to use sustainable palm oil. We can’t reward their efforts enough, but we need more manufacturers and retailers to source sustainable palm oil.

Packaged Food Companies

Nestle, whose brands include Toll House and Power Bar. Unilever, whose brands include Ben and Jerry’s, Popsicle and Slim fast. Mondelez whose brands include Oreo, Ritz and Nutter Butter.

Personal Care Companies

L’Oreal, whose brands include The Body Shop, Khiel’s and Lancome. Reckitt Benckiser, whose brands include Calgon and Clearasil.

While no fast food companies have made a full commitment to sustainable palm oil, Taco Bell and McDonald’s have made small commitments to sustainable palm oil. Dunkin Brands, which include Baskin-Robbins and Dunkin Donuts, has made revisions to their sourcing practices and we can hope to see an improvement in 2016 from their zero commitment of the past.

Store Brands that made a commitment to sustainable palm oil include:

Safeway (O Organic, Safeway Select)

Whole Foods (365 Everyday Value, Whole Foods Market)

Wal-Mart (Equate, Great Value)

Some Surprises On the Scorecard:

Estee Lauder (Clinique, Bumble & Bumble)
Burt’s Bees

These companies all recognized for having zero commitment to sustainably sourcing palm oil on the 2015 Palm Oil Scorecard. If these are stores or brands that you frequently buy, let them know they need to up their efforts.

What you can do about it.

Support the brands that support sustainable sourcing of palm oil. If your brand hasn’t made a commitment to sustainable palm oil sourcing, let them know that you want them too.

For the Full Scorecard, click here.






Palm oil is cheap. But costly.


Author: Amanda Ashley

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikimedia

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