Industry still falling short on use of sustainable palm oil

Posted: 22 November 2011

Twenty-five UK-based companies are amongst many in Europe, Australia and Japan that are buying more certified sustainable palm oil than ever before, but urgent action is still needed to avoid the irreversible loss of tropical forests, according to the assessment.

“It’s never been easier for companies to be responsible about the palm oil they use,” said Adam Harrison, WWF’s representative on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) Executive Board. “But we only have a few years left to act - all companies, even some of the top performers, need to move faster.

"Only then can we get rid of irresponsible oil palm plantations and end the unacceptable impacts of the industry on forests, wildlife and communities.”

The relatively good performance of most of the UK companies scored shows that there are options available for almost any company to buy certified sustainable palm oil. But overall the WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard shows that less than half of the palm oil used by all the companies scored is sustainable.

Forward strides

Forest cleared for palm oil, Sumatra
After the rainforest is burned, oil palm companies will clear land and plant Oil palm trees. Bukit Tigapuluh Nature Reserve, Sumatra, Indonesia. Photo © Mark EDWARDS / WWF-Canon

Some manufacturers and retailers have fallen behind on their commitments to 100 per cent sustainable palm oil, while others haven’t even started at all.

WWF’s 2011 sorecard - an update of the first one published two years ago - measures over 130 major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers by looking at their use of palm oil certified to the internationally recognised standards of the RSPO.

Of the companies scored, many are increaing their use of sustainable palm oil. Most of the companies scored in both 2009 and 2011 have taken some strides forward, says WWF, showing how the use of sustainable palm oil is slowly becoming more mainstream.

In the UK it is estimated that almost a quarter of the palm oil used in the food and personal care sectors is now certified. All 25 companies scored are members of the RSPO, all have made a public commitment to only use certified palm oil by 2015 or earlier, all are already using at least some and all but two reported how much palm oil they are using.

But even so, the average use of certified palm oil amongst the UK companies scored is still only 44 per cent - disappointing for a group that could otherwise be seen as leaders amongst palm oil users.

Most disappointing is the fact that 17 of the 43 retailers and 15 of all the 89 manufacturers assessed scored at three or below, showing that many companies are taking little or no responsibility for the negative impact of their palm oil use on forests, species and people. While there were no UK companies at the very bottom of the table there are some that need to improve their performance.

“The leading companies in the Scorecard demonstrate that it is possible to source certified sustainable palm oil to cover all of their palm oil usage, so there are no excuses for all companies not to take much more action now,” says Harrison.

Dramatic growth

The supply of certified sustainable palm has grown dramatically as more and more growers have started to get certified showing that it is possible to produce palm oil without unacceptable damage to nature. Five million tonnes of certified palm oil is now produced (10 per cent of global palm oil production).

However, only about half of all the sustainable palm oil produced is being sold. This mirrors the situation in 2009, which is why WWF is renewing its call to companies to take their responsibilities far more seriously and far more urgently.

"Unless growers know that there is a market for their sustainable palm oil there is a danger that they will stop producing more. That could have devastating consequences for the tropical forests of the world and the wildlife and people that depend on them" says WWF.

The WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011 is available here

Editor's note: Palm oil is derived from very productive oil palm trees grown only in the tropics. Consumption of the oil is increasing globally and is set to grow from 50 million tonnes a year now to at least 77 million tonnes in 2050. Clearing tropical forests for oil palm production can be very damaging to wildlife, communities and the wider environment – not least because deforestation is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions.