The RSPO RT is an event met with diverse expectations each year. At RT12, the bringing together of multiple initiatives under leadership of various groups with different priorities, creates not only dynamism but also raises the expectations of the delegates attending the annual meeting of the world’s most widely-adopted palm oil certification scheme.
Speaking with some of the participants, one theme that left a strong mark is how conversations inside and outside the meeting halls showed that eliminating (or at least reducing) deforestation in the production of oil palm and developing transparent, traceable supply chains are both rapidly becoming mainstream market demands. This mirrored results from a recent media survey, which found that deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions were by far the most dominant issues raised in media stories related to oil palm sustainability.
It was becoming clear at the RT that more and more RSPO members were responding proactively to these demands. Earlier this year, the consultancy firm Daemeter researched how RSPO addresses key market demands for sustainability, and at RT12 assisted RSPO in developing display panels to highlight examples of producers’ efforts to meet these demands. The results were that a remarkable number of RSPO producers are moving to innovate, adopting standards beyond those required for certification.
The pace of such change, however, is clearly dependent on pressure from outside. This pressure is vital to raise standards and expectations for accountability, and helps to focus attention on areas where certification needs to catch up with emerging norms of responsible production.
This dynamic was also well-illustrated at the RT12. The parallel sessions and World Cafes offered fertile ground to share insights and alternative views and concerns, some of which were contentious, but most were delivered and taken in a constructive spirit. The RSPO deserves special kudos for inviting renowned environmentalist David Suzuki, whose captivating, inspiring address was greeted by a standing ovation. His case for the urgency of change in production models was compelling.
Some aspects of RT12 remained familiar. The annual meeting was, as it has always been, a hub for meeting and catching up with long-term friends, colleagues, and clients, and holding early discussions with new ones. There were many new faces, especially from regions outside traditional producers and markets, such as Myanmar, illustrating that RSPO continues to grow.
Leaving the RT12, one could not help but feel motivated, even inspired in some ways, particularly by the willingness of diverse groups with different priorities to work in parallel to drive progress. Each works in his or her own way, and not necessarily in agreement, but together they form an impressive force for positive change. This fact, more than anything, is a clear sign that while perfection is our goal, progress is our mandate, and the diverse, co-existing approaches at work to drive progress is itself a reassuring sign that we are on the right track.