Our global population is now over seven billion people and that number continues to grow every day. As the world’s population increases, so does our human dependence on natural resources. This growth requires immediate solutions around hunger, housing and job creation, and we tend to overlook the long-term impacts of the choices we make on a daily basis to meet our short-term needs.
We cannot continue to operate the way we do today and live on a healthy planet in the future. The solutions exist for us to both take care of people and respect our natural resources, but it’s in the hands of consumers to enforce these practices. When it comes to protecting our planet and ecosystems, one step you can take is demanding deforestation-free commodities.
While it may seem that an individual cannot impact the decisions of big brands, it’s important to remember that products only go as far as their consumers. Meaning, if consumers want to see sustainable changes in their products, and their purchasing decisions reflect that, brands will be required to make changes.
The best option is to learn more about palm oil and where it shows up in the products you love. Palm oil’s unique properties allow it to be used as a preserving agent (it extends the shelf life of packaged foods), a cosmetic property (it cleans oil and grease) and a functional property (creating the smooth texture in lipsticks and chapsticks). For these reasons it’s in almost 50% of products on supermarket shelves, and consumers' attention can create a BIG impact in terms of creating a demand for more sustainable products.
The factors that have made palm oil so popular have also brought well-documented environmental and social challenges, most prominent among these are the widespread clearing of tropical forests and peatlands. This leaves an impact on both the natural environment and local people.
Over the last decade, the environmental and social challenges facing the palm oil sector have translated into growing pressure on producers from a range of stakeholders including NGOs, consumers, companies, financiers and, increasingly, governments. What has emerged are a series of approaches ranging from voluntary standards, regulation and corporate commitments to traceable and sustainable sourcing.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) acknowledges that issues such as deforestation, labour rights and damaging effects on wildlife are not uncommon in the agricultural sector, including palm oil; particularly when grown unsustainably. However, when grown sustainably, and as per RSPO standards, oil palm plantations, the environment and local communities can co-exist.
RSPO’s vision is to make sustainable palm oil the norm. To turn this vision into a reality, the RSPO has developed standards for oil palm growers called the RSPO Principles & Criteria. In line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, this standard has been designed by multi-stakeholder groups consisting of RSPO members, leading environmental and social NGOs, oil palm farmers, businesses and thought leaders from the academic and scientific communities.
There are more than 160 principles and criteria at the core of RSPO’s certification standard. Across three impact goals, there are seven core principles towards certification:
Impact Goal Prosperity: Competitive, resilient and sustainable sector
Principle 1. Behave ethically and transparently
Principle 2. Operate legally and respect rights
Principle 3. Optimise productivity, efficiency, positive impacts and resilience
Impact Goal People: Sustainable livelihoods and poverty reduction
Principle 4. Respect community and human rights and deliver benefits
Principle 5. Support smallholder inclusion
Principle 6. Respect workers’ rights and conditions
Impact Goal Planet: Conserved, protected and enhanced ecosystems that provide for the next generation
Principle 7. Protect, conserve and enhance ecosystems and the environment
More recently, the RSPO Independent Smallholder Standard was also developed to respond to the needs and challenges of independent smallholders (small scale farmers) with simple and straightforward requirements and cost-effective tools that consider diversity, capacity and incentives, while meeting RSPO’s strict criteria.
Oil palm growers and small farmers must implement better practices and companies who buy palm oil (and other oils) for their products need to commit to buying/sourcing certified sustainable palm oil.
To guarantee only sustainable palm oil is produced, and greater action from brands to use deforestation-free palm oil, consumers can demand and only purchase products which contain Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (look for the RSPO logo). Governments have a critical role to play too. They can help raise awareness about sustainable palm oil and adopt voluntary industry commitments as national standards. By advocating for sustainable palm oil, governments can encourage deforestation-free supply chains and determine the future of our forests.
Our success or failure to transition to sustainable production and consumption will define the health of our planet and its inhabitants. It's time not just to survive, but to thrive. To take action, visit: www.rspo.org and ask your favourite brand if they are using sustainable palm oil.