Why sustainable palm oil?
Sustainable palm oil is good for the planet, for people and for protected species. But the reverse is also true.
When grown unsustainably, palm oil can damage forests and endanger communities and wildlife. So why are there two sides to palm oil? And how can we make sure it only ever has a positive impact?
A vegetable oil unlike any other
Palm oil is the world’s most versatile vegetable oil. As well as a widely used cooking oil, it’s found in countless supermarket products, from soap and toothpaste to chocolate and pot noodles.
Palm oil is extracted from the flesh and the kernel of the oil palm fruit. Its popularity for cooking and as a combining ingredient springs from its diverse range of properties. Smooth and tasteless, it can also:
- Hold its colour well
- Stay solid at room temperature (to help baked goods last longer)
- Remove oil and dirt
- Moisturise hair and skin
- Make soaps and detergents bubbly
Perhaps the crop’s standout quality is its productivity. Oil palms have much higher yields than any other vegetable oil plants. They require four to ten times less land than other vegetable oil crops to get the same amount of oil. And that efficient use of land makes palm oil attractive to producers and purchasers around the world.
The challenge with palm oil
Despite its unique qualities as a product and its high demand, palm oil has a mixed reputation. If produced unsustainably, it can have negative impacts – on the environment, on wildlife and on human rights.
In some regions palm oil has been produced irresponsibly. Forests have been cleared or damaged to grow palm oil, which has impacted both wildlife and local communities. And the workers and farmers producing palm oil in some places have suffered poor working conditions and low pay.
There have been calls to boycott palm oil because of these negative impacts. Yet switching to alternative vegetable oils to palm oil wouldn’t reduce these impacts. Sunflower, rapeseed and soy have much lower yields per hectare than oil palm, so, in fact, more land would be needed to produce an equivalent amount of oil. What’s more, millions of farmers and their families work on oil palm plantations and smallholdings. This provides them with the income for basic essentials such as food, clean water, and housing. Plus it allows many workers to send their children to school.
A sustainable solution
We live in a world in which population growth and climate change threaten global food security as never before. Sustainable palm oil has an important part to play in relieving this pressure.
The emphasis is on “sustainable.” Sustainable palm oil has been farmed, processed, distributed, and sold responsibly with strict rules that protect animals, the environment and people who live and work in oil palm producing countries. It has involved:
- Halting deforestation;
- Treating communities and workers fairly; and
- Protecting wildlife and the environment.
RSPO’s aim is to make sustainable palm oil the norm. We work across each supply chain sector, bringing together its many stakeholders to develop its sustainability and help make palm oil a force for good.
Photo Credit: RSPO/Jonathan Perugia
(Loose Fruit) Photo Credit: RSPO/SayanCHUENUDOMSAVAD