Palm trees are grown commercially in tropical countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, Nigeria and Columbia. They are grown primarily for the bunches of palm fruit which are in turn processed to yield palm oil from the flesh, palm kernel oil from the kernel and by-products such as palm kernel meal. The majority of the oil is consumed as human food after bleaching and deodorizing to remove impurities and increase shelf life. A significant proportion of both oils are further processed to extend the range of food applications. Most food emulsifiers are based on palm oil. So palm products end up in margarine, bread, biscuits, cakes, pastry, pies, snack foods, fried foods, sausages, canned meat, icecream, chocolate and other confectionery to name a small selection.
Pushed by an aggressive Greenpeace campaign, in 2010 Nestlé committed to a global no deforestation target by 2020, alongside other members of the Consumer Goods Forum. Nestlé is the largest food company in the world but is only a tiny player in the global palm oil market — yet deforestation connected with the ingredient means the target has become a key priority for the company.
The company’s trailblazing partnership with its leading palm oil supplier, Golden Agri Resources (GAR), and The Forest Trust (TFT) is a shining example of how sustainability collaboration can drive dramatic change.
Unilever is one of the world’s largest buyers of palm oil with about 1.5 million tons purchased annually (or 3 percent of global production), but fortunately it is now also one of the world’s greenest buyers. The company reached its target of 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil covered by GreenPalm Certificates in 2012, three years ahead of its original schedule.
Taking things a step further, the company made another commitment in 2013: All palm oil bought will be traceable to known sources by end of this year.
The packaged food sector has the strongest palm oil commitments overall, according to arecent report from the Union of Concerned Scientists. Kellogg’s is an industry leader, having recently committed to a zero-deforestation policy with full traceability.
Last year, Green Century Balanced Fund, an environmentally responsible mutual fund,filed a shareholder resolution against Starbucks due to concerns that some of the company’s palm oil suppliers used deforestation practices.
In response, the coffee giant announced that it will purchase all palm oil from suppliers with sustainable certification by 2015. A Starbucks spokesperson had this to say: “I can confirm that our products in the U.S. and Europe currently use RSPO certified palm oil and we have committed to extending our use of RSPO certified palm oil to 100 percent of our products globally by 2015.” Some have pointed out the shortcomings of RSPO, but this is certainly a good first step.
L’Oreal, the parent company of brands like Kiehl’s and The Body Shop, is one of the top dogs in the personal care sector when it comes to sustainable palm oil sourcing. It ranked the highest among its competitors in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ recent Palm Oil Scorecard for its commitment to buying traceable deforestation- and peat-free palm oil.
6. Mars, Inc.
Mars, Inc., the manufacturer of the popular chocolate candy bars Mars Bar, 3 Musketeers and Twix announced its commitment in March to transition to 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil in its products by the end of 2014.
“We will continue to source 100 percent RSPO mass-balance certified palm oil, but we are now strengthening our commitment as follows to ensure this palm oil is genuinely sustainable,” the company said in its press release. To do this, it plans to “go beyond the RSPO criteria” by setting its own benchmarks for suppliers.
Not to be outdone by confection competitor Mars, Hershey’s is making bold strides towards sustainable sourcing in its own right. The company committed to use 100 percent RSPO certified palm and palm kernel derivatives in 2011, and actually reached that goal by the start of this year – one year ahead of its 2015 target.
“We believe that certifying both our palm oil and palm kernel derivatives puts The Hershey Co. at the leading edge among consumer products manufacturers in this important area of palm certification,” a Hershey’s spokesman told Triple Pundit in an email.
In December, Hershey’s announced it would go beyond RSPO certification and work with its suppliers to achieve 100 percent traceable and sustainably sourced palm oil by the end of 2014, one of the most progressive palm sourcing commitments in the packaged goods industry.
You may not know Mondelēz by name, but you’ll surely recognize its benchmark brands like Oreo, Nutter Butter, Ritz Crackers and Honey Maid. A leader in the packaged goods sector, Mondelēz plans to purchase 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) by 2015 and has a commitment to 100 percent transparently sourced, traceable palm oil which does not contribute to deforestation or loss of peatland by 2020.
9. Procter & Gamble
Procter & Gamble committed to a no deforestation policy in April 2014 as a result of a public campaign by Greenpeace. P&G’s new policy builds on the existing RSPO criteria and includes protection of peatland.
“Greenpeace will continue to engage with P&G to ensure that this policy is implemented before 2020 and effective action is taken to deal with problematic suppliers,” the group said on its website.
10. Reckitt Benckiser
The maker of personal care products like Clearasil and Calgon, Reckitt Benckiser has committed to trace palm oil back to its origin, and asks suppliers about the GHG footprint of their production. The company has also committed to using 100 percent RSPO certified palm oil by 2015 and using 100 percent physical CSPO by 2020.
Currently Reckitt Benckiser sources just over 4 percent of its total palm oil from RSPO GreenPalm certificates, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists, so the company still has a long way to go in realizing its commitment.