Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

Palm Oil Sourcing Should Be Disclosed to Consumers, Sustainability Study Recommends

Insights + Opinion
Forest area in SW Cameroon cleared for oil palm plantation. Mokhamad Edliadi / CIFOR

By Alex Kirby

Companies selling products which contain palm oil need to be upfront about where it comes from, so as to relieve consumers of the burden of making sustainable choices, a UK study says.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge say companies should not rely simply on purchasers' own awareness of the need to make environmentally responsible decisions, but should publicly disclose the identities of their palm oil suppliers.


Palm oil production causes deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions from peatland conversion, and biodiversity loss, and the oil is found in many products, often without consumers' knowledge. It is a common ingredient in foods, body products, detergents and biofuels.

Dr. Rosemary Ostfeld is the study's lead author. "The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has made efforts to improve the sustainability of palm oil production by creating an environmental certification system for palm oil," she said.

Low Uptake

"But currently only 19% of palm oil is RSPO-certified. This means the majority that finds its way into products people buy daily is still produced using conventional practices.
We wanted to find out if consumers were actively seeking to make a sustainable choice about palm oil. We also explored what extra efforts governments could make to ensure sustainable palm oil consumption."

The researchers, whose study is published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, surveyed 1,695 British consumers through the market research company YouGov.

Respondents were asked about their awareness of palm oil and its environmental impact; their recognition of "ecolabels" such as Fairtrade, the Soil Association and RSPO; and which ecolabeled products they included in their weekly household shopping.

The study found that UK consumer awareness of palm oil was high (77 percent), with 41 percent of those aware of it viewing it as "environmentally unfriendly." Yet almost no consumers were aware of the RSPO label that showed a product contained sustainably-produced palm oil.

"In terms of label recognition versus action, 82 percent of people recognized the Fairtrade label, but only 29 percent actively buy Fairtrade products," Dr. Ostfeld said.

"Only five percent recognized the RSPO label—the same as a fictional label we put into the survey as a control. Of that small number, only one percent said they actively include products with the label in their shopping."

The low recognition of the RSPO label could be caused by the scarcity of its use by consumer goods companies and retailers.

Action Not Guaranteed

"This may be due in part to reluctance to draw attention to their use of palm oil, or it may be because they fall short of the 95 percent physical certified palm oil content that used to be needed to use the label," Dr. Ostfeld said.

"Either way, we found that relying on consumers to consciously and regularly include certified products in their shopping has limitations. Our results show that even when consumer awareness of an ecolabel is high, action is not guaranteed."

To address this problem, the researchers put forward several policy recommendations. "Palm oil is more efficient to produce than other vegetable oils and plays a vital role in the livelihoods of millions of people, so banning it is not plausible," Dr. Ostfeld explained. "Instead, the goal should be to encourage sustainable palm oil production.

"We recommend governments require consumer goods companies and retailers to buy identity-preserved certified palm oil, which can be traced back to the individual plantation. If national targets must be met with identity-preserved certified palm oil, demand for it will increase. It will also enable unsustainable practices to be uncovered more easily."

Disclosure Needed

Dr. Ostfel emphasized the benefits of transparent sourcing:

"Companies should also publicly disclose their palm oil suppliers. This will help consumers know if they're sourcing their palm oil from growers who use best practices.
We believe these measures could promote a more rapid move towards sustainable palm oil consumption, and higher levels of accountability throughout the supply chain."

Some campaigners argue that sustainability standards, including certification schemes, can have a wider effect by, for example, helping to shape governments' policies and to steer investment into research.

A year ago one major U.S. financial company, Dimensional, said it had divested two of its portfolios of all palm oil plantation companies.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Women walk from Santa Monica beach after a social media workout on the sand on May 12, 2020 in Santa Monica, California. Al Seib / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Independence Day weekend is a busy time for coastal communities as people flock to the beaches to soak up the sun during the summer holiday. This year is different. Some of the country's most popular beach destinations in Florida and California have decided to close their beaches to stop the surge in coronavirus cases.

Read More Show Less
Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans and others who suffer from PTSD. Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Arash Javanbakht

For some combat veterans, the Fourth of July is not a time to celebrate the independence of the country they love. Instead, the holiday is a terrifying ordeal. That's because the noise of fireworks – loud, sudden, and reminiscent of war – rocks their nervous system. Daily fireworks in many U.S. cities in recent weeks have no doubt been interfering with the sleep and peace of mind of thousands of veterans.

Read More Show Less
Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs. Mathias Appel / Flickr

Koala populations across parts of Australia are on track to become extinct before 2050 unless "urgent government intervention" occurs, warns a year-long inquiry into Australia's "most loved animal." The report published by the Parliament of New South Wales (NSW) paints a "stark and depressing snapshot" of koalas in Australia's southeastern state.

Read More Show Less
NASA is advancing tools like this supercomputer model that created this simulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to better understand what will happen to Earth's climate if the land and ocean can no longer absorb nearly half of all climate-warming CO2 emissions. NASA/GSFC

By Jeff Berardelli

For the past year, some of the most up-to-date computer models from the world's top climate modeling groups have been "running hot" – projecting that global warming may be even more extreme than earlier thought. Data from some of the model runs has been confounding scientists because it challenges decades of consistent projections.

Read More Show Less
A child stands in what is left of his house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, which was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Maria, on Oct. 12, 2017. U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios. Flickr, CC by 2.0
By Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope

To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
Read More Show Less
President Trump's claim last September that Hurricane Dorian was headed for Alabama's gulf coast was quickly refuted by employees at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). An independent investigation found that NOAA's chief violated the agency's ethics when he backed Trump's warning and doctored map that used a Sharpie to alter the storm's path, as EcoWatch reported.
Read More Show Less

Trending

African bush elephants in the Makgadikgadi Pans Game Reserve in Botswana on Nov. 22, 2016. Michael Jansen / Flickr

More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.

Read More Show Less