By Helen A. Lee
We cook with it. We bathe with it. We use it for mood lighting. Palm oil is an ingredient in processed foods, cosmetics, hygiene products, biofuels and candles; experts estimate it's found in 50 percent of the items on grocery store shelves. Inexpensive to produce, palm oil contains no trans fats, and has a high melting point, making it versatile and easy to spread. The result: increasing demand. In 1996, global production totaled 16 million metric tons. By 2017, it was 60.7 million.
But there's a problem. Palm oil may not cost much to produce, but it exacts a high price on the environment. And thanks to this often-invisible ingredient's complex international supply chain, efforts to reduce that impact are proving challenging.
From Virgin Forest to Grocery Store
The story of palm oil begins with clearing tropical rainforests and peatlands for plantations of oil palm trees, which thrive on warmth, sunlight, and copious rainfall. The trees — native to West Africa — produce clusters of orange-red fruit year-round, and can be harvested every 10–14 days when mature. For the most part, oil palms don't need much help, but some farms do use herbicides and insecticides. Oil palms produce 3.8 metric tons of oil per hectare annually — eight times as much as soybeans (.5 t/ha), and almost five times the yield of canola (.8 t/ha).
Palm fruit contains oil in its flesh (palm oil), and its seed (palm kernel oil). At diesel-powered mills, fruit and kernels are pressed to extract oil. The next stop is often a refinery, where bleaching improves the oil's color, deodorization reduces its smell, and "fractionation" can create different oils suited for different purposes. Then, the oil is shipped all over the world.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says palm oil is the most consumed oil in the world, and its non-food uses are also increasing. India, China, Europe and Pakistan are the top importers, collectively using more than half of the global supply. In Asia, it's used in home cooking. In Europe and the U.S., most demand comes from manufacturers for everything from Oreos to toothpaste. You can find it in Silk soy milk, Secret deodorant, Nutella, Jergens lotion, instant noodles and Girl Scout cookies.
Palm Oil and Environmental Devastation
Malaysian and Indonesian plantations make up about 85 percent of the industry, with Guatemala, Benin and Thailand among the other top producers. Areas with low wages and abundant labor often welcome palm plantations — despite the industry's history of slavery, child labor, and land-theft — because of their potential to lift workers out of poverty.
Around the world, the business of palm oil harms the environment. During conventional cultivation, forests are cleared for plantations, bringing biodiversity loss, human-wildlife conflict, and habitat destruction affecting many species, notably the orangutan. A recent International Union for Conservation of Nature report notes that 50% of all deforestation on Borneo between 2005 and 2015 was driven by palm oil development.
This deforestation also contributes to climate change; the conversion of forests to palm oil plantations releases carbon dioxide that had been absorbed by old-growth forests. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimated in 2013 that 10 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions come from tropical deforestation.
These impacts have proven hard to combat, in part because palm oil is rarely the end commodity. Richard Zimmerman, executive director of New York-based non-profit Orangutan Outreach, calls it a "pervasive yet hidden" problem. Given all the chemicals, sugars, fats, and allergens shoppers are already trying to avoid, he said, "Palm oil is low on the list, if it's even on the list."
Palm oil and its derivatives appear under a multitude of monikers, from "palm kernel oil" and "partially hydrogenated palm oil" to "sodium lauryl sulfate" and "glyceryl stearate." Other names, according to the Rainforest Action Network, include "stearic acid," anything that includes "palmitate," and "elaesis guineensis" (the oil palm's Latin name). Try finding products in your grocery store without these. Not that all these terms always mean palm oil — some are occasionally derived from other oils. But companies likely can't guarantee that, and there's no way of knowing from reading a package.
So how do we change things? One group trying to answer that question is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a 4,000-member-strong industry non-profit. Its approach includes offering financial incentives to stakeholders along the supply chain in return for implementing best practices.
RSPO members must demonstrate that plantation land was purchased, not stolen, and that they offer safe conditions for workers. The RSPO prohibits clearing primary (never-logged) forests and imposes requirements like: obtaining free, prior, and informed consent from locals for new plantings; analyzing and protecting fragile soils and areas of high-conservation value; and mitigating carbon impacts in place.
But right now, only about 20 percent of palm oil is RSPO-certified, and critics think the group's approach still doesn't go far enough. Greenpeace's Senior Palm Oil Campaigner Diana Ruiz said investigations show that brands shift responsibility for palm oil sourcing problems onto traders, and traders don't enforce on their end. "Once you get … all the way to the grower, there is no monitoring being done," she says — and no good way to address violations.
Beyond the produce section, palm oil can be found in almost everything in your grocery store, from from Oreos to toothpaste and beyond.
The Future of Palm Oil
Palm oil has a long supply chain, which makes reducing its use complex. "Historically, companies have not paid attention to what happens at the farm level, because [palm oil] is a secondary ingredient," said Neil Blomquist, a spokesperson for the education and advocacy group Palm Done Right.
That may be changing, as palm oil gets more publicity. Still, places where palm grows see a clear economic boom from the industry, and there's always a market for cheap consumables.
"It's a difficult industry to regulate for that reason," Blomquist said. "There's been a growing demand for palm oil, the lowest-cost oil that can be produced. So, increasing demand with an increasing population in the world is really what's driving the problems… with more and more rainforest being destroyed."
Ending the use of palm oil may not be the answer. "Going to a boycott could cause more problems," said Dan Strechay, the RSPO's US outreach and engagement representative. "Because if we don't buy palm oil — or ingredients that contain palm oil — it's not like we snap our fingers and we have additional materials to put in. Something else has to be grown to replace it, and other oil seeds may require more land."
But continuing as we are means ignoring the true costs of palm oil: to the environment and people living in palm-oil-producing areas. Said Zimmerman,"If the humans aren't doing well, the orangutans are not going to do well."
So, what do we do now? Eating fewer processed foods, buying locally, and otherwise voting with your dollars is a start. Keeping companies accountable for meeting their stated deadlines around sourcing sustainable palm oil is also key.
Ruiz says the next step is asking suppliers and traders to create more transparency around their reporting, and the public can help. "We have huge influence over these brands," she said. "The key here is to use that buying power we have as consumers and demand that companies do better."
This story originally appeared in Asparagus Magazine. It is republished here as part of EcoWatch's partnership with Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.
- Palm Oil Importers Won't Meet Zero Deforestation Goals by 2020 ... ›
- Peru to End Palm Oil Driven Deforestation by 2021 - EcoWatch ›
What should you know about the up-and-coming company Blue Raven Solar?
Considering a solar energy system from Blue Raven Solar? Before you sign a contract, you may want to know more about the company's services, major pros and cons, and what Blue Raven Solar reviews say about the quality of service you can expect from this installer.
In this article, we'll discuss all that and more to help you figure out if Blue Raven Solar is the right choice for your home.
|Blue Raven Solar Fast Facts|
|Service Areas||17 states including CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, NC, NV, OH, OR, SC, TX, UT, VA|
|Service Types||Solar panel system installations and monitoring|
|Types of Panels Sold||Monocrystalline black-on-black panels between 315 and 335 watts from brands including Trina and Canadian Solar|
|Backup Battery Options||Not yet offered|
|Certifications||North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) technicians|
|Better Business Bureau (BBB) Rating||A+ with accreditation|
The best way to assess whether solar is a practical option is to get quotes from a local installer. To receive a free quote from Blue Raven Solar, or a similar provider in your area, fill out the 30-second form below.
Blue Raven Solar Overview
Founded in 2014, this young solar power provider boasts a stellar reputation anchored in exceptional customer service and an innovative solar financing model. Its mission is to make homeowners' lives better by reducing their utility bills, increasing their reliance on clean and abundant renewable energy and providing a world-class customer experience through a reliable sales process and speedy, high-quality installations.
Though Blue Raven Solar may not be a household name like some other top solar companies, the growing provider has expanded its service area to an impressive 17 states and has no plans of slowing. Solar giant SunPower recently acquired Blue Raven Solar for $165 million, a testament to its growth and potential in the residential solar market. As of now, it does not appear that Blue Raven's operations will be affected by the acquisition.
Blue Raven Solar Services and Installation
Blue Raven Solar installs residential solar panels with top-of-the-line products and inverters. It sells exclusively monocrystalline Tier 3 black-on-black solar panels (between 315 and 335 watts) to provide a seamless look on your rooftop. Brands used in Blue Raven installations typically include Trina and Canadian Solar, which are both known for their reliable, relatively affordable solar panels. Although Blue Raven Solar does not yet offer solar battery installations, it plans to soon.
Blue Raven strives to provide a world class customer experience through a reliable sales process, flexible solar financing and a speedy, high-quality installation. Here's what you can expect the solar panel installation process to look like with Blue Raven Solar.
- Receive a free quote by providing some basic information like your address, average monthly energy bill and credit score.
- If deemed eligible, Blue Raven Solar will conduct a site visit at your home to examine the type of roof you have as well as its quality and electrical status.
- After the site visit, Blue Raven will work with you to draw up a maximum efficiency plan for your roof. It's at this stage that your solar consultant will be able to answer any questions you may have about the solar panel installation process, solar tax credits, state solar incentives and financing options.
- Once all your questions have been answered and you feel confident in your decision, Blue Raven Solar will draw up your solar contract and apply for city permits. Blue Raven will handle all the paperwork, but expect this process to take a few weeks.
- After applying for city permits, Blue Raven Solar will get in touch with your utility company to enroll you in its net metering program, if applicable. Incentives like net metering are important to understand prior to signing a contract.
- Once all permits, agreements and plans are in order, Blue Raven Solar will install your solar energy system. This can be carried out in as little as one day depending on the complexity of your system.
- Before you can turn the system on, you will need to pass inspections carried out by the city and the local utility companies. These are usually separate inspections and processes will vary depending on your location. Blue Raven will handle the logistics.
Solar Panel Warranty
Blue Raven Solar provides its customers with a 25-year product warranty, which will cover issues related to the manufacturing of the solar panels themselves. Routine maintenance, such as solar panel cleaning or snow removal, is the responsibility of the homeowner.
Like most solar panel installers, Blue Raven also provides a 10-year workmanship warranty that covers homeowners against faulty workmanship or errors by the installation team.
The company prides itself on customer satisfaction — and thousands of positive Blue Raven Solar reviews can tell you it's not just an advertising tactic. One nice perk of going with this company is that it will cover the cost to repair any solar system that is underperforming its expected rate. Note that this production guarantee only lasts for two years, so be sure to monitor your system closely after installation.
Blue Raven Solar Costs and Financing
The cost of solar is difficult to estimate by provider, as it can vary so widely depending on your state, roof and energy needs. However, Blue Raven sets itself apart from most competitors with its exclusive solar financing plan, BluePower+.
Financing Options Through Blue Raven Solar
BluePower+ is a financing option available only to Blue Raven Solar customers. Unlike most other solar loans, BluePower+ offers the unique advantages of a $0-upfront option for the first 18 months of a system's life, as well as a fixed repayment rate and the ability to pay the loan off at any time without penalty. The company claims this attractive financing option (when coupled with the federal tax credit) allows customers to pay off more than 33% of the overall cost of a system within the first 18 months after installation. This adjustment quickly accelerates the solar panel payback period for Blue Raven customers.
Blue Raven Solar does not offer solar leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs).
Blue Raven Solar Reviews
As Blue Raven Solar positions itself as a leader in customer experience and satisfaction, it's no surprise that it has received some standout feedback. Let's take a look at a few examples of positive and negative Blue Raven Solar reviews.
Positive Blue Raven Solar Reviews
Most satisfied customers post reviews similar to that below, praising Blue Raven's customer service:
"Blue Raven did an excellent job under-promising and over-delivering, contrary to most competitors. Install was completed quickly, correctly, and all inspections were tailored to my schedule. My power bill is completely gone, and my property value has increased at the same time. Strongly recommend it."
– Justin via Google Reviews
"Blue Raven Solar made this so easy. They got the permits, contacted my HOA, found a great roof company for my new roof and then installed my solar panels. The solar install team was so nice, on time, efficient and professional. If you are looking for solar, use Blue Raven Solar!"
– Cindy via BBB
Negative Blue Raven Solar Reviews
As with any young company, Blue Raven Solar has experienced some growing pains. Most negative Blue Raven Solar reviews involve difficulties in communication after a sale.
"Terrible experience. We have a $20,000+ solar package with this company that hasn't worked correctly for over a year. (All the while I've been paying for it.) Every time that we schedule to have it taken care of, the company finds some excuse to put it off."
– Joshua via BBB
Blue Raven Solar strives for exemplary service, so it has personally replied to most if not all of its negative feedback online. Much of Blue Raven Solar's growth is credited to its referral program, which serves as a testament to the overall satisfaction of its customers.
Final Thoughts on Blue Raven Solar
Blue Raven Solar's innovative financing model, exceptional customer experience, quality warranty and A+ rating from the BBB make it a safe and reliable choice for solar customers. Tackling financing and solar loan strategies can be a tough challenge for a new solar adopter, but Blue Raven sets itself apart from the competition with its straightforward financial solution that provides immediate returns.
Expanding with the speed and success of Blue Raven Solar would be a challenge for most solar providers, but Blue Raven is addressing these challenges head-on. The provider has delivered on customer expectations during a rapid stage of growth and is expanding offerings of backup batteries to provide further customization for its customers.
|Blue Raven Solar Pros||Blue Raven Solar Cons|
|Innovative financing options||No backup battery options|
|Exceptional service and customer satisfaction||Little customization|
|Energy monitoring service available||No solar lease or PPA option available|
|Quickly growing service areas|
Based on our research, we recommend Blue Raven Solar to customers who are new to solar, don't need customization or don't have an advanced understanding of the technicalities behind a solar panel installation. Its straightforward financing, trusted sales staff and customer service make the process simple and easy to understand for a customer new to solar. Though an impressive young company, Blue Raven Solar may not provide the best services for those seeking a specific brand of panel, backup battery options or more custom features.
Solar Energy Provider Comparison
Unless you're handy enough to complete a DIY solar project, most homeowners considering solar will have to find a local installer to complete the design, permitting and installation of solar panels. But which is the right choice for your home?
Let's compare Blue Raven Solar to some of the other name-brand solar companies in the U.S: Sunrun and SunPower. Overall, Blue Raven Solar excels in customer satisfaction relative to its competitors, earning it a rank among the top national providers.
|Blue Raven Solar||Sunpower||Sunrun|
|Services Offered||Solar panel installation, monitoring, maintenance||Solar panel installation, battery installation, monitoring||Solar panel installation, battery installation, monitoring, maintenance|
|Service Areas||CO, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KS, KY, MO, NC, NV, OH, OR, SC, TX, UT, VA||All 50 States||AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, HI, IL, MD, MA, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, PA, RI, SC, TX, VT, WI, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.|
|Payment Options||Cash, in-house financing plans||Cash, loan, lease||Cash, loan, lease, PPA|
FAQ: Blue Raven Solar
How does Blue Raven Solar work?
Blue Raven Solar installs residential solar panels with top-of-the-line products and inverters across 17 states as of 2021. Complete with design, permitting, installation and custom financing of PV panels, Blue Solar offers comprehensive services for those looking for a solar panel array.
What kind of company is Blue Raven?
Blue Raven Solar is a regional residential solar panel provider and installer. It was recently acquired by national provider SunPower.
How long has Blue Raven Solar been around?
Blue Raven Solar was founded in 2014, which makes its service area of 17 states all the more impressive. Within seven years, Blue Raven Solar's staff has expanded from three to over 1,400 employees.
Is Blue Raven Solar a good place to work?
In 2021, Blue Raven Solar ranked in the top 20 Best Places to Work in Glassdoor's annual Employees' Choice Awards. Coupled with a 4.3 out of 5-star rating on Glassdoor, the award proves Blue Raven Solar is a good choice if employee satisfaction is an important factor in your employment decision.
Where is Blue Raven Solar available?
Blue Raven Solar offers service in 17 states including Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.