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Exclusive interview

Palm oil usage part II: Thinking beyond the RSPO

By Natasha Spencer , 11-Jan-2017
Last updated on 11-Jan-2017 at 16:22 GMT2017-01-11T16:22:00Z

RSPO and palm oil

In the second part of our interview with Alexis Maisonet, Marketing Analyst and R&D Innovation Technician at Bentley Labs, we spoke about the short and long-term implications of continuing to use palm oil and how the RSPO is impacting future developments.

Brands, manufacturers, and distributors are able to effectively use palm oil as an affordable raw material in the short-term future. However, Alexis Maisonet, Marketing Analyst and R&D Innovation Technician at Bentley Labs emphasised that in the longer-term, its use is “detrimental to the Earth’s survival”.

“By burning forests to make room for palm plantation, not only are carbon emissions being released into the air but the lack of carbon-storing trees causes a significant imbalance of carbon existing in the atmosphere,” she added.

“Therefore, global warming increases at an exponential rate and its effects will be felt all over the globe. Long-term implications also include an Earth with no biodiversity. As global warming melts the ice caps, ecosystems of both cold and hot climates will disappear.”

What’s next for the RSPO?

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was established in 2004 to promote the importance of using palm oil products sustainably, is often looked upon as providing the all-round solution to governing quantities of palm oil.

“The RSPO is definitely a step in the right direction. I applaud this organisation for starting the discussion on improvements that can be made in the palm oil process,” said Maisonet.

“Browsing through their website, the organisation boasts of supporting local people’s lands and rights, conserving wildlife habitats, and eliminating deforestation. They are able to apply these criteria to existing palm plantations.”

There is uncertainty, however, around whether the RSPO will be able to successfully address the development of new palm plantations.

As there is “heightened demand, new plantations will seem to be the obvious next step”.

“There will not be a quick an easy solution to sustainable palm due to the many key stakeholders who are all protecting their respective interests. But the first step is the discussion.”

Managing the financial landscape

When it comes to steps towards improving certification and regulations, the focus is now on large corporate businesses to set a precedent and effectively answer changes made within the financial landscape.  

“Imposing a tax or fines on businesses and brands that do not comply with sustainable palm production may generate the greatest response,” added Maisonet.

The problem currently lies in the fact that “although the increase in conscious consumers has helped to generate awareness to this situation, there is really no substantial alternative to palm oil use”.

“Very few consumers are willing to pay more for products that do not contain palm and very few businesses will be willing to spend time and resources finding an alternative source," Maisonet went on to say.

Therefore, although it arguably has limited effectiveness on its own, the RSPO is a valid starting point to overcome the high use of palm oil.

Upcoming developments

For the cosmetics industry in APAC and the wider world to have less reliance on using palm oil in products, it’s important that growers merge their knowledge of climates with available cutting-edge technologies.

“It would be exciting to see local growers utilising technology to create man-made warm moist climates that mimic those of rainforests, similar to a greenhouse structure,” said Maisonet.

In addition, “it would also be beneficial for manufacturing companies to create a harvesting programme that allows local growers to become instrumental in this process instead of using and abusing them for labour”.

The major development in 2017 that cosmetics can expect to see is that “palm oil plantations will find new countries to call home due to the increased demand for this material, which can be an area for the RSPO to explore next”, concluded Maisonet.

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