2013: A year of rising awareness for sustainable palm oil

By Chris BARKER

- Last updated on GMT

2013: A year of rising awareness for sustainable palm oil

Related tags: Palm oil

With palm oil becoming one of the most important ingredients used by many cosmetics companies, sustainability has become a hot-button issue in 2013.

Numerous companies have made a greater effort to develop this product in a sustainable way, with record numbers choosing to ‘offset’ palm kernel oil and major suppliers such as Procter & Gamble and Shiseido  quickly increasing their use of sustainable products.  

However, 2013 has also been a year of negative publicity for the palm oil industry due to companies allegedly overstepping the bounds of regulations and the destruction of the habitat of endangered species such as the Sumatran orangutan.

Companies entering the sustainability market

Negative consumer reactions to less sustainable products are causing many companies to adopt ‘greener’ methods. Shiseido and P&G have both committed to switching entirely to the use of sustainable palm oil in the near future; the former by the end of 2013 and the latter by 2015.

Commenting on P&G’s sustainability policy, CEO A.G. Lafley noted: “Our success depends on our ability to understand the customer- who is our boss…People have told us that they want sustainable products with no tradeoffs. They want products which don’t ask them to pay more or expect less.”

Earlier this year, Croda was commended by the RSPO for attaining a certification certificate to manufacture palm oil at their UK facility. In addition, Japanese company Kao had its Wakayama plant certified in the same year.

Rise in palm kernel oil ‘offsetting’

Certification firm Green Palm has reported that a record number of companies are ‘offsetting’ the production of palm kernel oil by purchasing certificates in 2013. Palm kernel oil is particularly popular for cosmetics products thanks to being cheaper than comparable substances such as coconut oil and shea butter.

Bob Norman, general manager at Green Palm, commented: “Our figures illustrate the fact that manufacturers and suppliers are taking palm oil sustainability seriously and are keen to support growers directly.”

Clearing without a license?

Despite the rise of sustainable and environmentally friendly oil, some companies which are members of the RSPO have been accused of unethical practices with regard to the production of this product.    

An investigation by environmental group FOTE in November revealed that major manufacturer Bumitama had been clearing areas of rainforest without a permit and operating outside the law in its production of palm oil. They also accused the company of destroying the habitat of the endangered orangutan.

The company has stated that it is currently working on a timeline with the FTSO in order to resolve the issue. It has also ceased planting operations by three of its subsidiary companies until the problem is solved.   

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