A Tipping Point for Palm Oil, Deforestation, and Peat?

March 7, 2014 | 10:02 am
Doug Boucher
Former Contributor

History is happening all the time, but usually without us realizing it. Only rarely do we experience a change so dramatic that we know that what’s happening today will be remembered fifty or a hundred years in the future. The kind of thing that you’ll tell your grandchildren about. This is especially the case for so-called “tipping points,” celebrated in both scientific and popular writing. Usually, you only realize that something was a tipping point after you’re well past it. But sometimes…

It seems like we just might be on the brink of a tipping point for the palm oil industry, a fast-growing driver of deforestation and the destruction of peat swamps – and thus a major source of global warming pollution.

Until recently, most companies have been content just to buy palm oil certified as “sustainable” by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which allowed continued deforestation and peat clearing. But over the past six months, we’ve seen major players in the industry commit to truly eliminating deforestation and peat clearing from their supply chains.

Wilmar and Golden Agri-Resources (GAR), which respectively trade about 45 percent and about 10 percent of the world’s palm oil, have pledged to move to zero-deforestation and zero-peat throughout their entire supply chains. And although there’s been less movement towards zero deforestation at the ends of the supply chains – the consumer goods companies from whom we, the consumers, buy thousands of products containing palm oil  — companies such as Kellogg, L’Oréal, and Hershey’s have made commitments just since last November.

This week UCS released its first palm oil scorecard report, showing which consumer goods companies are the leaders in this new wave. It shows who’s making history, tipping the balance toward ending deforestation – and who needs to catch up.

Palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Source: Sharon Smith, UCS.

Palm oil plantation in Sumatra, Indonesia. Source: Sharon Smith, UCS.