Unsustainable palm oil production has devastating impacts on communities, wildlife, and the environment, but how committed are companies to making palm oil sustainable? Alexis Hatto, ZSL's Business and Biodiversity Engagement Manager, has been investigating.
From bread, biscuits and chocolate, to cosmetics and detergents – half of all packaged products in supermarkets contain some form of palm oil, the world’s most widely used vegetable oil.
Today, around 85% of palm oil is produced in just two countries: Indonesia and Malaysia. In many cases, production takes place on land previously occupied by tropical rainforests and peatlands, which are important habitats for tigers, elephants and orangutans.
The impacts of palm oil production
Scientific research by ZSL shows that oil palm plantations typically contain less than a fifth of the animal species supported by natural forests.
Over four million hectares of forest – equivalent to more than five million football fields – were lost between 1990 and 2005 in Indonesia alone due to palm oil production.
Clearing land for the development of palm oil plantations can destroy vital habitats and contribute to toxic pollution and carbon emissions. Local communities have also been threatened or forced off their land.
These issues can create risks for producers such as damage to reputation, which can lead to loss of business. Therefore, many companies are now working towards producing and using palm oil more sustainably.
What can companies do?
Sustainable plantations need to follow strict policies to maintain conservation areas and protect endangered species. Responsible companies should also commit to stopping deforestation and to respecting human rights. While many companies have made these commitments, there is still a need for companies to better communicate their progress to a wide range of stakeholders, including their investors and buyers.
Better transparency, by making corporate information available for public monitoring and scrutiny, allows producers to demonstrate that they are tackling the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production, and reducing risks. In turn, transparency allows investors and stakeholders to consider any potential risks of doing business with palm oil companies.
ZSL's toolkit for change
ZSL’s Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT) is a free, online resource that scores palm oil producers on transparency: displaying how open they are about improving their practices, tracking where their palm oil comes from, and adopting rigorous procedures to end deforestation.
ZSL has also worked with various organisations, led by Ceres, to develop clear and specific guidelines to support companies to report clearly and consistently on their commitments to sustainable palm oil production and sourcing. This practical guidance provides ‘better practice’ reporting recommendations on a variety of topics including land development, complaints processes, and human rights issues.
With more financial institutions looking to invest in responsible companies, palm oil producers must communicate their policies and practices in an effective and transparent way.
Select a blog
Our people are our greatest asset and we realise our vision for a world where wildlife thrives through their ideas, skills and passion. An inspired, informed and empowered community of people work, study and volunteer together at ZSL.
A blog for lovers of ZSL London Zoo, bringing you extraordinary animal facts and exclusive access to the world's oldest scientific zoo.
Do you love wildlife? Discover more about our amazing animals at the UK's biggest zoo!
We're working around the world to conserve animals and their habitats, find out more about our latest achievements.
From the field to the lab, catch up with the scientists on the cutting edge of conservation biology at ZSL’s Institute of Zoology.
A day in Discovery and Learning at ZSL is never dull! The team tell us all about the exciting sessions for school children, as well as work further afield.
Every month, one of the pieces held in ZSL’s Library and at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo will feature here as Artefact of the Month.
Read testimonials from our Members and extracts from ZSL's award winning members' magazine, Wild About.
The Chagos archipelago is a rare haven for marine biodiversity. Hear from the team about our projects to protect the environments in the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT).
ZSL works across Asia, from the famous national parks of Nepal to marine protected areas in the Philippines. Read the latest updates on our conservation.
An Open Access journal for research at the interface of remote sensing, ecology and conservation.