ZSL ranks palm oil companies on environmental risks

Updated SPOTT website now covers half of all land under oil palm cultivation

International conservation charity the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is aiming to bring further clarity to the often-hazy world of palm oil production through the launch of its updated Sustainability Policy Transparency Toolkit (SPOTT). 

Palm oil plantation boundary, © Oliver Wearn, ZSL
Palm oil plantation boundary, © Oliver Wearn, ZSL

ZSL’s established SPOTT platform is a free, interactive website designed to help investors and other key stakeholders manage environmental risks in the palm oil sector. SPOTT assesses, scores and ranks 50 of the world’s largest palm oil producers using publicly-available information about the sustainability of their operations.

SPOTT features a regularly-updated scorecard that provides quarterly assessments of 50 oil palm growing companies – double the number in 2014 – against a framework of over 50 indicators. Framed as direct questions about best practice and its disclosure, the indicators cover areas including environmental management, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving supply chain traceability, and reporting to the industry’s largest certification scheme, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Users can compare and contrast company performance via trend-tracking graphs, as well as monitoring the media for company-specific stories on issues including fires, haze, deforestation and wildlife conflict.

Leonie Lawrence, Global Palm Oil Manager at ZSL, commented: "SPOTT supports growers to improve reporting and transparency. With double the number of companies and half of all land under oil palm development now covered by our platform, we want to engage with companies to improve their scores and urge the financial sector to use the information to fulfil their responsibility and better understand and address their environmental impacts."

ZSL’s Transparency Toolkit also hosts a fully-searchable mapping tool displaying oil palm concession sites overlaid with near real-time satellite data on protected areas, forest loss and active fire alerts provided by the World Resources Institute’s Global Forest Watch.

As increasing global demand for palm oil drives deforestation, fires and haze across Southeast Asia, and plantations expand throughout the tropical belt, ZSL is working directly with industry to reduce its negative environmental impacts, and improve the lives of people and animals – many of which, such as the Sumatran tiger (Panthera tigris sumatrae) and orangutan (Pongo abelii), are critically endangered.

As financial institutions increasingly divest from fossil fuels, many investors are looking to support renewable alternatives, often in the form of sustainable biofuels, of which palm oil is a growing component. SPOTT provides guidance on the Environmental and Social Governance (ESG) processes needed to develop responsible investments, as well as helping to build trust in the supply chain by making company operations more transparent – the first step in transforming the industry towards a sustainable future.

Hilde Jervan, from the Council on Ethics for the Norwegian Government Pension Fund, explained: "The Council has recommended excluding a number of oil palm companies from the Fund over poor environmental performance. Concrete information at the company level is necessary to influence companies to spur change. SPOTT offers a much needed mechanism for the financial sector to engage with producers and to further the ESG agenda. It opens the way for financiers to communicate with companies to monitor and manage environmental risks."

Whether you are an investor, trader, producer, or buyer in the supply chain, all stakeholders have a role to play in increasing sustainability. Visitors can navigate the SPOTT website according to their stakeholder role and find tailor-made information curated to suit their needs. 

RSPO’s Head of Impacts, Dr Sanath Kumaran added: "The RSPO welcomes sustainability indicator frameworks such as SPOTT, which will support RSPO members in transforming the market to make sustainable palm oil the norm and translate commitments into tangible results on the ground."

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