Inquiring Minds Promote Change.
We have been getting some great questions and want to share them!
Please feel free to contact us with any comments.
Q: Are the companies considered safe for orangutans and the rainforest on the Palm Oil Shopping Guide App labeling their products as containing palm oil only from sustainable plantations? If not do they plan to do so?
A: Not all companies are labeling their products as containing certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) for several reasons. First, their products do not necessarily contain 100% CSPO. While that is the goal within the RSPO, some companies are further along in their journey than others to source 100% CSPO. When a company joins RSPO, they have to commit to using CSPO or buying credits (subsidizing farmers who are growing CSPO even if the company is not yet able to purchase the physical CSPO), with a goal date by which they will use 100% CSPO. The second reason this is not included on packaging, as we found out through working closely with a local company that does use sustainable palm oil, the word “sustainable” has not yet been defined by the FDA. We were also surprised to find out that it can cost $40,000 every time a small company changes their packaging. However, we are still encouraging companies to use the RSPO trademark on their product packaging when it is feasible for them to do so. As far as detailed updates go, it would be great for companies to post this type of information on their websites.
We have tried to make it easy for consumers to figure out which companies are RSPO members and using CSPO. You can download our Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping app (look for the green orangutan) and scan the barcodes of your favorite products to learn whether the companies who make them are orangutan friendly.
Q: How do you know if an RSPO member company is using certified sustainable palm oil?
A: If you go to https://www.rspo.org/members/all, you can look up RSPO members and view their reports year to year. The CSPO commitments or percentages being purchased are listed in these reports. The RSPO uses third party auditors to verify the information submitted in the reports.
Q: Who is certifying the sustainable plantations or is the RSPO just going on their word?
A: Becoming certified by the RSPO is a rigorous process. There are many criteria a plantation has to meet in order to be certified. Ultimately, the RSPO is certifying the plantations, but neutral agencies are hired to do the inspections. One example would be the HCV (high conservation value) forest assessments that a plantation must have done in order to be certified. An HCV assessment determines whether or not there are endangered species, indigenous people, waterways, etc. that will be impacted if a plantation exists in a certain way. We met with some scientists from Flora and Fauna International who are preforming these assessments in Indonesia. You can find out more about the RSPO’s principles and criteria at www.rspo.org
For more information:
Q: Why are there mixed messages, depending on which conservation organization you talk to, about the best way to help orangutans?
A: Palm oil is such a huge issue and the reason people are so passionate about it is that it affects something we all care deeply about – orangutans and other wild species. Everyone should make their own decisions about what they are doing in their personal lives, or with their organizations.
Here is an explanation for why we believe in supporting sustainable palm oil:
In 2010, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff took their first trip to Indonesia and Malaysia to learn all they could about the palm oil industry and how it affects orangutans and the planet. Since then, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff take an annual trip to Indonesia and/or Malaysia where they are able to talk with many people, from oil palm plantation managers to scientists who have studied orangutans in-situ for many years and conservationists who are fighting to preserve orangutan habitat but who know a palm oil boycott would be disastrous.
Q: Why do you say that boycotting palm oil is not the answer?
Environmentally, oil palms are the most productive of all oil crops—producing 4-10x more oil than common alternatives such as soy, canola, and coconut. To switch to one of these alternatives would require far more land and ultimately cost more deforestation. When grown sustainably, palm oil is the best choice of edible vegetable oils.
Socially, Indonesia and Malaysia, the two countries that produce the majority of the world’s palm oil, are currently going through an important period of economic growth. Without the palm oil industry, millions of people who rely on these economic opportunities and struggle with poverty would be unemployed. Additionally, palm oil is a natural preservative with no trans-fat which is why it can be found in many prepackaged food items. As the human population has grown, so too has the demand for products that are safe to consume and have a long shelf life.
Practically, it does not seem realistic or feasible to effectively boycott palm oil. Palm oil and its derivatives have more than 50 different names on product labels, sometimes even being labeled generically as ‘vegetable oil.’
Q: Can we use Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s palm oil information, graphics, or website content to help promote palm oil awareness in our community and/or at our organization?
A: Yes. Cheyenne Mountain Zoo releases all information on this web page into the public domain in an effort to promote the timely dissemination of knowledge surrounding palm oil. This applies worldwide. In some countries this many not be legally possible; if so: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo grants anyone the right to use this work for any purpose, without any conditions, unless such conditions are required by law.
Q: Can you give me an idea of what is required to become a RSPO member and what our zoo would be bound to if we do become a member? Cost logistics would be helpful also.
A: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo offers a downloadable “How to Apply for RSPO Membership” PDF to help further assist you. RSPO website: www.rspo.org.
Other important links:
Q: Many companies (like Whole Foods and Kroger) claim that they source all of their palm oil from suppliers who are members of RSPO. Why are they not on your Palm Oil Shopping Guide App?
A: If you read closely these companies do not say they are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and they are not listed as members of the RSPO on the RSPO’s website. These companies talk a lot about the RSPO and they are well-versed (which is good), but if they are committed to sustainable palm oil they should be willing to apply for RSPO membership.
We feel any company using palm oil should be a member of the RSPO in order to promote transparency and accountability through the required annual reporting of their palm oil purchasing. Without reporting on actual purchasing, a company is able to make claims or promises on palm oil use and not be held accountable to those statements. We hope if you are a fan of companies who are not members of the RSPO that you will consider reaching out to them and encourage them to learn more about the palm oil crisis (www.cmzoo.org/palmoil) and join the RSPO.
We do not feel that boycotting (or avoiding) palm oil is a constructive way to move sustainability forward. The RSPO is moving things in the right direction—and will be more effective if we are supportive. The RSPO’s Principles & Guidelines were recently ratified with greater environmental and social protections including no planting on peat regardless of depth, banning fire as a method for land preparation, and strengthened labor rights such as increased living wage and decent housing.
The GREAT thing we see happening more and more is that consumers are asking companies these important questions, showing them that their customers are interested in certified sustainable palm oil, which is crucial. So thank you for writing to these companies