Being palm free is hard and expensive, but you know? It’s worth it to us. Unfortunately, we’re one of very few cosmetics companies that can claim, much less that are certified, palm free. Palm oil wreaks havoc on the environment in Indonesia and Malaysia, which is why it’s touted as one of the ingredient baddies.
Palm demand is growing. Most of the world’s palm oil is produced unsustainably – ancient native forests levelled and palm plantations thrown up. This is leading to unprecedented levels of deforestation, fires and habitat loss, which is threatening species such as the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, two species of elephant and the Sumatran rhino.
Will we ever use palm?
Like everything in life, there is another side to the story. Palm is the most efficient oil on the planet to produce. Compared to coconut oil, it requires ¼ of the land and water. So, really, if we could get the production right, palm oil could be an incredibly sustainable option. Palm production is also vital for some local communities, so a total ban or boycott harms them unnecessarily.
The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has been working towards controlling the damaging aspects of production, but the certifications are far from airtight and there are lots of loopholes. That’s why we believe the best, kindest, least damaging option is to say no to palm altogether. Instead we use coconut oil – the most sustainable we can find. Our coconut oil comes from a wonderful women’s cooperative in Samoa, and the oil is certified organic and fair trade. And no, we don’t use monkeys to harvest the coconuts.
If magic happens, and we can be sure of the sustainability of it, we might change our approach, but will work directly with a small producer, like we currently do for cocoa butter and coconut oil. This gives us oversight to ensure the production minimises environmental damage, and that workers there are paid a fair wage.
5 things you might not have known about palm
- Coconut is a type of palm – but it’s not that kind of palm
Yes, coconut is a type of palm tree, but palm oil refers to a specific species, Elaeis guineensis or the African oil palm. While coconut oil is unsustainably farmed in some areas, it doesn’t currently cause the same environmental devastation.
- Spotting palm on ingredients lists is almost impossible
There are over 500 ingredients that may contain palm (and at least some on that list absolutely do.) Unless you’re willing to spend days and days researching, it’s unlikely you will ever be able to spot them all while you’re standing in the supermarket. The best thing you can do is look for products that are certified as palm free, or those that at least claim to be. Ask your favourite companies to disclose their ingredient derivatives, and if sustainable sourcing isn’t something on their radar, encourage them to rethink that.
- Vegetable oil? It’s probably palm
Best estimates are that 50% of everything in a supermarket contains palm oil in some form. The worst products are processed foods, spreads like peanut butter, biscuits, chocolate, soap and personal care products. Even dog food can contain it! In New Zealand we don’t have to label a specific oil – it’s acceptable just to call it ‘vegetable oil’. So you can bet money that if something says vegetable oil, it’s palm.
- It’s easier than you think to do your bit
There are some simple things you can do as a consumer to try and ease the palm-oil crisis.
Check your labels! Don’t buy products with untraceable palm oil, or from any company not working hard to ensure a sustainable supply chain.
Encourage companies you love to work with small, sustainable palm oil producers (or, of course, to ditch it altogether).
‘Adopt’ an animal. We’ve adopted Monti the orangutan, who has been affected by the palm oil crisis. A small monthly payment really helps the charities on the front line working hard to protect these animals.
Tell your friends, your family and those around you. Don’t preach, but educate in a respectful manner. Most people want to do the right thing, they just don’t know how.
- There are lots of other brands who are certified palm free!
Pop over to our friends the Orangutan Alliance. They have all you need to know, plus other awesome brands that are also certified palm free!
A total ban? It’s a bit tricky.
Make no mistake, palm oil is a horrific environmental disaster, and we need to fix it. But the problem is more complicated than people think. If we all switched en masse to alternatives like coconut, we would have an even bigger problem on our hands – coconut plantations would quickly become the environmental disaster we’re writing blogs about. The goal then should be to develop and maintain a framework that delivers truly sustainable palm oil, so we can continue supporting the communities who depend on it, while protecting the environment. While we’re stoked to be certified palm-free, we think the day that happens will be a real cause for celebration.