Sales of palm oil certified as being produced at less cost to the environment have accelerated after a slow start, reports the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the body that developed the criteria for certification.
RSPO says 200,000 metric tons of “RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil or corresponding certificates” have been purchased by manufacturers and companies. The volume amounts to 19 percent of the 1,050,000 tons of palm oil that have been produced by certified mills and plantations since September 2008.
The increase in sales is welcome news to supporters of RSPO. In the six months following the first shipment of CPO to Europe in November 2008 less than three percent of the available product had been sold. The global recession and concerns about the credibility of certified palm oil (some environmental groups complain that RSPO has poor oversight and monitoring) had been cited for the lackluster demand.
RSPO also announced new guidelines for companies that make sustainability claims based on their use of RSPO-certified palm oil:
The guidelines provide clear rules to members on what to tell customers based on whether palm oil in the actual product can be traced back to certified sources, thus ensuring that consumers get accurate and clear information.
A company may claim that a product “contains RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil” only if certified oil was kept apart throughout the supply chain. If, on the other hand, the supply chain somehow mixed certified oil with conventional oil, a company may claim that its product “advances the production of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil”.
RSPO was originally formed as a response to pressure from environmentalists who maintain that oil palm production has driven large-scale destruction of rainforests across southeast Asia over the past two decades, triggering the release of billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions and imperiling rare species, including the Sumatran tiger and the orangutan. RSPO has created a set of criteria to make palm oil production less damaging to the environment. These include using natural pests and composting in place of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers whenever possible, implementing no burn policies, sparing high conservation value forests from development, taking measures to reduce air pollution, and creating catchment ponds to prevent palm oil mill effluent from entering waterways where it would damage aquatic habitats. The hope is that CPO can be sold at a premium to recoup the increased costs that certification entails.
Still not all environmental groups have bought into RSPO. Concerns over the certification standard have been stoked by pictures which activists claim show RSPO members continuing to clear high value conservation forest areas (HCV) in violation of certification protocol. Some critics have labeled RSPO a greenwashing initiative rather than a genuine effort to improve the environmental performance of palm oil. RSPO members have dismissed these charges but concede that the certification process is still evolving.
(09/24/2009) Of the world’s two species of orangutan, a great ape that shares 96 percent of man’s genetic makeup, the Sumatran orangutan is considerably more endangered than its cousin in Borneo. Today there are believed to be fewer than 7,000 Sumatran orangutans in the wild, a consequence of the wildlife trade, hunting, and accelerating destruction of their native forest habitat by loggers, small-scale farmers, and agribusiness. Gunung Leuser National Park in North Sumatra is one of the last strongholds for the species, serving as a refuge among paper pulp concessions and rubber and oil palm plantations. While orangutans are relatively well protected in areas around tourist centers, they are affected by poorly regulated interactions with tourists, which have increased the risk of disease and resulted in high mortality rates among infants near tourist centers like Bukit Lawang. Further, orangutans that range outside the park or live in remote areas or on its margins face conflicts with developers, including loggers, who may or may not know about the existence of the park, and plantation workers, who may kill any orangutans they encounter in the fields. Working to improve the fate of orangutans that find their way into plantations and unprotected community areas is the Orangutan Information Center (OIC), a local NGO that collaborates with the Sumatran Orangutan Society (SOS).
(07/08/2009) Consumer apathy towards eco-certified palm oil have undermined efforts to improve the environmental performance of the industry, a top industry official told Reuters.
(05/13/2009) Lack of interest in eco-certified palm oil among buyers threatens to undermine efforts to improve the environmental performance of the industry, reports the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).