Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Going Natural - Part 2 - Becoming Sustainable - The Other Side of the Palm Oil Debate

Becoming Sustainable

In a recent post, we discussed sustainability. Here is a brief synopsis to get you up to speed if you missed the article. A sustainable business is a company that leaves no negative impact on the global or local environment, community, society, or economy. The business strives to ensure that all processes, products, and manufacturing activities adequately address current environmental concerns and that it “meets the needs of the present world without compromising the ability of the future generations to meet their own needs.”

One specific topic that was discussed in this article was palm oil. Palm oil is under increasing scrutiny in relation to its effects on the environment, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia, through deforestation, elimination of rain forest habitats, and uncontrolled land burns, which kill wildlife affecting several critically endangered species such as the orangutans, the Asian rhinoceros, and the Sumatran tigers.

Do NOT Boycott Palm Oil! Or at least, do not do it until you have read all the facts.  Many organizations, including zoos and orangutan groups, do not recommend boycotting, especially since you would have to boycott an awful lot of products and companies. It is found in cookies, crackers, frozen dinners, shampoo, lotions, cosmetics, soaps, pet food, and many other products. Palm oil is now the most widely produced edible oil. Instead use certified sustainable palm oil.

Why is using certified sustainable palm oil better than boycotting its use?

• Because palm oil makes 10 times the amount of oil per unit area as soybeans, grape seeds or sunflowers, it is actually more environmentally friendly to use because of this.

• Poverty stricken Indonesia and Malaysia rely on palm oil for their economies. Boycotting would devastate these communities rendering many people unemployed.

• If you boycott one type of oil, another will just take its place. Whereas using a sustainable oil is a win-win situation.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) certifies producers and processors in the palm oil industry. They have created a strict set of guidelines for palm oil producers to prevent negative environmental impacts and promote fair trade. Additionally, many of the sustainable palm oil plantations are also certified organic, which is an added plus.

So now where do you find RSPO certified sustainable palm oil? While other suppliers may in fact offer sustainable palm oil, two soap supply companies that have openly stated they carry the certified oils are Cibaria Soap Supply and Soaper’s Choice/ Columbus Foods. To learn more about certified sustainable palm oil, visit

There are many other ingredients that can be evaluated for sustainability. An example would be sandalwood. While sandalwood has an incredible highly desirable scent, the tree it is derived from takes a many, many years to mature. A large number of these trees have been wiped out to obtain the sandalwood without much thought to the environment. In more recent years, Australia has established sandalwood plantations to create a more viable solution to collecting sandalwood and replenishing the trees. Additionally, a great substitute for sandalwood is amyris. It is also much more affordable.

To sum things up, don't just jump on the bandwagon and start boycotting products before learning if that will help or hurt the situation.  Instead, do some research.  Look at all your products and see which ones are sustainable and which ones need to be replaced with a better option for the environment.  And then move forward with what you believe is the best decision for the environment based on the research.  Only then is your business truly sustainable. 

What do you think?  Post your comments.

Bath Alchemy by The Bonnie Bath Co.


  1. What a great post. I use Palm Oil, always sustainable, and you are right, there is more at stake than simply saving the orang-utans. the way i see it, buying sustainable DOES help save them as well as helping poorer economies. Thanks for presenting the other side of the debate

  2. Having worked in orangutan conservation for 18 years and being on the front line of the palm oil issue, I agree 100% with this position. The best alternative unsustainable palm oil is certified sustainable palm oil. My organisation, Orangutan Land Trust, and I do not support a boycott on palm oil.

  3. Of course we do not have to boycott palm oil. It is a really good product as you said.
    But I'm a bit confused about this debate, compared to cocoa butter's problem, I thing even more serious and hurting : Children are abused in very bad and terrible conditions, and nobody seem to care about it.
    I have to admit I'm more concerned by this than by ourangutan problem...

  4. Cynthia, palm oil has become a big topic in the soap industry for years now, which is why I discuss the other side of the debate. Abuse of children, terrible working conditions and poor wages is a topic for fair trade, which I have an article about tomorrow. There are a couple of fair trade organizations that require participating farms and plantations to have good wages and conditions, plus no child labor is allowed. I highly recommend seekling out cocoa butter that is fairly traded.

  5. Unfortunately, an RSPO certification doesn't mean that the palm oil is actually sustainable. Greenpeace has reported on numerous violations by producers who remain certified, and Wetlands International, one of the members of the roundtable, has stated that many of their efforts have been blocked... I do hope that palm oil becomes sustainable, but right now that just doesn't seem to be the case.

  6. Anonymous, you are correct, but RSPO is a start. Both the efforts to enforce sustainability and fair trade are still in early phases and there are many kinks to work out, but a continued push by consumers for companies to do the right thing should help things get better over time. Thanks for commenting.

  7. Amyris oil appears to lack the well documented, historically rich background of other essential oils. This is largely due to the fact that the botanical origin of the tree that is used to produce amyris oil,
    The sweet, balsamic, wood-like fragrance of Amyris oil allows it to blend well with geranium oil, pine oil, spruce oil, cedar wood oil, myrrh oil, galbanum oil, frankincense oil, cypress oil, clove oil, aniseed oil, lemon oil, orange oil,

    Commonly found in soaps and other 'Sandalwood' products in place of 'true' Sandalwood, Amyris supports vibrant physical health by helping to remove physical and etheric toxins that congest and distort the body. An alternative choice in place of the endangered 'true' Sandalwood, Amyris is a healthy, inexpensive and sustainable substitute in many aromatherapy applications.
    Amyris Oil

  8. Thanks, Mukesh, for the more in depth information on Amyris eo. It's one of my favorite scents.


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