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Is your shopping basket causing deforestation?


Palm oil has long been one of the major drivers of deforestation and habitat destruction in some key parts of the world and we all (likely) consume palm oil every single day! Probably more than once a day. You might eat bread that contains palm oil for breakfast; wash with soap and use shampoo that contains palm oil in your morning shower; fill your car with biodiesel made up of palm oil; or enjoy a pizza for dinner with friends that has palm oil in it.

Basically, palm oil is everywhere! We hear a lot that palm oil is bad for the environment but it doesn’t have to be. Palm oil can be produced sustainably and benefit the lives of those producing it. But that relies on big palm oil using companies to commit to and buy only sustainably produced palm oil. So who are the good and bad guys and how can you make sure that your shopping basket isn’t causing deforestation?

Palm oil being harvested. Image (C) WWF / J MorganPalm oil being harvested. Image (C) WWF / J Morgan

Helping us shop responsibly

Palm oil is an extremely versatile crop, as we can see by all the products it is found in as mentioned above. It’s also extremely efficient, producing more oil per land area than other equivalent oil crops. Unfortunately palm oil is grown in tropical areas, particularly across south-east Asia but increasingly Latin America, meaning that it can threaten vast areas of tropical rainforest which are home to many iconic species like the orang-utan and Sumatran tiger. As the world demands more palm oil, potentially double by 2020, the pressure on these valuable habitats is increasing. With the demand for vegetable oil not going away, moving to another oil crop could mean that more land is converted to produce the same amount of oil  i.e. more habitat lost. Boycotting palm oil is not the answer but buying sustainably, is.

This week we published the fourth WWF palm oil buyers Scorecard which assesses whether major global palm oil using companies and brands have taken action on palm oil sustainability. We looked closely at 137 companies including well recognised brands like Tesco, McDonald’s, Nestlé, Boots,  Sainsbury’s and Unilever. We wanted to see whether they had taken key steps on sustainability that we have been asking them to do for the last 10 years. This included, joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO),  committing to and buying certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and being transparent about their use.

We did our first scorecard back in 2009 looking at 59 European companies and asking them to make commitments to use 100% sustainable palm oil by 2015. Now our list has grown to include companies from across Europe as well as the US, Canada, Australia, Japan and India and we want to see which of those and others have kept their promises and are meeting WWF’s key asks.

WWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard 2016 (C) WWFWWF Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard 2016 (C) WWF

So who is performing well?

More than half of the companies we scored have taken positive steps on palm oil and kept their promise to use only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015. This great news and shows a lot of progress over the last decade!

In particular lots of the retailers and product manufacturers are ‘leading the way’ with Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, The Co-operative and Ikea all scoring 9 out of 9, showing that it is possible for big companies with complex supply chains to be more sustainable.

Just behind them with 8 out of 9 include Tesco, United Biscuits who make McVities and Go Ahead products among others, Avon and L’Oréal who are making considerable efforts but still have a little work to do.

We are pleased to see these brands taking responsibility and look forward to their next steps to go further!

And who is lagging behind?

Quite surprisingly and certainly disappointingly, was that 1 in 5 companies either didn’t respond to our request for information, or are doing very little to make sure they are sourcing and using sustainable palm oil. This is not acceptable any more given that sourcing sustainable palm oil is easy and inexpensive to do, even for small and medium sized companies. It has to be everyone’s responsibility to take action to protect the people producing palm oil and the environment in which it grows.

Companies like Compass, the food service company who provide food products and catering to many offices and restaurants, and Tayto the potato crisp manufacturers, are very early on in their journey and need to move further and faster! They need to step up and be part of the solution to make sustainable palm oil mainstream.

What can I do?

There are two main things that each of us can do to help push companies to take responsibility for the sustainability of their products.

  1. Spend your money with the retailers and brands that are acting responsibly and leading the way on sustainable palm oil, to show your support for their efforts.
  2. Visit the WWF Palm Oil Scorecard website and tell your favourite poor-performing companies to act now!

WWF will continue to engage with companies as they progress on working towards sustainable palm oil. Even though a lot of companies scored 9 out of 9, they are not perfect and there is a journey of continuous improvement that we expect from all of them!

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