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Why is sustainable palm oil different?

Along with a very many other conservation organisations, our view is that promoting sustainably grown palm oil is the most effective way for people to help. Palm oil itself isn’t the problem – it’s actually a very versatile, efficient, and high yielding crop that provides a livelihood for millions of people in tropical countries. It requires far less space than other similar oil crops which means that if palm oil were banned, you would need to use far more space to grow the next best alternative. The problem arises from how it is grown, and it’s this issue that sustainable palm oil is trying to address.

Unsustainable palm oil is grown on land that has been newly deforested, and it is this loss of tropical forest habitat that is having such a devastating effect on many species (such as our Bornean orang utans). Sustainable palm oil is generally grown by reusing already deforested land, rather than clearing new areas. The main organisation that accredits sustainable palm oil is called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – you might see their logo on some supermarket products. Although there are still some issues to resolve with accreditation, we believe that supporting the RSPO and pushing for greater sustainability will have much more impact than simply saying ‘no’ to palm oil. In fact, by boycotting palm oil you could actually create less demand for sustainable land use!

Why not just ban palm oil?

Many manufacturers and many UK supermarkets are already well advanced in increasing the amount of sustainable palm oil in their products. At the present time, these are not always labelled as such on the packets so it can be difficult to know what to buy and from where. Palm oil is in over 50% of the products you see for sale in supermarkets (including many non-food items) so removing it from the weekly shop is fraught with difficulties. Manufacturers will respond to consumer demand however, so the more interest there is in sustainable palm oil, the more likely they are to use it and label it. As we said at the beginning, using the next best oil won’t solve the problem, it will just move it to another area, and other species. Sustainable production means that we can continue to use palm oil, support developing economies, and minimise any further loss of wildlife and wild places.

What are we doing?

From ice cream to doughnuts, we only sell food that is made using sustainable palm oil. By engaging with our guests, we also aim to help people make sense of a complex, and often emotional, issue, to ensure they can make informed choices that help achieve change.

What can you do?

• Support supermarkets and manufacturers that use sustainable palm oil. Email them about the issue and ask them to consider clear labelling that identifies where sustainable palm oil has been used.

• Encourage supermarkets and manufacturers to go one step further with sustainable palm oil. Sources can be accredited in different ways – the best ones are identity preserved or segregated sources. This means that the palm oil in the product can be traced all the way back to a certified source and will not have come into contact with unsustainable palm oil along the way. Many companies still use what is called ‘mass balance’ oil, where sustainable and unsustainable sources are mixed but are, on balance, more sustainable than not. This is a step in the right direction but we should encourage suppliers that they need to do more!

• If your favourite supermarket or product contains palm oil that is not sustainable, email them to ask why not! Remember, it’s not just food – many cleaning products and cosmetics also contain the oil.

Adopt an animal of one of our zoos! Palm oil production affects many rare species; adopting an animal helps to support our efforts to conserve them for the future. Orang utans, tigers, and otters are all species you can adopt whose wild relatives are threatened by palm oil production.

You can find out what your local supermarkets and brands are doing to become more sustainable by downloading the WWF Palm Oil Scorecard here.

Find out more about palm oil from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) here.

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