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Palm oil doesn’t have to mean more deforestation. Companies and their customers can choose palm oil that’s been grown in a sustainable way – meaning no more forests and other important habitats are destroyed, and the rights of workers and local communities are respected.

Certified sustainable palm oil

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has developed a set of standards for producing palm oil sustainably. These cover all the major social and environmental impacts of palm oil, including deforestation, soil, water, climate, labour and the consent of local communities.

Today around 20% of global production – more than 12 million tonnes – is certified as sustainable against the RSPO’s principles and criteria.

WWF was a founding member of the RSPO and believes that RSPO certification is the best way for the global palm oil industry to show it’s acting responsibly. That’s why we’re pushing growers and processors to supply RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil – and retailers and brands to buy it.

The RSPO standard includes:

 
  • No new planting in place of primary forest or areas of high conservation value since 2005

  • Free, prior and informed consent of local people to plant palm oil on their land

  • The obligation to measure and reduce climate change emissions

  • A prohibition on the use of fire to clear land

  • A requirement to keep soils healthy and to prevent erosion

  • Safe pesticide use

  • Decent working conditions and wages

  • Compliance with local, national and international laws

 

[Subhead] Going further

 

We also want to see more companies going further than the basic RSPO standard by becoming independently verified against the new RSPO NEXT standard or the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) Charter. RSPO NEXT and POIG include tougher criteria on issues such as:

  • Zero deforestation (including of secondary forest)

  • No planting on peat

  • Stricter targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

  • Supporting smallholders with sustainability and business skills

  • Making sure that all suppliers are also acting responsibly

 

In addition, POIG aims to create and promote innovations to put strict standards into practice. It builds on existing RSPO standards, systems and commitments, with a focus on:

  • Environmental responsibility

  • Partnerships with communities

  • Corporate and product integrity

 

Despite the promises and efforts of committed growers and supportive buyers, deforestation for palm oil is still happening at an alarming rate.

Independent suppliers and smallholders continue to deal in unsustainable and often illegal palm oil, while governments are failing to rationally plan the growth of the industry or robustly regulate its performance.

Governments in producer countries need to work with all stakeholders to create an environment where all palm oil is legally and sustainably produced.

See more on the role of producer country governments on ensuring a future where sustainable palm oil is the norm.

Supply chain choices

Palm oil supply chains are complex, and oils may be refined, mixed and resold many times between the plantation and the end user. So there’s a variety of ways that buyers can support sustainable production.

Ideally, companies should be able to buy certified sustainable palm oil that’s not been mixed with uncertified oils in fully segregated supply chains. In some cases, it can even be traced back to the plantation where it was grown (identity preserved).

However, some types of palm oil products aren’t yet available through segregated supply chains. And some certified growers, particularly smallholders, don’t have a certified mill nearby.

This is where book and claim comes in. Retailers or manufacturers buy palm oil as normal, but they also buy a certificate for each tonne they use via an online trading platform. Certified growers receive a cash payment for each certificate they sell.

It’s a simple way for companies to support sustainable production and create an incentive for more growers to become certified, even though the actual palm oil in the end product may not come from certified sources.

Finally, the mass balance system allows certified and non-certified oils to be mixed, but every company in the supply chain needs to record how much of each they buy and sell. This helps improve transparency, and can be a useful step toward fully segregated supply chains.

Steps a company can take

1. Join the RSPO

2. Buy 100% certified sustainable palm oil through any supply chain option

3. Set a time-bound target for buying 100% segregated certified sustainable palm oil

4. Get involved in RSPO NEXT and POIG

Graphic for this page (this isn’t designed yet, but will be this week):

The RSPO in figures

A figure creatively illustrating the following numbers:

3,001 RSPO members

274 palm oil mills and their plantations are RSPO-certified

2.85 million hectares RSPO-certified

10.95 million tonnes of CSPO produced

6 Mt of CSPO bought

17% of global palm oil production certified

2,021 companies with supply chain certificates