Palm oil is the world’s most traded vegetable oil, but growing it can lead to devastating deforestation and harm to wildlife, people and the climate. With demand continuing to grow, companies, consumers and governments need to act urgently
to make palm oil sustainable.
Palm oil makes up almost 40% of all vegetable oil used globally and almost 70% of the oil traded each year – and it produces far more oil per hectare than any other crop.
From margarine to lipstick, biscuits to candles, chocolate to laundry detergent, palm oil is found in an incredible range of everyday household products. It’s also used to fuel cars, as animal feed and in electricity generation.
But there’s a downside. Grown in the wrong place and in the wrong way, palm oil can be devastating for people, wildlife, nature and our climate.
Palm oil is the world’s most produced, consumed and traded vegetable oil. Click on the figure to expand.
Palm oil grows best in low-lying, wet, tropical areas – exactly where tropical rainforests grow naturally. Clearing for palm oil plantations has led to widespread destruction of rainforests, most significantly in Indonesia and Malaysia. This has damaged the habitats of unique wildlife including elephants, orang-utans, rhinos and tigers, alongside a teeming array of other plants and animals.
The conversion of forest and peat land to palm oil plantations releases massive quantities of carbon dioxide, fuelling climate change. Fires – both set deliberately to clear the forest and made more likely as remaining areas become drier – cause the haze and pollution seen regularly across Indonesia and Malaysia.
The 2015 fires in Indonesia were among the worst ever, emitting more greenhouse gases than the entire US economy for several weeks.
Communities who depend on forests for their livelihoods have suffered too, and there are continuing conflicts between palm oil companies and local people over land rights.
And while the palm oil industry provides much-needed employment, poor working conditions and labour rights violations exist.
Palm oil isn’t going away. In fact, production is expected to double by 2050 as demand grows in Asia and other emerging markets.
So we have to act now to make the industry more accountable and sustainable – before more precious forests are destroyed.
The palm oil industry can grow and prosper without sacrificing any more tropical forests or causing conflict with communities. WWF believes that companies that produce palm oil should follow the standard and guidance of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). And palm oil buyers should support them by using RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.
Since 2009, WWF has regularly scored the performance of companies on the core actions that they need to take to ensure they are acting responsibly. Our Scorecards in 2009, 2011, and 2013 showed that some companies were making good progress, but many others weren’t doing enough.
Meanwhile many companies set themselves targets to be using 100% certified sustainable palm oil by 2015. That’s why WWF decided to score the actions of companies in this important year. We wanted to answer the question, which companies have honoured their commitments and which have broken their promises to consumers on palm oil?