© WWF-Malaysia / Mazidi Abd Ghani

Tools and initiatives for companies that buy palm oil

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.


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.

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

Today around 17% of global production – almost 11 million tonnes per year – is certified as sustainable against the RSPO’s principles and criteria.

    The RSPO standard includes:
icon-yes-w.png No new planting in place of primary forest or areas of high conservation
value since 2005
icon-yes-w.png Free, prior and informed consent of local people to plant palm oil on their land
icon-yes-w.png The obligation to measure and reduce climate change emissions
icon-yes-w.png A prohibition on the use of fire to clear land
icon-yes-w.png A requirement to keep soils healthy and to prevent erosion
icon-yes-w.png Safe pesticide use
icon-yes-w.png Decent working conditions and wages
icon-yes-w.png Compliance with local, national and international laws


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:

icon-yes-b.png Zero deforestation (including of secondary forest)
icon-yes-b.png No planting on peat
icon-yes-b.png Stricter targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
icon-yes-b.png Supporting smallholders with sustainability and business skills
icon-yes-b.png 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:

icon-yes-b.png Environmental responsibility
icon-yes-b.png Partnerships with communities
icon-yes-b.png Corporate and product integrity


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


Click on the graph to expand


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.

Palm Oil Scorecard 2016 Cover

For a more in-depth version of this online Scorecard, download the PDF

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