Home/Habitat Destruction, Palm Oil Industry

What Can I do About Palm Oil?

We get asked this question all the time. The situation seems hopeless at times. Deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, threats of species extinction, disregard of indigenous land rights, exploitation of labor. The list of problems caused by oil palm cultivation goes on and on. How can one person possibly impact situations occurring halfway around the world and do we even have the right to do so? The Palm Free Council was founded to raise awareness among the American consumer of what is happening to the world’s most precious resources under the cover of “sustainable” production. We felt the American consumer is particularly unaware of the devastation that is occurring due to oil palm [...]

Interview with Sean Delaney, co-founder of Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat, which is a partner of the Palm Free Council

The Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat is a paid volunteer program providing solutions to the problems of deforestation in the jungle in North Sumatra, Indonesia. • What’s your name and role in the volunteer program? How did the volunteer program start? My name is Sean Delaney. My wife, Sue Delaney, and I started the program about 4 years ago, after visiting Sumatra on vacation. We saw a lot of poverty, and palm oil and rubber cultivation were the only options for work. After our visit we decided to start a trekking company in Bukit Lawang that included local guides and ethical tourism (i.e.-not feeding wild animals or leaving rubbish behind). We began to [...]

The Eyes of Indonesia’s Future

The Volunteer Coordinator at the Sumatra Rainforest Eco Retreat is a young man by the name of Santa (pronounced sônta). The retreat is in Bukit Lawang, Indonesia which is on the Island of Sumatra and just north of the Gunung Leuser national park. The Leuser ecosystem is known to be the only place where Sumatran tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans all live together. However, current population estimates for the Sumatran Rhino are less than 100 individuals and the number of Sumatran tigers is estimated to be 400-500 animals. One of the guides who took me into the rainforest told me he was hired for a 7-day trek into Leuser in [...]

Do You Know What’s in Your Biofuel?

After food, the largest market for palm oil is biodiesel. Biofuels are transportation fuels like ethanol and biodiesel that are made from biomass materials. Biofuels have existed as long as cars have existed, but they started gaining popularity with rising oil prices, and growing concerns about global warming. Government mandates requiring the use of biofuels in 64 countries are what drives the biofuel market today. Ethanol is an alcohol fuel made from the sugars found in grains, while biodiesel is made from vegetable oils, fats (ie-tallow), or greases (ie-recycled restaurant grease). Biodiesel is usually sold as a blend of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel fuel. A common blend of diesel fuel [...]

Unintended Consequences of Natural Movement

Global vegetable oil production has steadily increased over the last 30 years. This trend is largely driven by increasing wealth in the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), national mandates for the use of biofuels and growing world populations. As wealth and populations grow, so does the demand for beef. An increased cattle population requires more cattle feed which is made with vegetable oils, namely soybean or palm. The positive association of biofuel with environmental responsibility, health, and sustainability has spilled over into other markets. The cosmetics and personal care, homecare, and even pet care markets have all started to market towards natural and sustainable. The popularity of the natural [...]

What’s Wrong with Palm Oil?

The Commoditization of the Natural Market According to the USDA World Market Trade Report, the global use of vegetable oils has steadily increased, about 5% per year, over the last 20 years. Growing populations, increased wealth in the BRIC countries, and the resulting increased meat consumption (which requires more animal feed that comes from oilseed), have all maintained the steady growth of vegetable oils. Biofuels are also driving vegetable oil production. Biofuel production has dramatically risen over the last 15 years, going from 5 billion gallons in 2001 to almost 35 billion gallons in 2016 (Beckman, J. et al 2017). Recent biofuel increases are a response to the well-publicized connection [...]

Let’s Fix the Problems That Plague Palm Oil

With decades of environmental devastation and human rights violations, palm oil has been under the scrutiny of environmentalists, NGOs, and consumers for quite a while. Certifying bodies like the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO), Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO), and more recently the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), have tried to certify the sustainability of palm and palm kernel oils. Unfortunately, lax rules, weak enforcement and domination by commercial interests have served to weaken the effectiveness of these organizations. There are many campaigns advocating for the boycott of palm oil. Some arguments against this idea are negative impacts to the economies of producer countries (namely, Indonesia and [...]

Is the Natural Movement Killing the Rainforest?

I’m sure if you look in your bathroom or shower you will find products that have some sort of natural marketing claim. “Natural” is equated with words like “wholesome”, “safe”, “sustainable”, even “moral” in some consumers’ minds. A product doesn’t even need to contain 100% natural components to benefit from a natural claim. A green label, or the image of a natural substance like honey or coconut on that label is generally enough to drive busy consumers to purchase. The thought is, “if its natural, its good for the planet, and good for me”. Most don’t delve any deeper than that. The product label shown on the left is from [...]

Are Inexpensive Beauty Products Leading to Deforestation?

Unilever committed to using palm oil from certified ‘sustainable’ sources within 2008, and that all the palm oil used by the company in Europe would be certified as ‘fully traceable’ by 2012. In December 2013, Unilever entered into a supply agreement with Wilmar International to guarantee a fully traceable supply chain by the end of 2014. In November 2016, Amnesty International published an article entitled, “Palm Oil: Global brands profiting from child and forced labour, Unilever, Nestlé, Procter & Gamble among nine household names contributing to labour abuse” (https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2016/11/palm-oil-global-brands-profiting-from-child-and-forced-labour/) In July 2017 the Indonesian Ministry of the Environment and Forestry found PT AGL (Gunas Group) clearing peatland despite the December 2016 government regulation [...]

What is Peatland and Why Is It So Important?

Peatland is partially decaying (or carbonized) organic or plant matter that is formed by its decomposition in water. All living things contain carbon and as living things die and decompose, that carbon gets converted to carbon dioxide and goes into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. The carbon found in material that falls into peatland bogs gets sequestered and avoids release into the earth’s atmosphere. That makes peatland a carbon sink. Peatland is actually the most efficient carbon sink in the world, holding about 50 gigatons (approximately 126 million Boeing 747s) of the world’s carbon (Page et al, 2001). In a world where greenhouse gas reduction is a primary concern, [...]