Companies are buying more certified sustainable palm oil than ever before – but urgent action is still needed to avoid the irreversible loss of tropical forests and species such as tigers, according to WWF’s latest assessment of palm oil buyers.

“It’s never been easier for companies to be responsible about the palm oil they use,” said Dr Gilly Llewellyn, WWF-Australia’s Director of Conservation.

WWF today released the Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011, which measures over 130 major retailers and consumer goods manufacturers by looking at their commitment to, and use of, palm oil certified to the internationally recognised standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

“Palm oil itself is not the issue – the problem is how and where it is produced. The solution is certified sustainable palm oil. Some companies have fallen behind on their existing commitments to use only 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil, while others haven’t even started.

“This is an urgent problem. The clearing of tropical forests for oil palm production can be very damaging to wildlife, communities and the environment. Deforestation takes away precious habitat and makes a major contribution to carbon pollution caused by human activity,” said Dr Llewellyn.

Australian retailers Woolworths, Coles Supermarkets and Metcash; as well as food producers Goodman Fielder, Arnott’s, Snack Brands and Peerless Holdings were analysed in the 2011 Scorecard.

The WWF Scorecard was launched today at Sydney’s Taronga Zoo Sumatran tiger display – home to three tiger cubs. Taronga Zoo Director and Chief Executive Cameron Kerr said this was a potent reminder of the importance of sustainable palm.

“Sumatran tigers live on the brink of extinction, with as few as 400 left in the wild. Our three new cubs’ beautiful stripes can’t camouflage them if there’s no jungle left. We want people to support certified sustainable palm oil to help reduce forest clearance,” said Mr Kerr.

Many of the companies in this year’s WWF Scorecard have made commendable progress to increase their use of sustainable palm oil and reduce their impact on deforestation. 87 of the 132 companies (66 per cent) have committed to sourcing 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil by 2015 or earlier, an encouraging sign that could spur further market development.

Unilever Australia’s Chief Executive Sebastian Lazell said that on a global scale, Unilever recognised the need to support sustainable palm oil producers.

“As a founding member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, Unilever believes current and future palm oil needs can be met without any further deforestation if industry, governments and NGOs work together to boost production and market uptake of sustainable palm oil.

“In 2008 we made a global commitment to source all of our palm oil sustainability by 2015. So far, our entire Australian and New Zealand operations and two thirds of our global requirements are covered by GreenPalm certificates and segregated sustainable palm oil. Unilever has purchased more than half of all the GreenPalm Certificates traded and we remain the biggest buyer and supporter of certified sustainable palm oil.”

Leading companies, large and small, show the way

WWF’s Dr Llewellyn said leading companies of all sizes in the Scorecard demonstrate that it is possible to source certified sustainable palm oil.

French cosmetic company L’Oreal and UK confectionery giant Cadbury scored nine out of a possible nine points, while global manufacturing brands Unilever, Nestlé and H J Heinz and retailer IKEA all scored eight out of nine.

However, even those companies which scored highly have room for improvement and a long way to go before they are using only 100 per cent certified sustainable palm oil.

“There is no excuse for companies to delay action on such an urgent issue. 2015 is just around the corner and all companies, even the top performers, need to move faster. Only then can we ensure that the momentum gained by the RSPO is not lost and avoid the negative impacts of irresponsible oil palm plantations on forests, wildlife and communities,” said Dr Llewellyn.

Progress is still too slow

Palm oil is a highly versatile vegetable oil derived from very productive oil palm trees grown only in the tropics. Consumption of the oil is increasing globally and is set to grow from 50 million tonnes a year now to at least 77 million tonnes in 2050.

Very disappointingly, 17 of the 43 retailers and 15 of the 89 manufacturers assessed scored at three or below, showing that still too many companies are taking little or no responsibility for the negative impact of their palm oil use on forests, species and people.

The supply of certified sustainable palm has grown dramatically since WWF released its first Scorecard in 2009, and now stands at 5 million tonnes (10 per cent of global palm oil production). Encouraging as this is, only about half of all the sustainable palm oil produced is being sold. This mirrors the situation in 2009, which is why WWF is renewing its call to companies to take their responsibilities far more seriously and far more urgently.

Lack of transparency hampers progress

Most worrying is an overall lack of transparency about the amount of palm oil that companies use, which WWF believes is a major disincentive to growers of sustainable palm oil to move ahead with further certification.

While WWF asked companies to disclose the amount of palm oil they use, as well as how much of that oil is certified as sustainable, most companies were only willing to disclose a range of usage and too many companies provided no data at all.

“WWF wants far more openness in this industry. Unless there is greater transparency, oil palm growers will remain unwilling to commit to certification,” said Dr Llewellyn.

“If we want growers to act responsibly, buyers of palm oil need to show what their future demand for certified sustainable palm oil is going to be.”

The Global Picture

WWF focused the Scorecard on Europe, Australia and Japan, as these represent most of leading markets for sustainable palm oil. However, WWF recognises that other countries play a key role in the global market for palm oil, including China and India, which together account for 27 per cent of the global palm oil market; Indonesia and Malaysia, where most palm oil is produced; and the US, which imports relatively little palm oil but which is home to many corporations with global influence.

Without these countries playing a larger role in the future, sustainable palm oil will remain a niche market and deforestation will continue. WWF calls for all companies to disclose the amount of palm oil they are using, set annual milestones toward their 100 per cent sourcing by 2015 target, and deliver on their commitments early, if possible.

The WWF Palm Oil Buyers’ Scorecard 2011 is available for download here.

Companies should:

  1. Join the RSPO as an active member
  2. Make a commitment to source 100 per cent RSPO-certified palm oil by 2015 at the very latest
  3. Be transparent on their use of palm oil
  4. Start using certified sustainable palm oil immediately
  5. Start investing in traceable supply chains of certified sustainable palm oil
  6. For retailers, go beyond “own brand commitments”
  7. Raise awareness of the RSPO and certified sustainable palm oil globally

Consumers can:

  1. Support companies that have committed to certified sustainable palm oil
  2. Look for the RSPO trademark on products
  3. Ask your retailer to source certified sustainable palm oil products for everything they sell – not just their own brands.
  4. Ask the manufacturers of the products you use to source certified sustainable palm oil
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