24 Mar 2014

Palm Oil Delusion

Karen Keung writes:*

Why do people buy handmade soaps? Its consumers consists of those who support a more natural and sustainable lifestyle. As a small-scale soap merchant, palm oil has become an indispensable ingredient in creating high quality, vegan friendly products. However, the use of palm oil has become controversial; its method of production causes immense deforestation in palm oil producing countries and threatens endangered animals that reside in rain forests, such as the Sumatran Orangutans.

The amount of palm oil my business requires is unlikely to affect rainforests on such a scale – the problem stems from the increased demand for biodiesel. In order to compete in this niche market a switch must be made from regular palm oil to higher priced “sustainable” palm oil to adhere to consumer’s lifestyles and morals. Currently, my palm oil supplier only stocks the regular sustainable type and the organic type, with the organic one priced even higher; both are labeled “Certified Sustainable Source”. This leads me to question the authenticity of sustainability and where the extra costs of the oils go.

Inconspicuously certified organic palm oil may not be sustainable – e.g. the method of transporting oil is environmentally harmful. Certified Sustainable sources, such as RSPO, ensure that the planting, harvesting, packaging, and transporting of oil are environmentally responsible and are fairtrade certified. This means that certified sustainable palm oil should already be organic and extra steps are taken to guarantee environmental sustainability. Knowledge that my personal choices will not affect the problem as a whole, there are certain questions that require analysis when purchasing the oil:

What methods do organizations utilize to ensure sustainability? Are the logistics transparent? Why are there two types of certified sustainable oils to choose from when both should already be organic?

Bottom Line: After in-depth consideration, the decision is to appeal to consumers and support the environment. Immense reduction in palm oil usage should be applied and suitable substitutions should be sought

* These guest posts are from students in my resource economics class at Simon Fraser University. Please leave feedback on their logic, ideas and style and suggestions of how to improve.