Soap Making – The Realities of Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainable Palm Oil.  What does this mean?

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed in 2004 with the following goal:

promoting the growth and use of sustainable oil palm products through credible global standards and engagement of stakeholders.

So who is involved in the RSPO?  That would be Palm Oil Producers, Traders, Retailers, and Banks.  To me, this is a conflict of interest.  The loopholes are everywhere.

There is a huge difference between RSPO membership and RSPO certification.

Just because you are purchasing your oil from a RSPO member, does not mean you are getting sustainable palm oil.  In order to be sure you are getting certified sustainable palm oil, you should see a certification seal which is traceable to the actual facility.

The RSPO member can still call their palm oil sustainable, since they have purchased this right through their yearly membership.  No matter where the palm oil came from.

To me this feels deceptive and unfair to the consumers who go out of their way to find sustainable products.

This is no different than chemical based products calling themselves green.

Here are some of the loopholes they have been allowed:

New plantations are allowed to remove forest as long as the land is not deemed “high-value  conservation forest.” Each country interprets “high value”for themselves.  This doesn’t mean they need to be Orangutan Friendly or Rain Forest Friendly.  This rule is meaningless and vague.

Palm oil trees planted before 2005 are exempted. On average, the trees need  about seven years to bear fruit, so the “high value conservation forest” requirements do not pertain to the recent palm oil shipments that received RSPO certification.  So basically, every sustainable palm oil shipment, whether certified or not, is just plain old ordinary Palm Oil.

All palm oil firms are allowed to join RSPO and improve their image despite the fact that they were the ones who created this disaster to begin with.  This is like a fresh new start to their tarnished image.  Yet they have done nothing to earn it except pay a few thousand for their membership fees.

The Jakarta-based Center for Orangutan Protection said last year  it found two RSPO member companies clear-cutting forests that were home to orangutans, sun bears, and Borneo gibbons. “It has been six years after RSPO was put into operation but forests are still cleared and orangutans are continually killed,” said Novi Hardianto, the Center’s habitat program coordinator, in a press release. “All criteria on sustainable palm oil and certification process are merely public lies.”

This blog post is based on my opinion only.  Please, if you have something to add, I would love to hear it.  If you have found evidence that these fact I have found are incorrect, please let me know and I will post the truth.

Palm Oil Free soap making is easy,  please let me know if I can help you get started on the road to Palm Free soap making.  It’s good for you, it’s good for the environment and it’s the only way we as soap makers can stop contributing to the damage that is being done.

Sustainable Palm Oil is not the answer.  The industry is too corrupt and it is just another way of messing with us to make us feel like we are making good choices.  It is an environmentally destructive industry and always will be.  If you thought you were making the right decision with sustainable palm oil, it’s okay, it’s not your fault.  The industry is spending an enormous amount of money to get you to believe they are the new good guys.  In reality, they are the same bad guys.

The only way to stop the horrors is to stop using Palm Oil.

Happy Soaping!


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  1. Just to correct some of the information: All the stakeholder groups are as follows, Banks & Investors, Consumer goods manufactures, Environmental/Nature conservation organisations, Growers, Processors and traders, Retailers, Social / Development organisations. If you don’t include all stakeholders within the supply chain/market then you defeating the purpose of a ‘multi-stakeholder initiative’.

    It is correct membership of RSPO does not mean you are using or buying sustainable palm oil, this is made very clear. It is not correct that companies can call the palm oil or ingredients containing palm within their products oil sustainable if they are simply members.

    There are 4 supply chain options available to companies, depending on which supply chains are used results in what claim can be made on packaging etc.
    1) Segregated
    2) Identity preserved
    3) Mass Balance
    4) Book&Claim (GreenPalm)

    If a company wants to use the RSPO trademark to claim that ALL the palm oil or palm based derivatives and fractions contained within a particular product have come from certified plantations then they have to use options 1 or 2, ALL companies within the supply chain must be RSPO supply chain certified. Using the Mass Balance or Book&Claim options results in a supporting claim (Mass Balance requires supply chain certification), you cannot claim that any sustainable material is contained in the product, although there could be as 11% of the global supply is now certified.

    Oil palm (Elaeis guineensis) trees begin to bear fruit after 3-4 years, peak production lasts from age 5 – 20 years.
    Each country has its own national interpretation of the principles and criteria, this is vital as you can’t compare Malaysia with say Nigeria or Ghana.
    The principles and criteria were agreed in 2007 and form the guidelines for plantation & supply chain certification, as with supply chain certification a plantation can’t simply join the RSPO and start claiming their material is sustainable!! The first shipment of certified sustainable palm oil was in late 2008, less than 4 years ago.

    The principles and criteria last for 5 years; this year sees a full review of the P&C with all members given the opportunity to submit new criteria or ways to strengthen/improve existing.

    The RSPO has a grievance procedure where companies can lodge complaints with the RSPO acting as an intermediary between the two parties to resolve the issue – this system has been used several times since 2007.

  2. Thanks for all this information.
    When you say companies can lodge a complaint, that’s great, but do the consequences stop the crimes?
    Are the Orangutans still in danger of extinction?
    Is the rainforest still being destroyed?

    Until the industry starts to reverse the damage that has been done, which doesn’t seem like this is even a goal, then how can we justify using Palm Oil?

    Palm Oil growth is expanding, this can only damage the Rainforest. Sustainable Palm Oil is not going to prevent the Rainforest and the endangered species from disappearing.

  3. A good example of how the RSPO can facilitate change with all parties being RSPO members the platform was there to allow them to work towards a solution.

    Ultimately with all sustainability initiatives three areas need to be taken into consideration, Social, Environmental and Economic. Currently 11% of the global oil palm output it certified as sustainable so there is a way to go. The two largest palm importers are India and China, in 2010 they imported a total of 12.4 million tonnes of palm oil with a growth rate from 2004 of 88% & 32% – they accounted for 33% of the global imports in 2010. To put this in perspective the 3rd largest importer of palm oil is the combined EU 27 nations who imported 5.8 million tonnes, on pair with China and less than India.

    Oil palm has been cultivated for 1000’s of years; this is not a new crop. The issues we see today have been created by an ever increasing global population, 7 billion of us on the planet and rising but we still see 925 million hungry people. I am sure you are aware of oil palm’s versatility for use in numerous applications & products with almost zero waste from the FFB’s and any waste products which come from the mill process. It’s also the crop with the highest oil yield per hectare, it’s estimated there is around 12 million hectares under oil palm globally. If you were to remove oil palm tomorrow from the global supply chain and move this onto the 2nd largest oil crop, Soya we would need an additional 120 million hectares of land (Size of South Africa) to produce the same amount of oil. The 3rd largest oil, Rapeseed would require an additional 72 million hectares (Size of Chile) and for Sunflower 108 million (Size of Ethiopia) – and that is only taking into consideration the oil with many of the other crops producing a lot more meal which we would need to find usages for.

    Also many believe the palm oil industry is just about big business, 30 – 40 % of the global production comes from smallholder families with less than 50 hectares of land.

  4. The idea to switch the focus to Soy, Rapeseed and Sunflower is perfect.

    It can be grown anywhere.
    The Rainforest would stay intact.
    No more Orangutans would be killed.

    You talk about how much land it takes to produce these oils, but you can usually get a few crops per year.

    This sounds like the perfect solution.

    When you mention China and India being the biggest importer of Palm Oil, that is fine, but I don’t think they are purchasing “Sustainable” Palm Oil.

    Time to find another way to feed these people without killing the Orangutans and endangered species and without cutting down the Rain Forest.

    I feel like Sustainable Palm Oil is intended for conscientious consumers, to keep them quiet.

  5. Thank you for all this information. I began making soap in 2010 and have chosen not to include any palm oil in my formulations. Because the forest and animals are very important to me I needed more current and 2 sided information before I made any decisions. I am very happy with my product without the palm oil and am happy to know that I am in a very small way preventing any further demand for palm oil.

    I too have my reservations about the ‘sustainable claim’ and am glad that there is some information here regarding that. Thanks for bringing attention to this subject. Have you ever looked at food labels. I think palm oil is in everything!

  6. You are right, and I am so glad I don’t eat processed or convenient food. I don’t like store bought granola bars, boxed cereal, or crackers. The chocolate I use is made with cocoa butter, I don’t like cheap Palm oil chocolate.

    Most of the soap makers are quite aware of the amount of Palm Oil in products other than soap.

    At the same time, when a soap maker buys their oils, they generally buy it by the bucketful. I buy my coconut oil in 20 kg buckets. This would be the same for those who make soap with Palm Oil.

    Buying a 20kg bucket of Palm oil is significant. It may not make much of a difference to someone who buys 1 bar of soap from that soap maker, but if that soap maker happens to be very successful, they will go on to buy much more Palm Oil.

    I have witnessed some very successful soap makers stop using Palm Oil once they became aware of the damage they were contributing to. This is significant.

    It all adds up, it all contributes to the problem and if I was a cracker maker instead of a soap maker, I would be talking about making Palm Oil Free Crackers.

    But I can only talk about what I know.

    Like Oprah says, when we know better, we do better.

    Thanks for bringing up the food topic. It’s important to read labels.

    It’s also important to take a stand and not be a hypocrite. By this I mean we shouldn’t be making palm free soap then turn around and buy a palm oil filled snack.

    Luckily most soap makers turn to soap making for health reasons and read labels on a regular basis.

    Thanks again

  7. I am wondering if anyone can speak to the situations in other countries other than Asia. I have started experimenting with re-formulating recipes to exlude palm from my recipes. In the past, I have been purchasing sustainable, Certified Organic (which should be traceable) Palm oils from Brazil. I know that Dr Bronner’s purchases from farmers in Ghana. Are these situations any different?

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