Palm oil certifications

Which palm oil certifications can you trust? How do you know whether to buy or avoid any particular product that contains palm oil? Should you avoid all of them?

The short answer right now is that we should avoid most products that contain palm oil. However, there are some companies that do genuinely source sustainable palm and they are worth supporting for two main reasons:

  1. When palm oil is grown sustainably it provides some benefits, such as a high-yield (i.e., a smaller land footprint than most fats) and income for developing world farmers who practice sustainable agriculture.
  2. Purchasing products made with sustainable palm oil supports transformation of the entire palm oil industry and puts pressure on less ethical corporations to change.

But it’s important to correctly identify the companies that are sourcing sustainable palm oil – and those that fall short. I’ve previously covered the impact of palm oil but I want to update that in the next few posts. The next two posts are going to cover two products that I’ve reviewed on Ethical Bargains – one good and one bad:

  1. Nutiva palm oil, certified by Palm Done Right.
  2. Earth Balance vegan butter, certified mainly by RSPO Palm Trace credits.

Then I’m going to take a look at Conagra Brands, the multinational food company that now makes Earth Balance. The posts will serve as examples on researching palm oil products and sorting out the good from the bad.

Here’s a quick illustrative guide to the main palm oil certifications, from good to bad. They’ll be explained more in the next two posts.

Palm Oil certifications. The image shows a range of certifications for palm oil. They are listed from good to bad in the order: Palm Done Right, Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), then four RSPO certification methods: Identity preserved, Segregated, Mass Balance (RSPO mixed), and Book and Claim (Palm Trace Credits)

I want to be clear about RSPO certification.

  1. Many product labels contain a statement to the effect that the company is a member of the RSPO. This counts for nothing as anyone can become an RSPO member by simply paying a fee. Membership does not equal certification.
  2. Even when the product contains an RSPO certification logo (one of the RSPO palm logos shown above), bear in mind that the RSPO is widely viewed as ineffective. Here’s a quote from a 2018 paper titled, Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives:

Using Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) as a case study, a novel dataset of RSPO concessions was developed and causal analysis methodologies employed to evaluate the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the industry. No significant difference was found between certified and non-certified plantations for any of the sustainability metrics investigated

See this earlier GSP post for more detail on why palm oil is bad, from both social and environmental perspectives..

That’s all for today! Please comment below if you’d like me to research any palm oil products or companies.

5 thoughts on “Palm oil certifications

  1. So after reading all the posts on palm oil, I did a bit of digging into Becel margarine, which I’ve been using for awhile. They’re owned by Upfield, and I found their 2020 report. It says, first, that “Through the Mariposa project, Upfield supports smallholders to transform their operations to producing RSPO-certified palm through 200 training sessions,” and also that 100% of the palm oil they purchase is directly certified. So from that it sounds like they’re using RSPO certification, but I’m not entirely sure what “directly certified” means (possibly that their sources are all certified?) From what I’m reading, while they’re not using one of the better certification methods you listed, it sounds like they’re doing okay (they’re committed to no deforestation, not developing on peat, and no exploitation of people and communities). So I think they’re an okay company to keep buying from…

    1. Hi Shauna,
      Thanks for providing this info.
      Please consider writing a review now that you’re good at investigating companies! You can win a subscription to Ethical Consumer.
      Upfield brands get a middle rating by Ethical Consumer, and I’d tend to agree with this.
      Cheers,
      James

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