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How sustainable palm oil helps decrease deforestation

What do you think of when you see the word ‘palm’? An ingredient in around 70% of personal care products?1 Deforestation and resulting loss of biodiversity? Perhaps even a desire to avoid the raw material to be more sustainable?

All these thoughts are relevant in some way, except for one.

In this month’s episode of Purposeful Beauty™ - ‘What’s Your Purpose?’, our new Beauty Care Sustainability podcast, we talked with Chris Sayner, Vice President of Customer Alliances, Corporate Sustainability at Croda, about all things palm oil: the facts, the myths, the big questions, and the way forward.
Oil palm field next to forest

The facts about palm oil

Palm oil is derived from the fruit of oil palm trees. These plants originated in Africa, and although the crop is grown in Africa and South America, around 85% of the world’s palm is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia.1

Each year, millions of tonnes of crops are grown to produce vegetable oils. Approximately 40% of that total production is palm, making it the most produced vegetable oil.2 Yet, of the total land used to grow oil crops, palm farmland represents less than 6%.1

“That is an absolute manifestation of the efficiency of palm as the highest yielding oil crop,” said Chris Sayner during our conversation. In fact, the WWF explains that “to get the same amount of alternative oils like soybean, coconut, or sunflower oil you would need anything between 4 and 10 times more land.”1

The food industry uses the vast majority of the world’s palm oil, while the Home and Personal Care industries only use about 5% by Croda estimation. Despite this smaller percentage, palm is found in 70% of the world’s personal care products.1 Its chemical versatility (for example its broad fatty acid composition) allows it to be used to produce a wide range of ingredients, making it extremely valuable. No other single oil crop can produce such a wide range of building blocks essential for personal care ingredients.

Hands holding oil palm fruit

The myths about palm oil

There is a common misconception, especially in the Personal Care industry, that using palm oil is bad, and we should instead try to find a substitute. This misconception stems from the widespread messaging that palm production directly contributes to deforestation and a resulting loss of biodiversity. An additional concern is the release of greenhouse gases, especially carbon, into the atmosphere due to the exposure of peat, or carbon sinks, that sit under rainforests that might be cleared.

Unfortunately, this messaging was correct about historical palm production, and there is still evidence of this malpractice today. But in the early 2000s, the WWF and a few palm-conscious corporations recognized the environmental pressures that palm production was creating and formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Since then, the RSPO, which now includes more than 5,000 members worldwide, have been developing and implementing global standards for sustainable palm oil. Both environmental and social criteria, such as protecting, conserving and enhancing ecosystems and the environment, guide companies in producing and using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).3

The big questions about palm oil

Should we stop using palm oil and instead find a substitute?
No! While there are issues with using unsustainable palm, there are even bigger problems with attempting to replace palm oil.

As mentioned, palm is the most efficient vegetable oil. Replacing palm oil with alternatives such as coconut or soybean oil would require anywhere from 4 to 10 times as much land.1 Switching to any other vegetable oil would likely increase deforestation, perpetuating loss of biodiversity and release of greenhouse gases.

Finding a substitute for palm oil is not socially responsible, either. About 40% of palm is grown by smallholder farmers who operate farms that are less than 50 hectares.4 Shifting to an alternative would take away the smallholder farmers’ business, negatively affecting their livelihoods and wellbeing. Instead, we should be supporting sustainable palm.

“Moving away from palm is the wrong thing to do,” said Sayner. “Supporting sustainable palm is the right thing to do.”

Farmer wearing a hat holding oil palm fruit bunch

Is there a link between the use of sustainable palm oil and carbon reduction?
Yes! The correlation between the use of sustainable palm oil and carbon reduction is widely recognized. Although the RSPO started with the intention of reducing deforestation and loss of biodiversity, we now understand that following their principles and criteria leads to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas production. In fact, Schmidt and De Rosa’s 2019 life cycle analysis showed that CSPO production demonstrated a greenhouse gas impact that was approximately 35% lower than non-certified palm. 

The way forward: sustainable palm oil

Banning, boycotting, or finding an alternative to palm oil is not the solution to the deforestation, loss of biodiversity, or release of carbon that the production of the crop can create. Sustainable palm oil is the way forward. CSPO helps ensure that our ecosystems are protected, our carbon emissions are reduced, and smallholder farmers continue to thrive.

Currently, only about 19% of the global production of palm is RSPO certified. At Croda, 13 of our manufacturing sites worldwide are RSPO certified, and we are a founding member of Action for Sustainable Derivatives (ASD), an industry-led platform that tackles supply chain issues around palm oil and palm kernel oil derivatives. Most recently, we partnered with The Estée Lauder Companies through its Charitable Foundation, GSK Consumer Healthcare, Natura &Co, Seppic and Stéarinerie Dubois to collectively launch the ASD Impact Fund. This fund will support the Inobu Mosaik Initiative to build an enabling environment for sustainable palm oil production at scale while empowering local communities.

“Not all countries, not all regions, and not all industries are so focused on the sustainability credentials of the supply chains that they use,” said Sayner. “The Personal Care industry has clearly demonstrated leadership in the sustainable palm industry.”

The Personal Care industry is ready for the transition to a world of sustainable palm – is your brand?

Listen to our entire conversation with Sayner on Purposeful Beauty™ - ‘What’s Your Purpose?’ to learn more about sustainable palm, and explore our RSPO certified products below.


Sustainable Palm Derivatives

Purposeful Beauty™ sustainable palm infographic

sustainable palm oil tree silhouette in droplet outline
2.4 MB

As a founder member of ASD, we're happy to share its 2021 update on progress

Aerial shot of oil palm trees
3.2 MB
Sustainable palm kernels in hands

Sustainable palm oil (RSPO)

As an industry leader in products containing sustainable palm oil derivatives, we encourage you to explore our RSPO-certified ingredients.

Sustainable personal care ingredients

Sustainability at Croda

Sustainability is at the heart of product innovation at Croda and it is considered at all stages of product development. We are championing sustainable personal care ingredients through sustainable innovation, sourcing, and manufacturing.

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