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Sustainable Palm Oil: More to Buying Cruelty Free

Key Points

  • Palm oil is the #1 vegetable oil worldwide. Most is used in food, and it's the main cooking oil in many developing countries.
  • To satisfy growing demand, palm plantations have expanded rapidly, often clearing critical habitat for endangered species.
  • "No palm oil" is not the sustainable option. Palm oil takes less land than other plant oil crops, making it the most environmentally sound plant oil, if sustainably grown. Replacement oils take 2-10 times more land to produce the same amount of oil. World Wildlife Fund & Rainforest Alliance agree: replacing palm oil with a different plant oil worsens deforestation.
  • Companies say they'll switch to sustainable palm oil if customers ask. Contact these companies and ask them to require 100% sustainable palm oil in products.

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Palm Oil - Why It's Important & Why It Must Be Sustainable

In personal care products, "cruelty-free" usually means "no animal testing." For many, however, cruelty-free goes beyond this. An increasing concern is the destruction of critical habitat to grow cosmetics ingredients, especially palm oil. Although most palm oil is used in food, some (<10%) is used in cosmetics.

Palm oil is an important plant oil, not easily replaced in food or cosmetics, and if sustainably grown, it's also the best plant oil environmentally. The key, then, is to pressure companies to use only sustainable palm oil.

For more about this unique plant oil and companies who do and don't use sustainable palm oil, read on. If you're short on time, go here to ask major companies who are underperforming to do better.

Note: In this article, cosmetics refers to personal care products and makeup.

Palm Oil - Increasing by Popular Demand

Palm oil is an edible plant oil from the flesh of the oil palm fruit. The American Palm Oil Council reports that about 90% of palm oil goes into food. Non-food uses include greases, lubricants, biofuels, candles, pharmaceuticals, soaps and detergents, and cosmetics (R.E.A. Holdings, 2016).

Palm Oil Fruit
Fruit of Elaeis guineensis (oil palm). Photo credit: By Cayambe, March 2010 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13809442.

Palm oil has particularly nice qualities for food preparation: It's stable at high temperatures and has a high smoke point, making it good for frying. It contains a significant amount of vitamin E, a natural preservative that helps extend shelf life. And rare among plant oils, it is semi-solid at room temperature, making it a good replacement for trans fats.

Although cosmetics use is dwarfed by food use of palm oil, it's still an important market. Palm oil and its components are in bar soaps, where it's a key fat for soap-making; in lipsticks, to improve texture; in lotions, to help skin retain moisture; in shampoos and hand and body washes, to improve lather; and in hair care, for conditioning. Cosmetics rarely have palm oil itself as an ingredient; rather, they include ingredients derived from palm oil.

Palm oil has grown rapidly to become the #1 plant oil in the world. The rapid expansion largely results from economic growth, especially in China and India, and from consumers' desire to switch from cooking with animal fats to cooking with vegetable fats (WWF, 2010). India, China, Indonesia & Malaysia use almost 50% of global palm oil (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). Palm oil is the main cooking oil in many developing countries, because it's relatively cheap and has those great food prep qualities.

We often equate cheap with "must be bad," but in this case, cheap is the result of an excellent environmental quality: Palm requires less land than any other plant to produce the same amount of oil. Coconut oil, which is the next highest yield plant oil crop, requires twice as much land for the same amount of oil (McDougall, 2014). Sunflower, rapeseed, or soybean oil requires 4-10 times as much land (RSPO, 2018).

Palm oil sounds great. So what's the problem?

Endangered Species
Critically endangered species, from left: Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino. Photo credits (left to right): © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime; By Nichollas Harrison, July 2013 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indrah_the_Sumatran_Tiger.jpg; By Willem v Strien, April 2008 - Own work, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sumatran_Rhinoceros_Way_Kambas_2008.jpg.

The Problem: Destruction of Critical Habitat for Endangered Orangutans, Rhinos, Tigers & Elephants

The demand for palm oil has triggered extensive clearing of rainforests for oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

These rainforests are the last refuge of many endangered and critically endangered species. WWF states: "Of all WWF's priority agricultural commodities, palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna - including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans."

Deforestation
Deforestation for oil palm plantation, Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Photo credit: By Aidenvironment, June 2010, CC BY SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riau_deforestation_2006.jpg.

The Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino, and Sumatran tiger are now listed as Critically Endangered, which means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. Plantations are now moving into Africa, threatening the big apes, too.

The Solution: Consumer Pressure to Force Changeover to Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainably harvested palm oil is available. It's certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

RSPO Certification Label
This logo identifies certified sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO's approach is to have all stakeholders in this issue work out solutions together - a roundtable approach. Its members include plantation companies, processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers of palm oil products, and environmental and social welfare groups.

You can see this group has many competing interests, so compromise is necessary. A search online reveals internal and external criticism of their slow progress. Still, WWF and Rainforest Alliance, who are RSPO members, and other major environmental groups temper their criticism with support.

Sustainably produced palm oil is currently about 19% of total palm oil production (RSPO, 2017). Yet, much goes unsold for lack of demand. Consumers have not demanded sustainable palm oil, and so companies do not feel compelled to pay a premium for it.

In 2013, nearly half of certified palm oil failed to find a buyer. It had to be sold off as conventional palm oil without the price premium (The Guardian, July 4, 2013).

The palm growers look at this through a strictly business lens. In a November 2014 article, The Guardian quotes Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council: "The Malaysian palm oil industry aspires to supply what the consumers want. Customer is 'king'. We can supply RSPO-certified or zero deforestation palm oil or normal palm oil, based on demand, preference and price being offered."

The solution is straightforward. Consumers (we) must press manufacturers to buy only certified sustainable palm oil, and we must press retailers to stock only brands that use certified sustainable palm oil.

Contact Retailers

Many major retailers are changing (or already have changed) to 100% sustainable palm oil in their private label brands. These are good steps, but their private label brands aren't a large market. Retailers can have much more impact if they require all brands they carry to use 100% sustainable palm oil.

Walmart and Whole Foods have a history of specifying ingredient requirements for brands they carry. It's not unreasonable to ask them and other retailers to do it for palm oil.

Ask major retailers to make this a top priority - achieving 100% sustainable palm oil in all brands they carry. If they hear from enough consumers, they will. Here's their contact info and a sample email:

  • Sample email:

I applaud your commitment to using sustainable palm oil in your private label brand(s). Please help other brands follow your lead by requiring 100% sustainable palm oil in all brands on your shelves. The environment and critically endangered animals need our help!

COSTCO
Private-label brand: Official goal is to achieve 100% sustainable palm oil by 2021, but Costco program head said he's working to achieve 100% in 2018 (relayed in phone call). View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 425-313-8100/no email/PO Box 34331, Seattle, WA 98124
see their Contact Us page

KROGER & KROGER-OWNED COMPANIES (Bakers, City Market, Fred Meyer, JayC, Metro Market, Owen's, Pay Less, Pick 'n Save, QFC, Ralphs, Dillon's, Food4Less, Foods Co, Fry's Food Stores, Gerbes, Harris Teeter, King Soopers, Kroger, The Little Clinic, Mariano's, Roundy's, Ruler Foods, Smith's, Vitacost)
Private-label brands: Use 100% sustainable palm oil. View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 513-762-4000/no email/The Kroger Co. Customer Relations, 1014 Vine St, Cincinnati, OH 45202-1100
see their Contact Us page

SAFEWAY
Private-label brand: Used 53% sustainable palm oil in 2015; no recent public report found. View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 877-723-3929/Send an email/ MS 10501 PO Box 29093, Phoenix, AZ 85038

TARGET
Private-label brand: Used 25% sustainable palm oil in 2016. Goal is to achieve 100% sustainable palm oil in 2018. View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 612-304-6073/no email/1000 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis MN 55403

WALMART
Private-label brand: Uses 100% sustainable palm oil. View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 800-925-6278/Send an email/702 SW 8th St, Bentonville, Arkansas 72716
see their Contact Us page

WHOLE FOODS
Private-label brand: Uses 100% sustainable palm oil. View company statement.
Other brands they carry: No requirement for sustainable palm oil.
Contact info: 844-936-8255/Send an email/550 Bowie St, Austin, TX 78703-4644
see their Contact Us page

Contact Major Consumer Brands Who Are Lagging

Many consumer brands report their total palm oil use and sustainable palm oil use to the RSPO. The most recent reports, which are for 2016, indicate the following consumer brands buy primarily unsustainably grown palm oil or did not report their palm oil use to RSPO in 2016.

Take a few minutes to call or email them. Let them know sustainable palm oil is important and that you are considering that in your purchasing decisions.

  • Sample email:

My family has become concerned about the need for sustainable palm oil. Given its extreme importance for climate and critically endangered species, we have decided we must consider this in our purchases. Your company reports indicate you use some sustainable palm oil, but that most is unsustainable. Will you achieve 100% sustainable palm oil soon?
Thank you for your help!

Company & Contact Company Brands
Procter & Gamble
Palm oil use: 523,979 tons, 32% sustainable (goal of 2020 for 100%) View report
513-983-1100
Send an email
Always, Aussie, Bold, Bounce, Bounty, Braun, Cascade, Charmin, Cheer, Comet, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Febreze, Gain, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Joy, Luvs, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Pepto Bismol, Prilosec, Puffs, Rejoice, Safeguard, Scope, Secret, Swiffer, Tampax, Tide, Vicks, more.
Nestle
Palm oil use: 417,834 tons, 22% sustainable in 2015 (goal of 2020 for 100%); did not report in 2016
US: 800-225-2270
Canada: 800-387-4636
Send an email
100 Grand candy bar, Abuelita, Aero candy bar, Alpo dog food, Baby Ruth, Beneful dog food, Boost, Butterfinger, Cailler, California Pizza Kitchen, Carnation, Cini Minis, Coffee-Mate, Cookie Crisp, Nestle Crunch Bar, DiGiorno, Dreyer's Ice Cream, Edy's Ice Cream, Estrelitas, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gerber, Gourmet cat food, Haagen Daz, Herta, Hot Pockets, KitKat, La Laitiere, La Lechera, Lean Cuisine, Maggi, Milo, Nescafe, Nespresso, Nesquik, Nestea, Perrier, Poland Spring, Purina, San Pellegrino, Skinny Cow, Stouffers, Tollhouse, Tombstone pizza, more.
Kao Corporation
Palm oil use: 342,500 tons, 11% sustainable (goal of 2020 for 100%) View report
US: 513-629-5210
Canada: 905-670-7890
Send an email
Ban, Biore, Curel, Goldwell, Guhl, Jergens, John Frieda, KMS California, Molton Brown

Major Consumer Brands with Good Records

Based on the 2016 RSPO reports and each company's published plans, the following large manufacturers buy all or mostly certified sustainable palm oil in all their operations worldwide. Notice the list is longer than the lagging list - an encouraging change since our first version of this article in 2015!

Note: Starred companies in the list - General Mills, Hershey & PepsiCo - also do not test on animals. Colgate-Palmolive gets a half star: it has reduced animal testing and is a major supporter of non-animal methods and legislation. The other companies test on animals directly or through third parties.

Company Company Brands
half star Colgate-Palmolive 81% sustainable Ajax, Colgate, Tom's of Maine, Murphy Oil Soap, Palmolive, Speedstick deodorants, Softsoap, Irish Spring, Suavitel Fabric Softener, Hills Pet Care, Science Diet, more.
ConAgra Foods 90% sustainable (1) Banquet, Bertolli, Blue Bonnet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Fleischmann's, Frontera salsa, Gulden's, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt's, Jiffy Pop, La Choy, Libby's, Marie Callender's, Orville Redenbacher's, P.F. Chang's Home Menu, PAM, Parkay, Peter Pan, Ranch Style Beans, Reddi-wip, RO*TEL, Rosarita, Slim Jim, Swiss Miss, Van Camp's, Wesson, more.
Ferrero Trading 100% sustainableNutella, TicTac, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder.
General Mills 100% sustainable Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Gold Medal, Pillsbury, Cascadian Farm, Cheerios, Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fiber One, Kix, Lucky Charms, Monsters, Total, Trix, Wheaties, Haagen Dazs, Annie's, Bugles, Green Giant, Helper, La Saltena, Muir Glen, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, Progresso soups, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki, Yoplait, Mountain High, Totino's/Jeno's, more.
Hershey 100% sustainable Hershey's, 5th Avenue, Allan Candy, Almond Joy, Breath Savers, Brookside, Bubble Yum, Cadbury (within US), Dagoba, Good & Plenty, Heath, Ice Breakers, Jolly Rancher, Kisses, Kit Kat, Lancaster, Milk Duds, Mounds, Mr. Goodbar, Payday, Popwell, Reese's, Rolo, Scharffen Berger, Skor, Sofit, Take 5, Twizzlers, Whoppers, York, Zagnut, Zero, Whatchamacallit
Kellogg Company 100% sustainable Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Mini Wheats, All-Bran, Rice Krispies, Special K, Pop Tarts, Eggo, Fiber Plus fiber bars, Nutri-Grain fiber bars, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburgers, Famous Amos, Keebler, Town House, Pringles, Mother's, Carr's, Cheez-It, more.
Kraft Heinz 75% sustainable A.1., Athenos, Bagel Bites, Bakers Chocolate, Capri Sun, Classico, Cool Whip, Corn Nuts, Country Time, Cracker Barrel Cheese, Crystal Light, Delimex, Gevalia, Grey Poupon, Heinz, Jack Daniel's Sauces, Jell-O, Jet-Puffed, Knudsen, Kool-Aid, Kraft, Lea & Perrins, Lunchables, Maxwell House, Miracle Whip, Mr. Yoshida's, Nancy's, Ore-Ida, Oscar Mayer, Philadelphia cream cheese (inside the US), Planters, Shake N Bake, Stove Top, Sure-Jell, Tassimo, TGI Fridays, Velveeta, Weight Watchers, Smart Ones, more.
Mars 100% sustainable Uncle Ben's rice, Dolmio, M&M's, Milky Way, Snickers, Three Muskateers, Twix, Skittles, Starburst, Doublemint, Eclipse, Freedent, Orbit. Pet care: Banfield Pet Hospital, Bluepearl, Cesar, Dreamies, Eukanuba, Iams, Nutro, Pedigree, Pet Partners, Royal Canin, Sheba, Temptations, Waltham, Whiskas, more.
Mondelez International 96% sustainable Cadbury (outside the US), Cote d'Or, Toblerone, Dentyne, Trident, Halls, Chips Ahoy, Club Social, Honeymaid, Nabisco, Newtons, Nilla, Nutter Butter, Oreo, Philadelphia cream cheese (outside the US), Premium, Ritz, Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Tang, more.
PepsiCo 100% sustainable Pepsi, 7UP, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, Gatorade, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Lay's, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Sun Chips, Grandma's cookies, more. The chip brands are the main products using palm oil.
Unilever 53% sustainable (2)Axe, Becel/Flora, Ben & Jerry's, Breyers, Brummel & Brown, Caress, Clear, Country Crock, Degree, Dove, Hellman's, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter, Imperial, Klondike, Knorr, Lever, Lipton, Nexxus, Noxzema, Ponds, Popsicle, Promise, Simple, St. Ives, Suave, TRESemme, Vaseline, more.

★ Starred companies also do not test (or commission third-party tests) on animals. Colgate-Palmolive gets a half star, because it has minimized tests and is a major supporter of non-animal methods and legislation.

(1) As reported in a March 2018 email from ConAgra. ConAgra did not submit a 2016 RSPO report.

(2) Unilever appears as 100% on the WWF 2016 Palm Oil Scorecard, which uses data from the 2015 RSPO reports. The percentage for this company dropped below 100% in 2016, because the company was moving from the minimum system required to claim sustainable palm oil (a system called "Book and Claim") to a stricter Mass Balance or Segregated Supply system, which gives full traceability of sustainable palm oil. We have kept the company in the "good" table because (1) the company achieved 100% sustainable under the old method, (2) the reason for the decline is that the company is moving to a more complex, but more responsible, certification method, and (3) the company expects to reach 100% sustainable under the stricter method soon.


Certified Cruelty Free Brands That Use Sustainable Palm Oil

The following cruelty-free brands use certified sustainable palm oil, based on statements on their web sites or on official palm oil reports filed with RSPO:

  • Alba Botanica (owned by Hain Celestial) (1)
  • Avalon Organics (owned by Hain Celestial) (1)
  • Antiquity BC
  • Dr. Bronner's
  • Ecover
  • Gilchrist & Soames
  • Grandpa Brand Soap
  • JASON (owned by Hain Celestial) (1)
  • One With Nature
  • Queen Helene (owned by Hain Celestial) (1)
  • Route One Pumpkins
  • Tom's of Maine (owned by Colgate-Palmolive) (1)

(1) These companies are owned by a larger parent company that reports palm oil usage to the RSPO. Although individual brands aren't identified in the reports, personal care products almost always use palm oil derivatives, which are listed separately in the reports, along with the percentage of derivatives that are sustainable. The parent companies of these brands show 100% sustainable palm oil for all palm oil derivatives, so we can deduce that their personal care brands are derived from 100% sustainable palm oil.

There are likely others, but most companies don't mention either way on their web sites. The preceding companies specifically note their palm oil stance on their web sites or report their palm oil usage to the RSPO.

This list doesn't include brands that state they are "Palm Oil Free" since, as noted in this article, that is not a sustainable option because any replacement oil takes even more land than palm oil. If palm oil becomes a pariah to consumers because of "No Palm Oil" marketing campaigns, animals will suffer even more from worse deforestation by the replacement oils.

Last updated: March 2018

Photo credits for feature image: Orangutan With Two Babies Photo © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime. Burning Forest Deforestation Photo © Pabloborca, Dreamstime

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