What the **ck is it?
Palm oil is an incredibly versatile and edible vegetable oil that is derived from the fruit of the African oil palm tree. It is used in essentially everything that you buy prepackaged, from your favorite lipstick to your house cleaning essentials and even your crunchy oh-so-delicious snacks. It is also being widely considered an efficient alternative to the natural fossil fuels that we are so quickly running out of. The fact that palm oil is able to be harvested all year round, outrunning its competitors thus making it one of the the cheapest options, is just the cherry on top.
Accounting for more than thirty-five percent of the vegetable oil industry, the palm oil sector has pretty much got it made, right? Wrong. While the industry is banking, much of Malaysia’s and Indonesia’s tropical forests are being destroyed to make way for new palm oil plantations, in turn pushing many species, like the orangutan, closer to extinction.
But wait, there’s more. The effects of the palm oil industry reach far beyond it’s immediate environment and the animals that inhabit it. It effects the people living in surrounding villages and provides them with terrible air quality. Not to mention how massively it has and continues to contribute to global warming.
It’s a sad truth. Sometimes with problems as big as this, it might seem like there is nothing you can really do but knowledge is power. To get a more detailed idea of what we can do to help this cause, we asked Magdalena Antuña, founder and editor-in-chief of Selva Beat, and this is what she said:
One of the very best ways to become a part of the conflict palm-oil solution is by letting companies know that participating in deforestation, animal endangerment, and human rights violations is not okay with you. How do you do that? Here are three easy steps that have become second nature to myself and I’m sure, over time, will feel the same to you.
1. Know Your Ingredients
In order to identify conflict palm-oil, you first have to be acquainted with the 200+ names that palm-oil can fall under in any given ingredients list. In the beginning, you can carry around this list but over time, it’s prudent to make deeper connections with these ingredients and learn their chemical make-up. We devised an easy trick for beginners: memorize the four most common root words – palm, star, laur, glyc. Read more about that method here. However, remember that not everything is created equal. Many of the compounds on ‘the list’ could be comprised of other oils, which brings us to Step 2.
2. Start a Dialogue
Okay, so you found glycerin and retinyl palmitate in one of your favorite products and you know that they can be derived from maybe soy or coconut oil (though less likely). You then have to e-mail the makers of that product and ask important questions like:
Is your glycerin and/or retinyl palmitate derived from palm-oil?
Is this palm-oil RSPO certified?
If the answer to these questions is yes, you must then ask which of the four tiers of ‘RSPO-certified sustainable palm-oil’ your product falls under: Identity Preserved, Segregated, Mass Balance, or Green Palm certificates. Read more about the different classifications here.
3. Take a Stance
Now, you have tools to incite change; you just have to use your voice. If the company you’ve reached out to does not have a palm-oil policy, let them know right away that you will not buy their product until they get their act together. Not even having a palm-oil policy in 2015 is just crazy. If the company is a member of the RSPO and uses Mass Balance or Green Palm certificates, let them know that you also won’t purchase their product as long as it contains conflict-palm and that you hope they graduate soon to a more sustainable model.
Always vote with your wallet and make your demands are heard – after all, companies believe that you are the sole reason their products should exist. Use this to your advantage!
Selva Beat is an online, environmental magazine with a strong focus on the palm-oil industry and conflict-free living. Check out their website for more info on conflict-free palm oil products, companies and practices.