Biological Preparations Become Member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

Palm oil's widespread use in various industries stresses its importance within global trade, but concerns over its environmental impact have led to a growing demand for sustainable alternatives. 

To help more businesses into sustainable palm oil, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil  (RSPO) has led the way in mapping out a multi-stakeholder approach towards sustainable palm oil use/production, so more businesses can still benefit from palm oil, but not at the expense of the planet and people.  

As of February 2024, Biological Preparation is a proud member of this organisation. Through this article we want to share the issues surrounding unsustainable palm oil production, and why more businesses need to investigate utilising sustainable palm oil. 

Palm Oils Hold Across the Global Market

77 million metric tons of palm oil were consumed globally in 2023.  From cosmetics and cleaning products to food and even biofuel, palm oil has become ever-present across all markets, due to its unique benefits such as prolonged shelf life, versatility, and cost-effectiveness.

Despite its natural origins—derived from the fruit of the oil palm tree—palm oil is facing massive consumer controversy, as it’s at the centre of one of the largest consumer boycotts in recent history.

The market's insatiable demand for palm oil has led to the destruction of rainforests and their replacement with palm oil plantations, adding to the issues of climate change, biodiversity loss, and environmental destruction. As palm oil remains an essential ingredient in countless products, addressing its environmental impact through the adoption of sustainable practices is imperative.  

Why Not Use a Different Vegetable Oil?

The palm oil plant itself is not harmful to the environment. Rather, its negative environmental impact stems from its global mass-market demand and the overall operations associated with unsustainable palm oil plantations. In fact, palm oil use isn't a recent trend for humans, it has been used across humanity for approximately 5000  years; its negative environmental impact has been part and parcel of modern-day capitalistic practices.  

The palm oil plant is extremely efficient, as palm oil accounts for 35% of the world's vegetable oil production, yet it only occupies 10% of the land. Considering the vast demand for these oils, if the market swapped to alternative oils, like coconut oil, those plantations would need 4 to 10 times more land to adhere to these market requirements; which would only intensify its associated environmental crisis associated. Also, 40% of palm oil plantations are held by smallholders, so replacing existing palm oil plantations would negatively affect the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and their local economies.   

Overall, by switching to different forms of vegetable oils, the market will only be displacing or potentially intensifying these issues, rather than effectively addressing it. The key to mitigating the negative effects of palm oil is through supporting and purchasing from sustainable palm oil suppliers. This shift not only enables the market to meet its demands sustainably but also helps curb the devastating environmental and social impacts associated with unsustainable palm oil production.   

How Non-Sustainable Palm Oil Affects the Environment?

The mass-market reliance on palm oil, has been seen as an opportunity for many business conglomerates to venture into the agricultural industry. While the palm oil plant itself isn't inherently problematic, the extensive conversion of tropical rainforests, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia, into palm oil plantations, paired with the operations of these plantations, has been a catalyst to widespread environmental harm.  

Unsustainable palm oil plantations have directly contributed to various environmental issues:  

  • Threatened Species:  

Palm oil plantations have been directly linked to the "threatened" classification of 193 species. For instance, between 1000 to 5000 orangutans are killed each year due to these types of palm oil plantations. And with its current expansion rates, these plantations could impact 54% of all threatened mammals and 64% of birds worldwide.  

  • Air Pollution and Increased CO2 Emissions:  

The common practice of clearing natural rainforests for palm oil plantations is through  fire. This magnitude of burning releases CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, contributing to climate change. Also, the resulting smoke and haze from these fires adversely affect the health of both humans and animals throughout Southeast Asia.  

  • Soil and Water Degradation:  

Improperly executed palm oil tree clearing and planting practices have led to increased flooding and sediment deposits in rivers. From there, palm oil mills produce 2.5 metric tonnes of wastewater for every metric ton of palm oil produced, polluting natural freshwater reserves and harming local biodiversity and communities.  

  • Climate Change 

Rainforests are coined as the lungs of the planet because they breathe in CO2e and breathe out O2. Yet, through the mass deforestation associated with these plantations, palm oil plantations are adding to climate change. But palm oil plantations also add more CO2e into our atmosphere by damaging the carbon sinkswithin the rainforests – these sinks particularly in southeast Asia are known to store more carbon per unit than any other ecosystem in the world.  

RSPO and Biological Preparations

The key to addressing the negative impact of unsustainable palm oil plantations, is not to swap to other forms of vegetable oils as they have much lower yields than palm oil, but for businesses to prioritise the use of sustainable palm oil within their supply chain.   

Biological Preparations is proud to announce our official membership in RSPO. This global non-profit organisation brings together stakeholders across palm oil supply chains, from producers to retailers, to establish a universal sustainable standard for palm oil production/usage.

As part of its mission, the RSPO has developed a standardised criteria that businesses must adhere to in order to attain their RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) certification. By implementing comprehensive lifecycle criteria for palm oil, the RSPO enables businesses to harness the unique qualities of palm oil while minimising the negative impact that irresponsible palm oil production has on the environment.  

At its core, sustainable palm oil production entails that the farming, processing, and distribution of palm oil are followed under strict rules that protect wildlife, the environment, and local communities. Compliance with these rules has resulted in a significant reduction in deforestation. And according to a 2019 Life Cycle Assessment of RSPO-certified and Non-certified Palm Oil by Schmidt and De Rosa, the use of CSPO has led to a 35% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to non-certified palm oil production.

As part of Biological Preparations' commitment to protecting the planet, people, and wildlife, our membership in the RSPO emphasises our dedication to sustainability throughout our value chain and provides a valuable lens for addressing Scope 3 emissions.