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FAQ on Lush and Palm Oil

This is a short article that explains Lush’s continual journey to remove palm oil from our supply chain. This may help to answer questions our customers may have in relation to our campaign to restore a palm plantation in Sumatra back to native forest.

What is palm oil?

There are two species of oil palm, Elaeis guineensis and Elaeis oleifer. Palm oil is used as a generic term for the two types of oil that can be derived from the oil palm tree: palm oil, which comes from the fruit of the tree, and palm kernel oil, which comes from the seed. Oils come from crushing and extraction. The trees can only grow in the tropics, but are native to West Africa and South America.

Crude palm oil (CPO) is mainly used for the food industry and for soap manufacturing, however, palm kernel oil (CPKO) is used primarily by oleochemical manufacturers to produce fatty alcohols and acids which are the chemical building blocks for surfactant manufacturers.

The oil palm tree is an efficient crop, and can yield up to ten times more oil than soy, rapeseed and sunflower, per hectare (2.5 acres). This makes it the cheapest option and has increased its use across many outputs, including biofuel. Oil palm cultivation has contributed to economic growth in Malaysia and Indonesia, the two largest producers. However, there are significant problems with the recent large expansion of oil palm cultivation.

The issues listed below have been known about and campaigned on by environmental groups since the mid-2000s. Lush’s knowledge of, and concern for environmental degradation caused by oil palm cultivation led us to conclude that palm oil needed to be removed from our supply chain.

What are the major problems in palm cultivation?

Note: Not all palm cultivation is bad. There are some examples out there of good growing practices that incorporate palm. Over the years, it’s the industrialization of the crop which has caused the most problems.

• Monoculture palm plantations are a major driver of deforestation in biodiverse areas, resulting in the destruction of ecosystems and animal habitats.

• Land has been stolen from indigenous peoples and given to corporations to develop oil palm plantations.

• Human rights abuses and conflict are highly associated with land grabbing.

• Work provided in many plantations is insecure, poorly paid, dangerous and may involve child labor.

• Plantations’ use of illegal and legal chemicals can lead to pollution of land and water supplies.

• Bribery and corruption are tools used to expand plantations.

Sustainable palm oil?

While other companies have sought to use ‘sustainable palm oil’ as certified by the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), there are problems with the roundtable and their label of accreditation.

• The RSPO is dominated by industry. In 2009, only 6.7% of members were from conservation or ‘social-development’ groups. The remainder are from the corporate sector.

• The RSPO has not promoted a complete ban on the destruction of peat forests (important carbon sinks).

• Palm oil producers and processors can become RSPO members without having their operations certified.

• The expansion of palm oil has greater impacts on climate change than is acknowledged by the RSPO.

• The world market demand for certified palm oil is weak. Only an estimated 14% of palm oil is RSPO certified. Certified palm oil is 8-15% more expensive than uncertified oil. China and India are the largest consumers of palm oil and have shown little interest in buying more expensive, certified palm oil.

Lush’s Palm oil policy

From 2008, Lush began removing palm oil from its supply chain, and began a campaign to educate customers about the environmental degradation caused by the current cultivation of oil palm crops, encouraging customers to ‘wash their hands of palm oil’.

Since then, Lush has publicized to staff and customers that a complete transparency of, and removal of palm oil is in progress. In the Lush Times and stores we’ve included labelling that claims, ‘palm oil free’. While this is true for the soap base, it can lead to miscommunication as there are still traces of palm derivatives in some of our safe synthetics range. We are currently looking at all of these materials to either find guaranteed palm-free sources or in some cases reformulate to replace with other ingredients all together. This work is well underway but requires a lot of reformulation work which doesn’t compromise the quality of the final product.

Are all of Lush’s soaps palm free?

No. While we’re able to confidently state that all of our soap bases (soap noodles) are palm free, we cannot state that our soaps are palm free. Many contain sodium stearate which is not palm free. We are constantly working with our suppliers and product inventors to be able to produce a palm-free sodium stearate suitable for all our products.

What ingredients contain palm oil derivatives?

Material Contain derivatives of
Lauryl Betaine  Palm kernel, palm and coconut 
Sodium Cocoamphoacetate Palm kernel, palm and coconut 
Cetearyl Alcohol Palm kernel 
Cetearyl Alcohol & SLS Palm oil 
SodLauroylSarcosinateNP  Coconut, palm, palm kernel 
Lauroyl Sarcosine Coconut, palm kernel 
Glycol Cetearate  Palm oil
GMS SE40 - Glycerol monostearate Palm oil
SSD - Disodium laureth sulfosuccinate Palm oil 
Glyceryl Stearat-PEG100 Palm Kernel Source
Ammonium Laureth Sulfate  Palm Kernel 
Sodium Laureth Sulfate Palm Kernel
Sodium Lauryl Sulfate Palm Kernel 
Sodium Stearate Palm Oil
Stearic Acid  Palm Oil
Laureth 4  Palm Oil
PEG–6 Caprylic / Capric Glycerides & PEG-60 Almond Glycerides Palm, palm kernel


Our Journey so far...


Following a research trip to Singapore and Indonesia it was found that the principle material in the vegetarian base, palm oil, was driving unprecedented deforestation in Sumatra and Borneo, destroying valuable habitat home to orangutan, elephant, tigers and many more threatened species. Simon (Constantine - buyer and head perfumer), first spent time at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) meeting in Singapore. Quickly it was apparent that a 'sustainable option' was not the answer in this case, particularly because the industry was on the brink of expansion into widespread bio-fuel use.

2006 – SUMATRA

Following a trip to the RSPO meeting, Simon ventured forth with the help of Sumatran Orangutan Society and their partner organization OIC (Orangutan Information Centre). While there, they witnessed firsthand the destruction of pristine habitat, the sterile monoculture of palm oil and the abundant forests of the Gunung Leuser National Park. They also witnessed the aftermath of the 2004 Tsunami and subsequent misappropriation of funds by the International Aid community whose projects were at an end in Banda Aceh.


Realizing that palm oil was not the answer and that sustainable and traceable sources would be nearly impossible to achieve, Lush set about innovating a response. First, we tried our suppliers of soap base, who were not convinced an alternative to palm could be found. Next, we found one of the handful of UK producers of soap left in the country. They agreed to work on removing palm oil entirely from their base and replacing it with other, less destructive oils (rapeseed [canola], sunflower and coconut). By late 2007 they had their first trial batches in production in the Lush factory.


To enhance the impact of our decision and work, and to highlight the issue to customers, we launched a 'Greenwash' soap to accompany it as a focal point within the shops.

2008 - DID YOU RECALL...

But not all went to plan. The soap base began to receive complaints that it didn't lather, that the scents were diminished and that the products were spotting and curling up like elves shoes. We didn't like that and so we recalled the lot at great expense (we had already invested over £100k [$130,000] in the R+D phase of the project). At that moment, our previous suppliers rolled up and asked if we would like to try their miraculous new base with palm oil removed. This time it was simply coconut and rapeseed and it worked perfectly, allowing us to restock the shops as fast as possible.


Keen to keep interest and momentum in the palm oil saga, essential oil buyer, Agnes, and our Campaigns team set out once again to Sumatra. This time to investigate the displacement of indigenous people through land grabs by palm companies. They had the unique opportunity to spend time with the Orang Rimba, people of the forest, who still lived a largely nomadic life within primary rainforest.


As we continued our path of removing palm oil from our supply chain we took up the placards for a full-blown, worldwide campaign highlighting the problems of palm oil. The public placed green handprints on our windows and could buy soap, the funds from which supported Rainforest Action Network who were fighting palm companies in Indonesia.


Focusing the majority of efforts on raising awareness of the palm oil issue, campaigns continued throughout our shops across the world. Meanwhile, behind the scenes we quietly removed palm-based Glycerine from our products, replacing it with non-GMO rapeseed.

Taken from the Scotsman 2009:

Lush supports jungle tribe under threat

A LEADING retailer has created a "living petition" in its Princes Street shop window to help raise awareness of an under-threat jungle tribe.

Cosmetics firm Lush wants shoppers to have their photograph taken next to a giant cardboard tree in the store's window.

The campaign hopes to highlight the plight of Indonesia's Orang Rimba people, who Lush says are under threat from firms chopping down their jungle homes for palm oil plantations.

The petition, organized in conjunction with Greenpeace, will be presented to palm oil and paper company Sinar Mas.

Andrew Butler, Lush's campaigns manager, said: "Last year I spent time in Sumatran forests talking to members of the Orang Rimba tribe, who have seen their forest homes destroyed to make way for palm oil plantations.

"They are asking for the help of people in the UK to save their homes and way of life – it is up to all of us to stop companies like Sinar Mas who are intent on cutting down forests to produce paper and palm oil." Greenpeace forest campaigner Ian Duff added: "When Sinar Mas clear forest and peatland for new palm oil plantations they release thousands of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

"Sinar Mas must hear the calls of Lush and its customers and halt further destruction of forest and peatland for palm oil."


But removing palm was only part of the story. If anything, it had taught us that without full traceability in our soap, we can never be 100 percent sure what those ingredients are doing to the planet. Inspired by a trip to see Paul Yeboah, director of Ghana Permaculture Institute in Ghana and his fantastic soap-making enterprise, it occurred to more than one of us that maybe we could make our own soap base. On went the goggles and Simon, Lush product inventor, Wesley, and others began to experiment with Fresh Homemade soap…


The trail goes cold for a few years as we all try to understand more about soap making. Trials are a mediocre success and engaging product formulators in new ways of soap making proves difficult. However, enter stage left Dan Campbell, rockstar biochemist who, full of youth and vigor, decides to pick up the gauntlet from his tired and disheveled colleagues and start experiments again in earnest.


Dan and the team focused on new soap base formulations, eventually settling on a mix of castor oil, coconut and wheatgerm oil. The end product was as wholesome as a loaf of Mom's bread: Movis soap was first baked in 2014.


After 8 years of collaboration on fighting palm oil with SOS and OIC, it was time to try something new. Bringing our Sustainable Lush Fund initiatives and OIC together, a plan was hatched to experiment with new ways of growing crops in Sumatra. Looking at natural growing techniques and farms that border precious forest reserves, OIC proposed to buy 10 hectares (25 acres) of land to demonstrate better practices. It so happened that this area grows many different crops of essential oils such as patchouli, lemongrass and agarwood to name a few.


Continuing the trend for homemade soap, Dan, Wesley and Simon teamed up to create two new ranges of soap for the Oxford Street shop opening. Gourmet soaps blended ingredients from SLush projects around the world into exquisite handmade soaps containing oils from Palestine, Colombia, Ghana and Kenya to name a few, all in the name of regeneration. Wesley used these new soap bases to press cold soaps that are hardy and long lasting.


We continue to work on resourcing all our materials that contain palm but it’s very tricky. Not only does the source need to confirm that the ingredient is 100 percent palm free and always will be, they also need to follow Lush’s ethical and non-animal testing policies. The alternatives to these materials which contain palm are often new to the market and therefore often subjected to animal testing that makes them unsuitable for Lush. Palm-free versions of our current materials are not readily available, and when they are a reformulation is needed, rather than a simple swap. Constant research and testing is occurring to stop our use of palm.

We’ll keep you updated!