Palm oil production is wiping out ancient forests, endangering wildlife and destroying communities, which is why we haven’t used it in our soap bases since 2008.
You can help to preserve some of the world’s most sensitive ecosystems and vulnerable populations simply by choosing a soap, shampoo or laundry detergent that doesn’t contain palm oil. These products and many more consumer items use palm oil, the manufacture of which is causing environmental havoc, destroying habitat for endangered species and violating the rights of Indigenous people.
What is Palm Oil?
Palm oil and palm kernel oil are obtained from the fruit of the palm tree. Accounting for 40 percent of the world’s vegetable oil production in 2012-2013, palm oil and its derivatives are used in a wide range of beauty products, foods such as cereals and margarine, and in everyday household items from candles to cleaning products. It’s often listed as vegetable oil, so you won’t always know if you’ve chosen an item with palm oil in it.
The Problem with Palm
Palm oil production presents a simple yet catastrophic problem: tropical forests are cut and burned to make way for palm tree plantations. These forests have been home to indigenous people and wildlife for many thousands of years, but when the plantations arrive, they’re completely displaced. With animals killed illegally to make way for plantations and human rights abused, it’s hard to wash your hands clean with soap made from this palm oil.
Chris Wille, the Chief of Sustainable Agriculture for the Rainforest Alliance says, "The environmental costs of replacing rainforest—the most biodiverse ecosystem on the planet, hosting half of all the plant and animal species—with an intensive monoculture like oil palm are tremendous.”
“Communities are pushed off their ancestral lands and asked to exchange their hunting and gathering culture for a new life as palm oil farmers for the large companies. Wildlife also suffers, as it can't live in a plantation.”
The statistics are startling. "Most oil palm farms are in Malaysia and Indonesia; these countries produce 80 percent of the world's palm oil,” says Wille. “Indonesia is losing one million hectares of rainforest a year, mostly to palm mining and logging. Indonesia has just one percent of the earth’s land surface but 10 percent of plant species, 12 percent of mammals and 17 percent of birds. At the current rate of deforestation in Indonesia, mostly driven by palm, 98 percent of the country's forests will be gone by 2022, according to the United Nations Environment Programme.” Plus, annual carbon emissions from deforestation in Indonesia alone, much of which stems from palm oil plantation expansion, are now greater than the emissions from all of the cars, trucks, planes and ships in America combined.
Upon learning about the terrible environmental and social effects of palm oil production, we decided to remove palm oil from our soap base in 2008. Our goal is to become 100 percent palm-oil free, and switching our soap base was a big first step. Since then, we’ve also switched to a palm oil-free vegetable glycerin. We are currently investigating our surfactants which may contain palm oil, labelled as vegetable oil. Our ethical buying team is continually working to improve the transparency in those supply chains.
Reduce Your Palm Print
You can reduce your palm print by avoiding products containing palm oil. Check the ingredients and remember that palm oil can be listed as vegetable oil, and can also appear as palm kernel oil, palmitate and glyceryl stearate.
As long as companies continue to use palm oil, the people, animals and ecosystems of Malaysia and Indonesia will continue to fall victim to this unsustainable industry. As consumers, we can affect change by avoiding products containing palm, and by asking businesses to seek alternatives to palm.