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The Environmental Horror for Palm Oil

Palm oil is a product found in many common goods such as: biofuel, lipstick, detergent, soap, ice cream, margarine, chocolate, cookies, bread and so much more. The use of palm oil is extremely controversial as many conventional palm oil plantations use harmful techniques to clear the forests where palm oil grows. The plant only grows in the tropics and requires high amounts of water, and it is a huge industry as it’s Indonesia’s third largest export. The main reason I personally stepped away from palm oil products a few years ago was because of the destruction to the habitat of my favorite animal: the orangutan.

Orangutans have a fairly small environment as they are only found in the Southeast Asian islands of Borneo and Sumatra, which are sadly areas that have been destroyed due to palm oil expansions. This deforestation has also caused soil erosion due to the unsustainable practice known as slash and burn, where plantations will cut into the forest for the oil, then proceed to burn it down. Ever since learning about how this practice nearly made my favorite animal extinct I decided to limit my intake of products that use palm oil, this mainly affected one of my favorite spreads: Nutella.

The Ferrero Corporation has been criticized for their use of palm oil and many, including myself, have noticed their change to sustainable practices. Even though they did destroy several rainforests, one must applaud the actions they took to better their company. In 2013 Ferrero stated that Nutella products contained 100% segregated RSPO certified palm oil. They also launched a commitment that no palm oil they used contributed to deforestation, species extinction, greenhouse gas emissions or human rights violations. As an environmentalist who absentmindedly did not check the facts of whether Nutella destroyed habitats or not, and someone who has been shamed for consuming this product, I must say finding out their sustainable incentives was motivating. The WWF rated their palm oil use as 21.5 out of 22 showing that they are leading the way in sustainable palm oil use. It showed me that Ferrero listened to the people, it took tons of steps to get to where they are now but they did not disregard their consumers' thoughts and made changes for the better.

It is hard to find out that a product that I have been avoiding deserves praise for their environmental work. I will not be purchasing any palm oil heavy product still but it simply shows to do your own research on products. It is important to note that slash and burn techniques are not necessary for palm oil, big companies do not need to use these unsustainable practices. Big companies, such as: Kellogg’s, General Mills, Mondelez, Hershey’s, Mars, PepsiCo, Nestlé and Unilever, have made sustainable goals but have not made any advancement towards them-this is straight greenwashing as people will search for their policy as it looks promising, but is just lying. 

We, as a society, do not need to continue to destroy nature, and should work cohesively with the planet to ensure longevity of companies and organisms. Palm oil is a problem-ingredient currently and should remain controversial in any consumers eyes until all companies obtain sustainable practices. I suggest researching your products’ companies and see their stance, make informed decisions and do what’s best for the environment. From experiences such as this, it is important to take away that a part of being an environmentalist is being imperfect, sometimes blame on companies can be misplaced and it’ part of life to accept these mistakes and try to better oneself through information and learning.

Autumn is a junior at the University of Tampa credit-wise but this is her second year at college. Originally from the Philadelphia area now living in sunny Florida, she loves the Earth and loves life and in her free time can be caught tanning at the pool, being with her sorority sisters, or at a club meeting. Studying environmental science with a minor in Marine Science there has been tons of changes in her life from the small suburbs to this city life. Autumn is involved in tons of organizations on campus from Delta Phi Epsilon to hammock club to intramural coed football and clubs like Best Buddies, Active Minds, Roots and Shoots, and Society for Conservation Biology. She is really into finding new ways to better herself, better the lives of others and help the Earth.
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