Sustainable decisions are in the PALM of your hand

So yesterday we talked about one of my personal favorite animals, the Orangutan. This is also an animal that is heavily affected by palm oil plantations in Borneo and Sumatra, due to habitat loss for the plantations. Today, we are going to talk about what palm oil is, why you should care, and how you can help! Making sustainable choices not only helps the animals, but the people in these regions as well. Oh yeah, and YOU!

What on earth is palm oil?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that has been growing in popularity since the 90’s. It has been getting massively popular because its cheap, versatile, high yielding, and widely produced. The majority of the fruit that palm oil is derived from is grown in Indonesia and Malaysia (85% to be exact). The edible part of the palm oil fruit comes from the pulp, this is what is used in the foods that you eat. The non-edible part of the fruit comes from the seed, palm kernel oil, and this is what is used in your soaps and cosmetics. In short, whether you know it or not you most likely use palm oil many times during the day. The growing popularity has also lifted a good amount of people out of poverty in the regions that it is grown in. So you’re probably asking yourself why palm oil is a bad thing. It is highly yielding which is good for the Earth’s growing population, and it helps lift people out of poverty. Sounds great, right?

WRONG…kind of

We aren’t here to bash anyone or anything, but let me give you some truths about palm oil. Palm oil is high in saturated fats, so if your jeans aren’t fitting after the holidays you may want to consider cutting out palm oil. Also, when thinking about where palm oil comes from it would be nice if it just floated down from the heavens for us mere humans to use and abuse. But it doesn’t, palm oil plantations require forests to be cut down to make room. These forests are usually peat swamps that, when cut down, release large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So let me simplify this:

Trees take in carbon dioxide and put out oxygen which humans need to live (YAY)

Trees have a lot of carbon dioxide inside, this helps them thrive (YAY)

When the tree is cut down, all the carbon dioxide is released (BOO)

When carbon dioxide levels go up in the atmosphere, climate change happens (BOO)

When climate change happens, we get things like the polar vortex of 2014 (BOO) Brooke fun fact: I hate the cold

Also when climate change happens, every human, animal, and creature on Earth is affected (BOO)

Palm oil = deforestation = climate change = lots of bad things (including polar vortex’s)

Now, obviously this process is much more complicated. But for those of you who get bored by climate change documentaries, this is a decently simple version of why deforestation is really bad. So now that we know why palm oil is bad, I’m going to complicate the process further.

Ok, it really is not that complicated

In an effort to make a compromise on the whole palm oil issue, there is this thing called sustainable palm oil. I encourage you to consume this type of palm oil!

Wait… didn’t she just tell me that palm oil was really bad?

Yes, I did.  However, palm oil that meets certain criteria and regulations to protect the environment and reduce negative impacts gets to carry the title of “sustainable palm oil”. This is a good palm oil to consume! I’m not expecting you to by psychic when you pick up products at the grocery store to know whether they use sustainable palm oil or not, so I’ve listed companies who commit to use sustainable palm oil. The Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), has taken the lead to certify these different plantations and companies who use sustainable palm oil. 18% of palm oil, worldwide, has been certified by the RSPO. Companies who have made this commitment include:

  • Proctor & Gamble: brands such as Olay and Crest
  • Walmart
  • Nestle
  • Johnson & Johnson
  • HJ Heinz
  • ConAgra foods
  • The Hershey co.

So if you want to live sustainably, then pay attention to the brands you’re buying. I’m not here to preach, and I am definitely not perfect all the time. But if each person took responsibility 50% of the time, and bought products that are responsible with environmental impacts, we could change the world. Thank you for taking the responsibility of reading about palm oil and getting educated. Join the conversation, what do you know about  palm oil?

For more information and resources visit:

(Also credit to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil for the information to write this post)

And just another pic of my main man from The Toledo Zoo, Bajik (circa 2012)



3 Comments Add yours

  1. johnkutensky says:

    A good tool to help with this is the El Paso Zoo’s Palm Oil Guide and Scanner App: You scan barcodes, and it tells you whether it has palm oil or not.

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