We launched our Sustainable Palm Oil campaign in 2012. Since then, we’ve worked with partners in the UK and worldwide to make sustainable a reality.
Sustainable palm oil is a way of producing palm oil that ensures minimal impact on the environment of the regions it’s grown in. It’s a key aspect of our work in conserving biodiversity worldwide, and we encourage everyone to use the information on this page to learn more about sustainable palm oil and why it’s so important.
WHAT IS PALM OIL?
Palm oil is a type of vegetable oil found in thousands of products, from cake, chocolate and margarine to lipstick, shampoo and detergents. It’s extremely versatile – palm oil can either be a liquid or a solid, has natural preservative effects, and has no smell or taste.
It’s the most widely used vegetable oil in the world due to its low cost and efficiency. In fact, palm oil supplies 35% of the world’s vegetable oil from just 10% of the global land dedicated to oil crops.
IS PALM OIL BAD?
Palm oil itself is not necessarily bad. It’s a versatile vegetable oil that is extremely efficient. However, the unsustainable production of palm oil is one of the biggest threats to the forests and wildlife of areas where it’s grown like Borneo and Sumatra. Huge areas of rainforest have been cleared to make way for oil palm trees, destroying the habitats of a wide range of animals and plants including orangutans, other threatened primates and many endemic bird species.
Palm oil production is continuing to spread to other countries like the Philippines, Nigeria, and throughout South America.
Deforestation is a major environmental crisis, and is now the second leading cause of climate change globally, after burning fossil fuels. Agricultural expansion is thought to account for around 80% of deforestation. It’s vital that we do everything we can to fight this, and by choosing sustainable palm oil you can do your part!
WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL?
There are different definitions of sustainable palm oil, but at its core this refers to palm oil that has been produced with the lowest environmental impact possible. This includes minimising impact to wildlife, and adhering to high standards of human rights.
The most widely recognised scheme is regulated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). This is a voluntary scheme, and palm oil produced to RSPO standards is required to be deforestation-free.
Research has shown that the average carbon footprint of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is 36% lower than for non-certified palm oil.
WHERE CAN I BUY SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL PRODUCTS?
Making informed choices on sustainable palm oil in your purchases as a consumer and communicating this to manufacturers is one of the best ways you can make a real difference to conservation and protecting ecosystems. We’ve put together a whole host of resources to help you get started:
We recently appeared on a television documentary about chocolate. It’s important to us to clarify that we don’t advocate becoming palm oil free, we champion sustainable palm oil.
PalmOil Scan app
This brand new mobile app is our latest initiative, working in collaboration with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). Check your favourite products’ barcodes to see how major manufacturers are sourcing their palm oil ingredients.
SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL COMMUNITIES
Find out about the communities taking action to promote the use of sustainable palm oil, and find a list of businesses where you can buy sustainable palm oil products.
Sustainable palm oil resources
We’ve got a range of other resources to help you with your sustainable palm oil challenge, from games to infographics.
OUR SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL JOURNEY
Our mission is preventing extinction, and a big part of that is aiming to be a major force in conserving biodiversity worldwide.
We’ve set out our position on sustainable palm oil and are ensuring unsustainable palm oil is being removed from our supply chain.
At Chester Zoo, the strength of our voice and the breadth of our audiences means we can open eyes to the environmental challenges that face our planet and empower people to be part of the solution.
We started to spread awareness of the movement through our Sustainable Palm Oil Communities project. In 2019 our hometown of Chester officially became the world’s first Sustainable Palm Oil City, following our work with local businesses, restaurants and community advocates. We’re now building partnerships with organisations around the UK to create even more Sustainable Palm Oil Communities, in places like Dorset, Oxford, Newquay and Plymouth.
We also carry out work directly in habitats around the world affected by palm oil production. Our conservation work in South East Asia has been going on for over 15 years, working with partners such as HUTAN to study and address habitat issues caused by palm oil, including the effects on Bornean orangutans.
Chester Zoo Science Director, Simon Dowell, writes about the path forward for us in tackling one particular area of biodiversity decline…
A NEW BBC wildlife series, narrated by Sir David Attenborough and Prince William features our work promoting sustainable palm oil!
The county of Dorset, the city of Plymouth, the town of Saltash and the village of Mochdre have all committed to our ambitious scheme!
OUR SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL CAMPAIGN IN NUMBERS
We’ve achieved a lot along the way since launching our Sustainable Palm Oil campaign. Here are some of the key milestones we’ve reached:
IF PALM OIL IS BAD, SHOULD WE STOP USING IT COMPLETELY?
Some groups see a complete boycott of palm oil as a solution to the impact it has on conservation and sustainability. But it’s important to remember that all agriculture has an impact on the environment, and as one of the most efficient vegetable oil crops, with the right approach palm oil can be less damaging than the alternatives.
Remember, palm oil produces up to nine times more oil per unit area than other major oil crops, so a switch to another type of edible vegetable oil (such as rapeseed oil) would require up to nine times as much land to produce the same yield. This would greatly increase deforestation and the effect on habitats.
A blanket boycott of palm oil could drive the price of palm oil down. This could increase demand, especially in markets which have less interest in sustainability and are bigger markets than the UK and Europe. This reduces the incentive to produce environmentally sustainable palm oil.
There are also the employment implications of palm oil production to consider. In producing countries, millions of people work in the palm oil sector. Palm oil plays an important role in the reduction of poverty in these areas. In Indonesia, over 4.5 million people earn their living from palm oil production. Stopping the production of palm oil altogether would create significant problems for these people who support their families by working in this industry.
If we don’t demand sustainable palm oil then the producers won’t have motivation to create it – we need to be part of the solution.
WHAT SPECIES ARE IMPACTED BY PALM OIL?
193 critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable species are impacted globally by palm oil.
One of these animals is the orangutan, of which all three species are listed as Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.150,000 Bornean orangutans are thought to have been lost over the past 16 years, with oil palm being one of the main risks. Find out more on the IUCN website.
WHAT IS THE UK GOVERNMENT DOING ABOUT SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL?
The UK roundtable on sourcing sustainable palm oil, convened by the government, was set up in 2012. The initial aim was to work towards 100% sustainable palm oil in the UK by 2015. The industry made significant progress and currently 70% of palm oil brought in to the UK (crude and refined oil, not ingredients or derivatives) is sustainable.
EFECA (Experts in Sustainable Forests & Agricultural Advice) lead the group and carry out the data analysis and research on sustainable palm oil in the UK.
The group still exists past the 2015 deadline and has committed to the Amsterdam Declaration for Europe to support a fully sustainable palm oil supply chain.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (BIAZA) represent their members on this group and a Chester Zoo staff member is the current BIAZA representative.
WHAT DO OTHER CONSERVATION ORGANISATIONS THINK ABOUT SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL?
Some conservation organisations are publicly critical about sustainable palm oil, however many of these organisations do in fact support sustainable palm oil over a boycott and are calling for better practices. Greenpeace for example are members of the Palm Oil Innovation Group, which calls for responsible palm oil production over a boycott.
In September 2021, over 100 conservation organisations, including WWF, Save the Rhino and Sumatran Orangutan Society, came together to sign a joint statement in support of sustainable palm oil.
OTHER ORGANISATIONS ARE SAYING THAT THEY’RE BOYCOTTING BECAUSE CURRENT SUSTAINABLE PALM OIL ISN’T GOOD ENOUGH. WHY DO CHESTER ZOO THINK SUSTAINABLE IS OK BUT OTHERS DON’T?
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is a stakeholder scheme, but it’s only as strong as the participants. That means if you remove yourself from it, you can’t help to improve it. By boycotting and removing yourself from the situation, you’re not going to save orangutans on the ground, as unsustainable palm oil will still be sold elsewhere in the world where there is less of a call for sustainability (India and China are both larger importers of palm oil than Europe – 22%, 19% and 15% respectively).
In the past there have been reports of members carrying out practices against the RSPO principles and criteria. We expect the RSPO and its members to adhere to the criteria and act when there is evidence of non-compliance. In fact, we’ve taken action ourselves when RSPO members fail to meet the agreed-upon standards – without being part of the movement, we would not be able to do this.