Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

Palm oil is one of the world’s most commonly consumed vegetable oils. Since 2013, palm oil has had the highest consumption rate of any other vegetable oil, including olive oil. By early 2022, over 73 million metric tons of palm oil were consumed, which is nearly 20 million tons more than in 2013. Nearly 85% of palm oil produced is used in food, which is why you can find many products in your local grocery store containing this ingredient. 

Palm oil is used in so many food and non-food items because it can be blended and processed to produce products that have a wide range of different characteristics. Although it’s used in many items that are for sale in your supermarket, including bread and chocolate, palm oil isn’t always easy to find in the list of ingredients used to make a given product.

Palm oil and its byproducts often appear in a product’s list of ingredients under one of the following names:

  • Vegetable Fat
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Glyceryl
  • Sodium Kernelate
  • Sodium Palm Kernelate
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Palm Stearine
  • Palm Fruit Oil
  • Palm Kernel
  • Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
  • Palmitoyl Oxostearamide
  • Palmityl Alcohol
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmolein
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Ethyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Stearate
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate

As the demand for palm oil grew because of its versatility, the deforestation of vital rainforests occurred to make room for palm tree plantations. Deforestation activity was particularly prevalent from 1980 through 2000. The consequences of this uncontrolled, destructive activity have been devastating as it destroyed irreplaceable, biodiverse habitats that were home to endangered species, including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos. 

Unfortunately, deforestation continues in some areas today and it has led to the forcible removal of people from their own land and violations of workers’ rights such as fair pay and the provision of safe working environments.

Today, approximately 19 million hectares, predominately located in Indonesia and Malaysia, are used as palm tree plantations. With a hectare equaling nearly 2.5 acres, the total land area currently used as palm tree plantations can seem like a large amount. However, palm oil only amounts to 6% of the land use for the 300 million hectares used for all global oilcrop production.

What Is the RSPO?

In 2002, the World Wildlife Fund began negotiating with key stakeholders in the palm oil industry for nature conservation, workers’ rights and benefits for small communities. The multi-national stakeholders involved in these discussions were people and organizations involved in every part of the palm oil supply chain, including the following:

  • Palm oil processors and traders
  • Oil palm producers
  • Environmental or nature conservation non-government organizations (NGOs)
  • Social or developmental NGOs
  • Consumer goods manufacturers
  • Banks and investors
  • Retailers

The World Wildlife Fund successfully brought these stakeholders together for the first time in 2004, which led to the formation of the non-profit, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. When it formed that year, the RSPO had 10 founding members. Within four years, the non-profit’s membership had grown to 257 Ordinary and 92 Affiliate members who were responsible for producing approximately 35% of the world’s palm oil. With a current membership of over 5,300, the RSPO has grown even more since 2008.

The mission of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is to “transform the markets by making sustainable palm oil the norm.” A Board of Governors manages the RSPO and chooses its members for terms that last two years. The Board of Governors has 16 seats, but they reserve four of them for NGOs such as the World Wildlife Fund. Four Standing Committees support the RSPO’s Board of Governors by overseeing the following areas:

  • Standards & Certification
  • Trade & Traceability
  • Communications & Claims
  • Finance

The RSPO’s Secretariat, located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, runs the non-profit’s everyday operations. The Secretariat is responsible for responding to RSPO members, arranging Roundtable meetings and General Assemblies and organizing meetings for the Board of Governors. The Secretariat is also responsible for managing the charity’s Standing Committees and Working Groups.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil created the Standing Committees, Working Groups and Task Forces to motivate the non-profit’s members to address the challenges involved with the RSPO’s mission and develop solutions to them. Membership in a Standing Committee is voluntary and the Board of Governors can change the composition of any of its committees if doing so will help the group serve the RSPO more effectively. Committees and Working Groups contain at least one member from each of the key stakeholder groups listed above.

The RSPO creates Working Groups and Task Forces on an as-needed basis. The RSPO’s current Working Groups include the following:

  • Smallholders Working Group
  • Greenhouse Gas Working Group II
  • Emission Reduction Working Group
  • Biodiversity and High Conservation Values for Certification Working Group
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The following Task Forces are currently active within the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil:

  • Supply Chain Certification Documents Revision
  • FFB Legality & Traceability
  • Compensation

Why Is the RSPO Important?

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is important because of the work it does and the millions of lives its work impacts. The RSPO sets guidelines for sustainable palm oil production with limited impact on the environment and the communities in which people live. In 2005, the non-profit drafted the Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production, which was officially released for use in 2007. The RSPO maintains updates to this document, as recent as 2022, which includes updated Supply Chain Requirements.

Since laws and customs vary by country, the RSPO amends the Principles and Criteria document for use in a member’s country using National Interpretations. This allows the RSPO’s guidelines to be used in different countries while reducing or eliminating the potential for conflict. It also enables stakeholders to consult at national, regional and local levels while adhering to relevant laws as well as the RSPO’s Principles and Criteria.

To become certified by the RSPO, members must adopt the charity’s Principles and Criteria, apply them to their operations and commit to being part of the process that produces sustainable palm oil products and sustainable chemicals derived from palm oil. 

Certification by the RSPO is meaningful because it shows a customer that the manner in which a certified member produced palm oil product is sustainable. To guarantee that a claim of sustainability is valid when palm oil products reach the end of their supply chain, the RSPO believes all of the entities that take ownership and possession of RSPO certified chemicals and RSPO products along the supply chain need to be certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil themselves.

The work of the RSPO has already produced impressive results. Since it was founded, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil has certified 4.55 million hectares of land that produces palm oil. The non-profit has certified 469 palm oil mills and 98 growers as well. The RSPO has awarded supply chain certificates to 3,673 companies and 6,323 facilities. The organization currently certifies 14.8 million metric tons, or 19.3% of the world’s palm oil.

You may be wondering why establishing standards for the production of sustainable palm oil is so critical, especially when other types of vegetable oil are readily available. While encouraging companies to simply switch to another type of vegetable oil may seem like a way to avoid the problems the RSPO exists to resolve altogether, doing so would create even greater potential problems, including the following:

  • Increased environmental damage: Palm trees produce four to 10 times more oil compared to other plants on a similarly sized piece of cultivated ground. Since palm oil trees need less than half the amount of land that other crops need to produce the same amount of oil, more land would have to be used to produce the same amount of vegetable oil that currently comes from palm trees if other crops were used. This could lead to even greater deforestation and the destruction of more rainforests and ecosystems.
  • Loss of food texture and taste: Palm oil has unique characteristics that make it an irreplaceable ingredient in certain foods. Replacing palm oil with another vegetable oil in some recipes would produce an end product that lacks the taste and texture it would have if palm oil had been used.
  • Increased poverty: In Malaysia and Indonesia alone, approximately 4.5 million people work in the palm oil production industry. Millions of farmers and their families would run the risk of becoming impoverished if palm oil was no longer produced in these areas.

What Everyday Products Contain Palm Oil?

Palm oil is a common ingredient in so many food products for a variety of reasons, including the following:

  • Cooking properties: Palm oil retains its unique characteristics even when it’s exposed to high temperatures during the cooking process, making it an ideal ingredient in many recipes.
  • Texture and smell: Palm oil has a smooth, creamy texture and it doesn’t have a smell, two reasons it’s so popular with food manufacturers.
  • Preservative effect: Palm oil has an inherent preservative characteristic, which prolongs the amount of time food can sit on the shelf.

While palm oil is used in many food products, it’s also used in many non-food items, such as lipstick, shampoo, detergent and deodorant, that you may use on a regular basis. Some everyday items that are often made using palm oil include the following:

  • Pizza dough: Using palm oil in both fresh and frozen pizza dough can prevent the rolls of dough from sticking to one another and improves the texture of the dough.
  • Instant noodles: Palm oil lets manufacturers pre-cook instant noodles, so all you have to do is add hot water before eating. Palm oil accounts for up to 20% of the weight of a package of instant noodles.
  • Ice cream: Adding palm oil to ice cream will give it a smooth and creamy texture.
  • Margarine: Because it remains solid at room temperature and doesn’t have trans fats, palm oil is ideal for making margarine. 
  • Chocolate: Palm oil is typically what gives chocolate its shiny and smooth look. In some cases, you can add palm oil to a recipe to keep the chocolate from melting.
  • Baked goods: To give a creamy texture, you can add palm oil to many baked goods such as cookies and cupcakes.
  • Biodiesel: Biodiesel and biofuel can be made using palm oil.
  • Soap: Since palm oil is effective as a cleaning agent to remove dirt and grease from skin and hair, it’s commonly found in soap. Palm oil also acts as a natural moisturizer when it’s used to make soap.

What Certification Criteria Do We Follow to Become RSPO Certified?

Palm oil producers become certified by going through a strict verification process to ensure they are operating within the guidelines outlined in the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s Principles and Criteria for Sustainable Palm Oil Production document. Accredited Certifying Bodies investigate palm oil producers interested in becoming certified to ensure they are in compliance with these guidelines. Their approval can be withdrawn at any time if a palm oil producer infringes on these rules and standards.

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Every company in a supply chain that uses RSPO certified chemicals or products is audited to prevent overselling and the blending of certified palm oil with non-sustainable, non-certified palm oil products. If there are no violations found, the RSPO certified chemicals and products that move through an approved supply chain can receive a label with the RSPO Trademark, making them readily identifiable as RSPO certified sustainable palm oil products.

Every five years, The RSPO revises its Principles and Criteria to ensure fair working conditions for laborers, protect peoples’ land and rights, prevent the clearing of primary forests and conserve wildlife on palm tree plantations. Once a company receives its RSPO certification, it will need to undergo an annual audit to ensure it is continuing to comply with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s Principles and Criteria. The RSPO repeats the initial certification evaluation every five years.

There is an increasing concern from consumers about how companies are sourcing and making the goods they buy. An ever-growing number of shoppers want to know that the items they purchase were made without harming the environment or society. When someone buys RSPO certified chemicals or products, the person knows these items were made using sustainable production methods that didn’t create ill effects in the areas where these companies produced them.

What Acme-Hardesty Products Are Available as RSPO?

A division of Jacob Stern & Sons, Inc., Acme-Hardesty Co. has been in business for more than 80 years. Both Acme-Hardesty and our parent company are firmly committed to providing our clients with renewable and sustainable products. We have an established sustainability program that covers more than the products we import and sell. It also covers the way our supply chain works as well as the raw materials that are used to make the products we purchase and sell.

In 1980, we were proud to be a pioneer in the green revolution by importing and selling bulk and packaged palm oil-based oleochemicals from Malaysia and Indonesia. Our supply chain consists of world-class companies that exclusively manufacture their products from renewable and sustainable sources. While we continue to add new products to our product mix, we remain focused on sourcing green, renewable, natural and sustainable products that will satisfy the needs of our valued clients.

From our office assistants to our chief executives, everyone at our company knows how critical the sustainability of palm oil is to our continued success, which is why we are all dedicated to supporting the efforts of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. As a proud member of this non-profit organization, we are excited to be actively pursuing the RSPO’s supply chain certification.

One of the nation’s largest importers and value-added resellers of oleochemicals and castor oil products, Acme-Hardesty’s menu of RSPO certified chemicals and products includes the following:

  • Fatty Acids
  • Esters
  • Alcohols

To learn more about our sustainable products, contact Acme-Hardesty today. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and explain our ongoing effort to provide the renewable and sustainable products necessary to satisfy your business needs in greater detail.