Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil



Palm oil is the world’s most widely consumed vegetable oil and you can find it in about 50 percent of the packaged goods sold in your local grocery store.  The ingredient 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 about half of the items that are for sale in your supermarket, 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 Oil
  • Vegetable Fat
  • Palm Kernel
  • Palm Kernel Oil
  • Palm Fruit Oil
  • Elaeis Guineensis
  • Palmitic Acid
  • Palm Stearine
  • Palmitoyl Oxostearamide
  • Palmitoyl Tetrapeptide-3
  • Sodium Laureth Sulfate
  • Sodium Lauryl Sulfate
  • Palmate
  • Palmitate
  • Palmolein
  • Glyceryl
  • Stearate
  • Sodium Kernelate
  • Sodium Palm Kernelate
  • Sodium Lauryl Lactylate/Sulphate
  • Hydrated Palm Glycerides
  • Ethyl Palmitate
  • Octyl Palmitate
  • Palmityl Alcohol

As the demand for palm oil grew because of its versatility, the deforestation of vital rain forests 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 12 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 being used as palm tree plantations is roughly one-third the size of Germany.

 What Is the RSPO?

Beginning 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:

  • Oil Palm Producers
  • Palm Oil Processors and Traders
  • Consumer Goods Manufacturers
  • Retailers
  • Banks and Investors
  • Environmental or Nature Conservation NGOs
  • Social or Developmental NGOs


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 was formed, the RSPO had ten 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 percent of the world’s palm oil.  With a current membership of nearly 2,900, 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 its members are chosen for terms that last two years.  The Board of Governors has 16 seats, four of which are reserved 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 is based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and runs the non-profit’s everyday operations.  The Secretariat is responsible for things such as responding to the needs of 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’s Standing Committees, Working Groups, and Task Forces were created 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 are made up of at least one member from each of the key stakeholder groups listed above.

Working Groups and Task Forces are created 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


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?


Check our progress at


RELATED POST:  The Increasing Demand for Bio-Based Solvents

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 palm oil to be produced in a sustainable manner 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 were released for use two years later.

Since laws and customs vary by country, the Principles and Criteria document is amended 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.

In order 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 2.87 million hectares of land that produces palm oil.  The non-profit has certified 277 palm oil mills and 66 growers as well.  The RSPO has awarded supply chain certificates to 1,945 companies and 3,317 facilities.  The organization currently certifies 11 million metric tons, or 17 percent 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 4-10 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 were to stop being 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 & 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:  Palm oil is used in both fresh and frozen pizza dough to prevent the rolls of dough from sticking to one another and to improve the texture of the dough.
  • Instant Noodles:  Palm oil is used to pre-cook instant noodles so you just have to add hot water before you eat them.  Palm oil accounts for up to 20 percent of the weight of a package of instant noodles.
  • Ice Cream:  Palm oil is often added to ice cream to give it a smooth and creamy texture.
  • Margarine:  Palm oil is used to make margarine because it remains solid at room temperature and doesn’t have trans fats.
  • Chocolate:  Palm oil is typically what gives chocolate its shiny and smooth look.  In some cases, palm oil is added to a recipe to keep the chocolate from melting.
  • Baked Goods:  Palm oil is added to many baked goods such as cookies and cupcakes to give them a creamy texture.
  • 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.
RELATED POST:  The 5 Elements of Sustainable Beauty Products

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 and their approval can be withdrawn at any time if a palm oil producer infringes on these rules and standards.

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 are moved through an approved supply chain can be labeled with the RSPO Trademark, making them readily identifiable as RSPO certified sustainable palm oil products.

The RSPO’s Principles and Criteria are revised every five years 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 initial certification evaluation is repeated every five years.

The concern consumers have about how the goods they buy are made is increasing.  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 they were made using sustainable production methods that didn’t create ill-effects in the areas where they were produced.


 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 70 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 manufacture their products from renewable and sustainable sources exclusively.  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.