Supporting Sustainable Palm Oil

By Mariah Fasczcewski, Education Intern
Potter Park Zoological Society

Palm oil, a vegetable oil derived from palm fruit and used as an ingredient in many foods, beauty products and soaps, is the most widely used vegetable on the planet and has caused the deforestation of much acreage.

This is a threat to many wildlife species including one you can see at Potter Park Zoo – the binturong. Palm oil plantations have been particularly devastating to wild orangutan populations and has led to a loss of around 6,000 orangutan per year.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)

Most palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia. It is also produced in Papua, New Guinea, Columbia and Brazil. There is a large misconception that all palm oil production is not sustainable – not able to be maintained at the current rate of production. This led to the creation of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. This organization was created to “monitor and evaluate the economic, environmental and social impacts of the uptake of sustainable palm oil in the market.” This is just one of the goals of the RSPO. Accomplishments of the RSPO include:

  • They have 3,413 members.
  • They have issued 478 trademark licenses.
  • They have certified 2.48 million hectares of production areas.


To be certified by RSPO there must be fair working conditions, primary forests cannot be cleared, wildlife needs to be conserved on plantations and the  rights and land of local people are to be protected.

What can you do?

It is important to support RSPO certified companies because they are not using deforestation to obtain palm oil. Instead they use land that has already been cleared for other purposes. Unfortunatley, when you read that a product contains palm oil, it doesn’t say if it is sustainable or not. To get this information you can use an app called “Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping.” The app was produced by the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. The user can take a picture of the barcode on a product and the app will identify if it is certified by the RSPO. They will also mention if the product is orangutan friendly. Palm oil is appealing in production because it requires half as much land to product as other oils. It is also least expensive. The next time you buy a product, be sure to check the label and scan the barcode with the “Sustainable Palm Oil Shopping” app!

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