Building a More Sustainable Palm Oil Industry in North America

Dan Strechay
U.S. representative, outreach and engagement

Palm oil is the most widely consumed vegetable oil in the world, used so abundantly it is found in nearly half of all consumer packaged goods (CPGs). Walk into a supermarket, and you’ll find it in everything from cookies and ice cream to biodiesel and shampoo. The industry is still growing, with demand for palm oil increasing year over year because of its efficiency and versatility.

But this rapid expansion has contributed to concerns about the social and environmental damage caused by the crop. Unfortunately, the industry has historically struggled to ensure sustainability due to the crop’s complicated global supply chain. Allegations against the industry include deforestation, displacement of local communities, pressure on endangered species and human rights violations. 

These are issues of great concerns to consumers and companies alike, but fortunately sustainable palm oil is on the rise and there is so much more that can be done to make it the norm for suppliers and purchasers. Through industrywide and cross-sector collaboration, steps are already being taken to eliminate these negative impacts.

In 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded with the goal of bringing together retailers, manufacturers, growers, academics and NGOs to create a more sustainable palm oil industry. In the years since the RSPO’s creation, we have sought to build transparency across the supply chain and increase the volume of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) produced and purchased around the world. Collectively, RSPO members with similar commitments are driving positive changes in palm oil-growing communities around the world, continuing to support economic development in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, all while delivering the same quality products that consumers have come to know and love.

Retailers especially have an important role to play in the widespread adoption of CSPO, as they can help move private label manufacturers and CPG companies in the direction of sustainable purchasing. Through their ongoing engagement with suppliers, they are well positioned to have a voice in ensuring those who farm and produce the crop are doing so in a way that respects both the environment and the people who grow it. Retailers including Target, Walmart, CVS, Albertsons Cos., Aldi, Lidl, Costco and Ahold Delhaize are RSPO members and already working on the implementation of policies regarding sustainable palm oil sourcing.

Making Progress

While the efforts underway by companies working to make sustainable palm oil the norm is a great step forward, there is undoubtedly more to be done and challenges remain throughout the industry.

To further progress, in December 2017, RSPO members announced the formation of the North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON). NASPON’s mission is to educate, build momentum and assist North American companies in making and delivering on commitments to source sustainable palm oil. The coalition brings together an independent group of RSPO members, associations, civil society organizations, consumer goods manufacturers, food-service retailers, and palm oil traders and producers, all with the goal of increasing the use of CSPO and certified sustainable palm kernel oil in North America and across the globe.

NASPON is necessary to bring the market into the global sustainable palm oil conversation, providing another forum for CPG companies and retailers to discuss best practices for sustainable sourcing, and dedicated educational materials for members to better engage with their palm oil suppliers. It will also allow members the opportunity to tap into a collaborative network of organizations focused on finding solutions to challenges unique to North America, accelerating the learning curve and quickly identifying partners to leverage in the market.

Retailers have already recognized the potential of the coalition, with Target, Albertsons Cos. and Ahold Delhaize signing on as members, along with a number of CPG companies.

NASPON will give a stronger voice to our North American RSPO membership, helping our organization’s ongoing work to make sustainable palm oil the norm and encouraging all supply chain actors, from growers to retailers, to commit to enhanced supply chain transparency. 

About the Author

Dan Strechay

Dan Strechay is the US representative, outreach and engagement at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), based in New York, responsible for outreach and engagement activities to members and stakeholders in the United States, as well as formalizing the RSPO’s presence in this market.

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