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RSPO Launches New Network to Accelerate Sustainable Palm Oil, But Is It Enough?

Image credit: CIFOR

A key ingredient in everything from beauty products to detergents and even ice cream, palm oil is an important commodity that generates billions of dollars in revenue each year. However, unsustainable palm oil production practices are the root cause of considerable environmental and social risks. Efforts to address issues such as deforestation and human rights violations are on the rise as a result of increasing pressure from consumers and investors, as well as a growing awareness of the threat inaction poses to future business, yet a sustainable palm oil industry is still a long way off.

With the establishment of its new North American Sustainable Palm Oil Network (NASPON), the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) hopes to accelerate the shift to sustainable palm oil by fostering industrywide collaboration and education.

The Network will consist of associations, civil society organizations, consumer goods manufacturers, food-service retailers and palm oil traders and producers committed to increasing the use of certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and certified sustainable palm kernel oil in North America. Founding members include Ahold Delhaize, Albertsons Companies, Barry Callebaut, Blommer Chocolate Company, Conservation International, Control Union, Dunkin’ Brands, Fuji Oils, Grupo Bimbo, International Flavors & Fragrances, IOI Loders Croklaan, Kellogg Company, Kraft Heinz, PepsiCo, Rainforest Alliance and Target.

“The formation of NASPON brings together like-minded organizations working collectively to find long-term, industrywide solutions to secure certified sustainable palm oil in their products,” said Darrel Webber, CEO of RSPO. “NASPON will bring a much-needed dialogue of sustainable palm oil to North America, further amplifying our collective goal to respect human and labor rights, local communities and biodiversity throughout the palm oil supply chain.”

“In 2015, Target committed to using fully traceable and sustainable palm oil in all of our owned brand food, personal care and household cleaning products by 2018 and we’re proud to report that we’re on track to reach that milestone next year. As a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil since 2016, we’re eager to continue championing the importance of sustainable palm oil alongside other North American companies as a charter member of NASPON,” said Jennifer Silberman, VP of Corporate Responsibility at Target.

NASPON’s exact strategy remains vague at this point, but the collaboration between key industry players is heartening. However, in the past, the RSPO has struggled to bring about meaningful industry change.

Back in March 2015, the organization expelled 15 companies and organizations for failing to submit the required annual progress reports for three consecutive years and suspended a further 62 for failing to submit reports for two consecutive years. Several months later, the RSPO came under fire from a number of institutional investors and food and beverage giants — including Mars, PepsiCo and the Kellogg Company — for the shortcomings of its standards and practices in addressing critical sustainability concerns. RSPO was also criticized by Greenpeace and other environmental NGOs after reinstating IOI Group’s membership despite a lack of evidence that such a move was warranted. The group’s inability to drive change is likely what led the High Carbon Stock (HCS) Convergence Working Group to develop a single, coherent set of rules for the implementation of companies’ commitments to “no deforestation” in their palm oil supply chains. It remains to be seen whether this new initiative will, in fact, produce a more positive result.


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