Hey, Adventurer! Do you like to breathe? If your answer is “YES!!!???”, and if you have a pulse, put on your curiousity hat and get in the know about palm oil business.
Let’s take in the latest statement on Palm Oil issues from the green detergents industry + the most recent PO facts & figures.
During my on-going research about palm oil, the questioning of alternatives and the checks of products I use (I’m serious about that vote with your money fad), I have stumbled upon the palm oil statement of Jürgen Hack, the CEO of Sodasan. Together with another ethical German brand Sonett, who make fantastic liquid soaps, Sodasan is my favourite when it comes to detergents. Based in the small town of Uplingen (Lower Saxony) Sodasan are pioneer in environmentally friendly detergents and cleaners.
But before we get to the Quotes from Mr Hack’s Statement, shall we recap the facts and figures first?
Palm Oil – News, Numbers, Facts
NEWS – LABELLING: Starting 2015, the European Union requires food producers to label the oils used, enabling consumers to dodge unsustainable palm oil. Until then, the blurry listings “vegetable oil” and “vegetable fat” are allowed.
Inconveniently for the ethical consumer this regulation applies to foods only.
NUMBERS – PRODUCTION: Palm oil is by far the most important vegetable oil in the world – in 2013 the global production of palm oil has reached 59.3 millions (metric) tons and nearly 7 millions (metric) tons palm kernel oil.
[Sources: Greenpeace, USDA]
NUMBERS – FOOD: 68% of all foods contain palm oil.
[Source: WWF Germany]
FACTS – PALM TREES: Palm trees (Elaeis guneensis) stem from Africa. At approx. 4 tons of palm oil per ha per year the fruits of the palm trees are a truly generous source of oil. In addition, palm kernel oil is derived from the kernels of the palm fruits.
[Sources: Forum Palmöl]
FACTS – PALM KERNEL OIL: Palm kernel oil is very high in saturated fats and lauric acid (raises blood cholesterol, both LDL and HDL). In food, it’s used for commercial cooking, to make margarine and in chocolate & sweets business due to its low melting point – look out for ‘vegetable oil’ on your chocolate box!
It’s also used to make all kinds of soaps and other ingredients needed for detergents (industrial, home, and personal care) and cosmetics where it ends up virtually everything from lipstick to khol pencils to make-up removal swipes to body lotions.
[Source: Rakel, D. Integrative Medicine, Elsevier Health Sciences. p. 381]
FACTS – PALM OIL: Palm oil is rich in palmitic acid, and research shows that the latter increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. It is widely used as butter substitute in India, Indonesia and China. Palm oil is a sought-after raw material for various industries – processed foods, detergents, biodiesel.
[Source: Forum Palmöl]
Sodasan Statement: A Voice Of Reason
Sodasan’s Jürgen Hack starts his statement by reminding us of the dimensions that we are talking about when we talk palm oil and by highlighting the importance of palm oil as a raw material. He then quotes FNR, the German coordinating institution for research, development and demonstration projects in the field of renewable resources, on the matter of percentage of PO use per industry, namely:
68% food industry
27 % detergents, cosmetics, candles
Here are two quotes from his very comprehensive statement that I found very interesting.
First, a quote on the controversial topic of PO substitutes:
Basically we are not looking to substitute palm oil. Instead we should try to resolve ecological and social problems arising from conventional palm oil production. An important move is to scan the market for alternatives. In this case it’s primarily the ecological and socially responsible projects in Columbia (DAABON) and Ghana (Serendipalm, GEPA). Of course organic and socially responsible farming is conceivable in other tropical countries as well.”
This makes a lot of sense when we talk about detergents, candles, cosmetics.
Palm oil is a renewable resource and, with the right eco/fair attitude and management, can be a win-win situation socially (=jobs) and environmentally (=money in the regions can be used to reduce the damage done).
When it comes to food giants using PO for their processed products – and granted, this is not at all Mr Hack’s topic – I would disagree simply because palm oil is not the healthiest choice.
Hack then goes on to tell about his Daabon visit, their impressive state-of-the art technology and the high eco/social standards, admitting that not all ingredients used by Sodasan are sourced from such initiatives. In contrast, another visit to an African cooperative has shown that not every small plantation is capable to deliver PO in the needed quality. (And after all, let’s face it, the ethical consumer has high product expectations, too.)
But not all detergents are made from organic palm oil, which is the best.
Some cleansing agents needed for Sodasan formulations are made from what is known as sustainable palm oil (RSPO). Sustainable palm oil is better than conventional palm oil, but you remember how even the WWF have distanced themselves from the RSPO. Here to really change the game, the big players are challenged. And as we know, NGOs such as Greenpeace and WWF have published quite detailed and practical requests on what must be changed – and urgently so.
The second quote-worthy part from Mr Hack’s statement describes the company’s policy and why they don’t use petrochemicals or GMO:
(…) I’d like to point out that the development of our products is always defined by both ecological AND social aspects. In our opinion, ecology can only be seen and implemented in its entirety. And so the raw material origin question is always part of our product development. Our goal is to move in cycles. That implies that we don’t use raw materials that involve genetic manipulations in production. Furthermore we don’t use detergents that contain petrochemicals. GM technology and petrol chemistry are linear processes, irreversibly one-directional and designed to hit the wall sooner or later.”
I found this statement transparent and clear; the brand’s philosophy sounds plausible and the components choice is plausibly explained. Palm oil is not a raw material that’s easy to replace. Focussing on improving the production guidelines – urgently. now. – is the better way. And we all remember the “alternative” presented by Ecover, and how it revealed itself as a bio engineered controversy a few months later.
I like the practical position of doing whatever you can + educating the audience, the press, the consumers to increase the pressure on those who can, those who have the power to create positive change: the big players in food (Nestlé, Ferrero), retail, and personal care/cosmetics business (Procter&Gamble, Unilever, Colgate Palmolive) – and the financial sector. What we need to save the rainforests, the environment, the wildlife, the people is: to establish complete value chain traceability, to stop supporting unsustainable PO, to implement more transparency and better control.
P.S. If you’re based in Austria, Germany, or Switzerland, you’ll find this 2013 WWF Scorecard (PDF opens in new tab/window) helpful for your buying decisions. I sure do!