Palm oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). It can be separated into a wide range of distinct oils with different properties. This versatility has seen palm oil replace animal and other vegetable oils in a wide variety of products. Within the personal care product industry, palm oil is used in liquid detergents, soaps, shampoos, lipsticks, waxes, polishes, make-up, and more.
In addition to its versatility, palm oil is also a very productive crop with low production costs. This lower cost is mainly due to low labor costs in the countries in which palm oil is grown. Despite the usefulness of palm oil, rising demand for vegetable oils since the 1970s has seen oil palm cultivation shift to large-scale plantations. Such plantations have become one of the fastest-growing monocropping plantations in the tropics of Africa, as well as in Asia-Pacific, and Latin America and the Caribbean. Cultivation continues to expand – with significant consequences for biodiversity.
Clearing for oil palm plantations threatens some of the world’s greatest forests, endangered species such as orangutans, and puts forest-dwelling people at risk. With better management practices, the palm oil industry could still provide economic and social benefits without threatening ecosystems.
The personal care product industry can still flourish without destroying rainforests or harming communities and endangered wildlife. In fact, solutions exist for the personal care product companies to source palm oil that lessens its impact on forests and wildlife, without affecting profitability.
WWF is working with a number of organizations to achieve this:
- Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – a large, international group of palm oil producers, palm oil buyers, and environmental and social groups working to define, implement and promote better practices for sustainable palm oil production
- Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) – POIG aims to demonstrate that innovation and leadership in sustainable palm oil production and use is possible and can be adopted into the mainstream. They are leading the way in developing new models and paradigms for best practice in the sector