Photo: How to source sustainable palm oil

The best way to ensure your soap is made with sustainable palm oil is to read the label. Or, find handmade soap made without palm oil all together. (Credit: echoesofstars via Flickr)

Palm oil — a relatively new kid on the block when it comes to oils — recently passed soya as the world's primary source of vegetable oil. The answer to finding sustainable palm oil is to look for a certification. But of course, it's not really that simple!

Produced primarily in Malaysia and Indonesia, palm oil is known to come with environmental challenges. The greatest is the incredible rate of deforestation that has permitted the industry to continue to grow at a rate of nearly 27 per cent per year, while keeping the cost of the oil appealingly low to industrial producers.

Certified sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil are produced at palm oil plantations that comply with the environmental standards of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). Among the standards required for RSPO certification is the producer's commitment to preserve "high -value conservation forests." Although this loose protocol has been widely criticized, the RSPO is currently reviewing certification standards.

In the meantime, a certification is still the best bet for concerned consumers.

Have you read a label and not seen palm oil listed? In processed foods, palm oil is often couched in the term vegetable oil. In cosmetics, look for words indicating palm derivatives (like palmitate).

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How to avoid unsustainable palm oil:

  1. Shop from companies listed in the RSPO's database of sustainable-palm supporters;
  2. Look for the RSPO trademark on products;
  3. Ask retailers to offer more certified sustainable palm oil products;
  4. Ask manufacturers to use certified sustainable palm oil;
  5. Visit the World Wildlife Federation to learn about other ways to get involved.

Finding certified sustainable palm oil may be simpler than you think. A couple of big players in Canada and around the world have set the ambitious goal of using only RSPO certified palm oil in their products by 2015.

Consumers can also find plenty of food and personal-care products that use alternative oils. Read the labels and make your own informed choice!

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