World Wildlife Fund Sustainability Works

Better business for a better Earth

At World Wildlife Fund, we believe deeply in the private sector’s ability to drive positive environmental change. WWF Sustainability Works is a forum for discussion around strategies, commitments, technologies and more that will help businesses achieve conservation goals that are good for the planet and their bottom lines. Follow WWF Sustainability Works on twitter at @WWFBetterBiz.

filtered by category: Palm Oil

  • Date: 13 December 2017
  • Author: Dave McLaughlin

More with less. These three words sum up the planet’s sustainable food challenge.

We must produce more food for more people with more income on less land and with less water while emitting less carbon. This imperative is especially critical in Indonesia and Malaysia, where rainforests are being slashed and burned to make room for palm oil plantations, robbing diverse wildlife of their homes and heating our planet.

Some are tempted to abandon palm oil production altogether, but the world’s most popular vegetable oil is also the world’s most efficient. Oil palm trees can yield several up to ten times more oil per acre than soybeans, canola, and other crops. Improving palm oil production is the key.

We can learn lessons from the work that Procter & Gamble is doing in Malaysia. There, the company, partnering with academia, NGOs and government, is engaging with its suppliers, including thousands of smallholder farmers, to help them produce palm oil without deforestation and the irreparable degradation of natural resources.

One lesson from the P&G experience: Smallholders benefit from education and technical assistance. Owing to a shortage of technical experts who can advise on proper tree care and management, farmers in Malaysia tend to be unfamiliar with common tree diseases and how to prevent or treat them, or with optimal harvest techniques. By providing technical assistance to smallholders on the ground, P&G has raised awareness and helped them better identify and control the spread of diseases such as ganoderma, a fungus that can severely affect plantations. And with guidance from P&G, smallholders were able to increase output by up to 30 percent simply by increasing the frequency of harvests from once every 15 days to once every 10 days.

Another lesson: Demand drives supply. The push for sustainable, deforestation-free palm oil starts with demand. P&G buys nearly 1 percent of the world’s palm oil, and uses up to 6 percent of palm kernel oil derivatives. Even though the company procures the vast majority of its palm oil through a joint venture with Felda Global Ventures, P&G still has the power to influence other producers and suppliers, such as palm oil giants Musim Mas and Wilmar.  P&G has become a very active player and voice in industry-wide discussions on issues such as priority areas for protection and smallholders.

Lesson number three: Strong governance and anti-deforestation policies are critical. While producing more palm oil per acre of land can reduce the need for more land, it nevertheless increases the value of the land, thus creating a perverse incentive to clear more of it. That’s where governance comes in; regulation must protect native habitats from conversion in the face of rising productivity. A best-of-both-worlds approach enables farmers to make more money and meet rising demand on the same land footprint, while protecting against further expansion—hence P&G’s collaboration with the government’s Malaysian Palm Oil Board and its sustainable palm oil certification, which is being implemented.

Sustainability is a long and winding road, especially so when it comes to palm oil. It can be especially difficult when you don’t know what you don’t know. Indeed, P&G benefited from its work in Malaysia just by better understanding all the challenges that keep it—and others—from sourcing 100 percent physical, certified sustainable palm oil. Learning is a critical part of the journey.

By engaging stakeholders at every level—from smallholders to large traders to governments—the industry can move forward together. It will take time and a lot of hard work, but we’re learning important lessons and improving along the way.

Dave McLaughlin is vice president of WWF’s Markets and Food program.


  • Date: 25 January 2017
  • Author: David McLaughlin, VP, Agriculture, Markets and Food

In a global movement to protect the world’s tropical forests, countless companies, governments, NGOs and indigenous peoples’ organizations have committed to ending deforestation. Many include the world’s largest food companies who have pledged to eliminate deforestation from their agricultural supply chains, including from the production of palm oil. While this international ambition shows great promise, the challenge now rests with finding a way to ensure that these commitments are successfully implemented.

Fortunately, the increased availability of publicly available spatial data from satellite imagery and other sources has revolutionized the way the world sees and can respond to deforestation. Platforms such as Global Forest Watch (GFW) have extended the accessibility of global datasets to track deforestation in near real-time, and carry with them new possibilities to better protect forests.

With support from GFW, World Wildlife Fund–US is piloting a new tool, the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment, or JRA, to enable companies and governments to leverage this wealth of data to prioritize their own efforts to reduce and end deforestation, particularly as they relate to addressing illegal deforestation.

The JRA allows palm oil buyers, governments, and other end-users to assess and compare the extent and rate of past deforestation activities within the palm oil producing districts of Indonesia. More specifically, the JRA is based on a set of key risk assessment indicators, designed to capture only deforestation that is achieved in a manner that is not permitted, or which takes place where certain laws and policies prohibit deforestation or conversion in Indonesia. For example, the tool identifies districts that have experienced historically higher rates of deforestation in primary forests, protected areas, peatland, and certain sections of the country’s Forest Estate through activities considered illegal such as through the use of fire for land conversion. By highlighting jurisdictions associated with higher risk, palm oil buyers can better prioritize their traceability and due diligence efforts toward achieving their commitments to deforestation-free supply chains. Similarly, governments can use the analysis to prioritize domestic efforts to meet climate targets through policy measures and land use planning to reduce deforestation.

Traceability has long been a challenge for food companies, particularly in the palm oil sector. Complex supply chains leave food companies with significant difficulty in verifying the extent to which their products are associated with deforestation and illegal activities, exposing them to a variety of legal, financial, and reputational risks.

In Indonesia, district heads, known as bhupatis, have significant authority over the granting, development and enforcement of rules surrounding palm oil concessions. As a result, the Jurisdictional Risk Assessment is conducted at the district level. While the pilot focuses on palm oil in Indonesia, it could be adapted in further phases for other commodities and geographies associated with deforestation.

Among other important considerations, the JRA is based primarily on remote sensing data and does not quantify social risks (e.g., land insecurity, labor rights). It is also based on historic data but could potentially be developed to self-update with more current data flows as they become available. The JRA is not intended to be used as a standalone tool with regard to procurement decisions across jurisdictions. However, it can complement other sources of information (in particular, local knowledge and consultations) to paint a broader picture of deforestation risks and underlying conditions in order to facilitate decision-making.

Forests are increasingly recognized for the numerous critical roles they play on this planet, from filtering the air we breathe and purifying the water we drink, to providing habitat for a vast array of biodiversity, and providing an important buffer against the impacts of a changing climate. Their destruction poses direct threats to the very livelihoods of local communities as well as the business interests of local and multinational companies. By shining more light on deforestation risks, companies, governments, and all those seeking to end deforestation can better prioritize their efforts to strengthen due diligence and sustainable production practices at scale—a positive step for everyone, all 7.4 billion of us.

  • Date: 28 September 2016
  • Author: Jessica Furmanski, WWF

Last summer, thousands of fires raged across Indonesia. Visible from space, they destroyed forests, emitted more greenhouse gases than the entire U.S. economy, and left rhinos, tigers, and elephants without homes. A recent study estimates that the ensuing haze contributed to more than 100,000 deaths across Indonesia and neighboring countries Malaysia and Singapore.

What could possibly drive that much destruction? In part, the demand for processed food and personal care products.

Many of the fires cleared land for plantations that produce palm oil, the world’s most popular vegetable oil. Palm oil is a key ingredient in about half of the processed and packaged foods in our supermarkets, from cookies and instant noodles to lipstick and soap.

When palm oil is produced unsustainably, wildlife, natural habitats, and our climate can suffer detrimental consequences. However, when it is produced in ways that protect the environment, palm oil production can help meet demand for edible oil more efficiently than other plants.

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  • Date: 23 August 2016
  • Author: Dave McLaughlin, WWF

From ice cream to cold cream, many of the processed foods, cosmetics and other consumer goods in our supermarkets contain palm oil. This ingredient is the world’s most popular and efficient source of vegetable oil, yielding several times more oil per acre than soybeans or canola. Yet its popularity is also its vulnerability; palm oil plantations are expanding rapidly, encroaching on wildlife habitat, destroying rainforests, and contributing to climate change.

For companies buying and using palm oil, it’s critical they trace the products all the way back to the plantation where the oil-yielding palm fruit is grown. This is the only way to be certain their supply is produced responsibly and free of deforestation. It’s also the best way to help producers improve their environmental and economic performance.

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  • Date: 29 May 2013
  • Author: Jason Clay

A 21st Century Revolution

By Jason Clay, Senior Vice President, Market Transformation, World Wildlife Fund

I grew up on a small farm, living on less than a dollar a day per person. I was lucky—we had a big garden, an orchard, raised some of our own meat, and hunted and fished for most of the rest.

Years later, I worked with refugees and famine victims, seeing firsthand the impacts of malnourishment and stunting in children. At that time I realized how lucky I was that we had enough land and the means to grow our own food. It troubles me that today more than half of the world’s billion farmers can’t feed themselves.

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  • Date: 28 May 2013
  • Author: Mike Fernandez

Empowering Agricultural Entrepreneurs to Sustainably Feed the World

By Mike Fernandez, Corporate Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Cargill, Incorporated.

At Cargill, sustainable food production is fundamental to what we do. Our core business is buying, processing and distributing grains, oilseeds and other agricultural commodities and selling them to customers that include food and beverage manufacturers, foodservice companies and retailers.

These customers increasingly want to know – and want to prove to their consumers – that the ingredients in their products have been produced in ways that respect people and human rights, and employ responsible agricultural practices that protect land and conserve scarce resources. In short, sustainable food production is increasingly a business requirement.

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  • Date: 18 April 2013
  • Author: Nick Conger

There’s a good chance that you’ve bought into a black market of illegal products. But this is not a blogpost about a massive, global conspiracy by corporations to defraud consumers. It’s about our collective obliviousness to the growing prevalence of illegal products in our lives, and the consequences of the status quo.

Ostensibly a product that was harvested or traded illegally looks and functions the same as a legal one. But a deeper look reveals the hidden costs of illegal products. There are economic and national security implications. Local communities and endangered species are robbed of their homes. Companies and their customers are complicit in breaking the law.

We can no longer claim ignorance and look the other way. Modern information technology equips us with tools to solve the problem.

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