Less than a decade ago, palm oil, one of the most useful natural substances on earth was turned into a hot-button global issue that would make it all the way up to the United Nations for debate, resulting in an entire organization being formed for the sole purpose of enforcing rules and guidelines for its production. Fast forward to today and and there are big corporations raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year by demonizing the entire industry. You may not have heard of just how long of a saga this effervescent red liquid has within the annals of global history, right up until its most recent appearance at the helm of global peace when “sustainable palm oil” became possible.
Let’s Start At the Beginning.
So, here’s a history lesson in a paragraph: palm oil is a vegetable oil that is mainly derived from the African oil palm, though some of it also comes from American oil palms. Historians think that this oil was probably in use by humans thousands of years ago when it was brought to Egypt by Arab merchants. Palm oil stayed in Africa for a while, where it was mostly used to cook. But, like everything awesome that’s found in Africa, white people up in England decided they wanted it and before the world rang in the 20th century, it was a major global export. It’s in everything; food, beauty products, cleaning supplies; basically anything you can think of, you’ll find some palm oil in. Palm oil is considered a biofuel, meaning that it even could be used as a viable alternative to fossil fuels when we run out of those. It also requires a substantially smaller amount of land when compared to other oils that might be used to replace it, making it a better choice when it comes to longevity and energy consumption.
But let’s talk cosmetics and beauty: what does palm oil do for us? It contains vitamin E, which helps fight off free radicals that can cause our skin to age quickly. It both cleanses AND moisturizes, stripping away harmful toxins while also not letting the skin’s natural moisture become dried up. Palm oil also softens and shines hair because of the oil’s beta carotene, which is converted into vitamin A. Between all the softening, shining, and cleansing, palm oil is one of the many miracles of nature. If nature had a Hall of Fame, Elaeis guineensis would be up there as the Barry Bonds of oils (minus the HGH). To be frank- it makes one heck of a soap bar!
So now that we know what palm oil can do for us…what can we do for it?
The reason palm oil became such a widely contested substance was precisely because of its value. Unfortunately, the consumption of it led to entire forests being destroyed, especially in Malaysia and Indonesia to make room for more trees to be planted. It’s a common misconception that in order to get the oil, the palm tree itself must be destroyed. That’s actually quite untrue. Palm oil comes from the fruit of the tree; the fruit’s pulp yields palm oil when crushed. The seed of the fruit, inside of which is a kernel, produces palm kernel oil (what we use in our products.) Therefore, the problem is not the destruction of the palm oil trees themselves, it’s the destruction of other non-palm trees to clear the way for new palm plantations that has become the issue.
The ecosystems were devastated to fill the Western need for oil, making the oil “Conflict Oil.” Unfortunately, palm oil has surged to become one of the leading causes of deforestation and species extinction today. Such a natural, beautiful substance being the object of destruction around it should make us all uncomfortable. Consumptive greed has done such grievous damage; we can only hope it’s not irreparable at this point.
Palm Oil Sustainability isn’t just a fancy idea.
Many consumers believe that boycotting Palm Oil is the answer. More often than not, they haven’t fully researched the issue before deciding that this option is the best option. Boycotting it will, if done effectively, just lead to a demand for other resources similar to palm oil and the destruction of the land will happen again. Remember the tid bit about Oil Palms requiring LESS land when compared to similar crops? Continuing along this destructive path isn’t working, but we can’t necessarily stop all consumption in its tracks.
Luckily, there is a third option: sustainable palm oil.
Sustainable palm oil is taken from a palm plantation that meets the standards of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, which has been promoted by environmentalists at the United Nations as the saving grace of the oil palms’ ecosystem. The RSPO audits plantations and palm oil suppliers to make sure that they are producing palm oil in a way that is economically and environmentally beneficial (i.e. not ruining the land in a slash-and-burn method). The palm oil must be produced with conservationism in mind; you take from the land but also give back to it. The workers also need to be treated fairly. If these environmental and socioeconomic standards are met, the oil producers get the RSPO certification and accreditation.
Right now, only 20% of the world’s palm oil producers are RSPO certified. The good news is there has been a steady increase in RSPO-certified producers. We can help by consuming responsibly. Consumers are key to winning this fight. Look for the RSPO logo—a green leaf that says “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil” in black lettering circling it—that it is working to place on all products that certified. While shopping, take a few seconds to read the labels (something we all should be doing anyway, really) and check to see if it has been certified. Be part of the trend pushing certified palm oil into the popular section of the oil groups. In order to convince big businesses to do anything, it’s up to the consumers to change their habits first. In fact, some major players in the fast food industry have recently chosen to support RSPO and now only use sustainable palm oil. If this continues to happen, more suppliers and palm plantations will be forced to follow a new set of rules, making sustainable oil the new normal.
Now that you know what’s up.
At My Dearest Danae, we’re not ashamed to say we use Palm Oil in our products. One of the most important things to us is to be upfront and forward about our ingredients. By educating our customers, we hope you will feel good about your purchase and the fact you are supporting sustainable Palm Oil through the use of our soaps. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know! I have included a few videos below that are great resources when it comes to understanding the global issue of Palm Oil and what else you can do to support sustainability.