Palm oil is a high-yielding, versatile crop used in everything from food to fuel to soap. But this highly sought after ingredient has a dark side. Increasing demand for palm oil has led to deforestation of the world’s most sensitive eco-systems. Companies like ours, wishing to find sustainable sources of palm oil, have found the path to be a windy one. The palm oil landscape, figuratively and literally, is constantly changing. And if there is one lesson we’ve learned over the years we have been working to source sustainable palm oil, it’s that we have to be open to adjusting our course. That is what we are doing today by making public our Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Criteria.
This criteria is the latest step in a journey that started in 2006 when we joined the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) – a multi-stakeholder organization that developed a set of principles and criteria for certified sustainable palm oil. We then began purchasing GreenPalm certificates in 2010 covering a volume equal to 100% of our palm oil derivatives (ingredients that come from palm oil). GreenPalm certificates support the production of certified palm oil by providing a financial reward to the growers who are certified to the RSPO standard. We have supported smallholders, farmers who own less than 50 hectares of land, to improve the sustainability of their growing practices and to become RSPO certified and have rewarded them by purchasing our GreenPalm certificates from them.
In 2011, we announced a Healthy Future 2015 goal to source our palm oil derivatives from certified sustainable sources by the end of 2015. While we have introduced small amounts of RSPO certified palm oil into our supply chains, as a small consumer of palm oil (less than .2% of the global market), we have faced challenges scaling these efforts across the variety of ingredients we buy. In particular, over 50% of our palm oil derivatives come from palm kernel oil which requires an additional crushing step in the supply chain – making it even more complex to trace and verify the source.
As we were learning more about the complexities of our palm oil supply chains, news of deforestation and social injustices associated with producing palm oil continued to escalate. Half way into our Healthy Future 2015 goal, we decided to take additional action to address the most pressing concerns related to deforestation. This March, we became members of The Forest Trust (TFT), an international non-profit with expertise in helping companies transform their palm oil supply chains. With TFT’s help, and the input of several key suppliers and NGOs, we are complementing our support of RSPO certified palm oil, with these additional actions:
- The launch of our Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Criteria. These criteria clarify our expectations for the sources of palm oil entering our supply chains. The criteria specifically address controversial sources of deforestation and social practices that will not be tolerated in our palm oil derivatives supply chains.
- The initiation of a supply chain mapping plan. We will partner with our top suppliers to trace our high volume palm oil derivative supply chains. Phase 1 of this plan will result in a list of high priority mills in our supply chain based on a table top review of social and environmental indicators consistent with our sourcing criteria. Phase 2 of the plan will consist of additional traceability work to the farms and plantations supplying these high priority mills and verification that these sources conform to our sourcing criteria.
If there is a second lesson we’ve learned, it’s that we will need partners to help us navigate our way toward sustainable palm oil. Partners from across our value chain, partners from across industries and partners with expertise who can be our eyes and ears on the ground. We must also be deliberate in our efforts to be inclusive of smallholders, helping them to be part of the progress. We won’t be able to end deforestation alone. It will take a collective of like-minded companies, organizations and farmers speaking with one voice.
Leadership is committing to a destination even when you aren’t entirely sure how you will get there. We made a commitment to sustainable palm oil nearly a decade ago. We’ve learned a lot since then – listening to our procurement teams, our suppliers, NGOs and other companies. We’ve adjusted our course and will again if necessary. One thing though remains steadfast – our commitment to send a consistent message across our palm oil ingredient supply chains – the deforestation and social injustices must stop. It’s a high-stakes game of telephone – with each organization in the chain responsible for carrying this message to the next link until everyone gets the message. We want sustainable palm oil. Got the message?
To learn more about the details of our Responsible Palm Oil Sourcing Criteria and our work to source sustainable palm oil, click here.
Paulette Frank currently serves in the role of Vice President, Sustainability for the Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies. In her role, she provides thought leadership and strategic direction to advance the organization’s sustainability mission. She also represents the company in external forums and in education and awareness building efforts, providing a voice for the company’s values and commitment to help create a healthy future for people, our communities, and the planet. Paulette has been working in the fields of environmental stewardship, employee health & safety and sustainability for over 22 years. In 1997, she joined the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies where she has served in a number of roles within Environment, Health & Safety, Sustainability and Operations across the enterprise.
Paulette earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Duke University and her Master of Environmental Studies degree from Yale University’s School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. She serves as an advisory council member for the Center for Business and Environment at Yale. She is on the Board of Directors for Net Impact and a member of the Leadership Council for the Corporate Eco-Forum.
She resides in the quiet countryside of Tewksbury, NJ with her husband, Scott, and her two young sons, Zach & Luke, who inspire her passion for asking why and challenging the status quo. .content