Palm Oil Awareness

Image Courtesy of Zoos Victoria

Palm Beach Zoo's Palm Oil Awareness Mission Statement: To make a difference for wild tigers and all wildlife affected by non-sustainable palm oil production and harvesting by inspiring people to act by providing them with information and tools that will allow them to make responsible consumer choices for the betterment of the environment.  (Image Courtesy of Zoos Victoria)

 Shop responsibly! Use this Palm Oil Shopping Guide when you go to the store. 


Origin of the Palm Oil Crisis

  • Supply and demand pressures are driving the production of palm oil up to an all-time high. Found in cookies, crackers, frozen dinners, shampoo, lotions, cosmetics, pet food, and many other products, palm oil is now the most widely produced edible oil. It is also found in a wide array of products sold in natural food stores, and it is being used as a possible fuel alternative. 
  • Millions of acres of rainforest in Borneo & Sumatra are cut down each year to plant more oil palm.   After logging rainforest habitat, palm oil companies often use uncontrolled burning to clear the land or peat swamp.  In 1997-98 a devastating fire killed almost 8,000 orangutans in Borneo.
  • Instead of using already cleared land, some companies choose to cut down healthy rainforest. They gain added profits from the timber, and they can ignore the regulations that sustainable plantations abide by.
  • The increased demand for palm oil is fueling destruction of the rainforest habitat of Sumatran and Bornean orangutans, pushing those endangered species even closer to extinction. Estimates show that if something isn't done soon to stop the spread of palm oil plantations into the forests that harbor these orangutans, they will be extinct in ten to fifteen years.
  • There are so many things you can do to help turn back the tide of this crisis and make a difference for wild orangutans. 

What is Palm Oil?

  • It is a form of edible vegetable oil obtained from the fruit of the African oil palm tree (Elaeis guineensis). 
  • African oil palms originated in West Africa, but can flourish wherever heat and rainfall are abundant. The majority of all palm oil is grown and produced in Borneo and Sumatra, although this crop is expanding into Africa and South America.
  • Palm oil plantations are NOT part of the rainforest.  Palm oil is an introduced agricultural crop.
  • Palm oil is the most widely produced edible oil.
  • Over 44 million metric tons are produced in Indonesia and Malaysia per year (2009) and this is increasing.
  • You probably eat and use palm oil every day.  It is found in many foods, cosmetics and bath products.  When you look for it on product labels it is also called palm kernel oil, palmitate and palmitic acid.  A derivative of palm oil is stearic acid.
  • Demand for palm oil is rapidly increasing because of recent trans-fat health concerns and bio-fuel development.

Where in the world is this happening?

  • Borneo and Sumatra are islands in Southeast Asia.
  • Three countries occupy parts of Borneo:  Indonesia (the largest part), Malaysia and the small country of Brunei.

Why Not Boycott? Responsible Choices Involve Sustainable Palm Oil

Q. If the palm oil industry can have such a negative impact on people, orangutans, and the environment, why not just boycott it? Boycotting palm oil is a choice consumers can make to try and help orangutans and other wildlife in Indonesia and Malaysia. However, using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil is a more effective and responsible choice.

Q. Why is using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil a more effective and responsible choice? There are several reasons:

  1. Oil palms are the most productive type of all the edible oil plants. Oil palms produce about 5-10 times more oil per acre than other crops like soy or canola. In this way, palm oil can be a more environmentally friendly oil because less land has to be cleared to get the same amount of product.
  2. Indonesia and Malaysia are countries that struggle with poverty and palm oil is a huge part of the economy.  Without it, millions more people would be unemployed.
  3. There will always be a demand for edible oil, and this demand is growing due to worldwide population growth.  Palm oil is in many of the things we eat and use every day. If we boycott palm oil, another crop will just take its place.
  4. Certified Sustainable Palm oil isn't just any palm oil. It comes from a plantation that has made a commitment to produce palm oil in a way that minimizes its impact on wildlife, indigenous people, and the planet.
  5. It does not seem effective or realistic to boycott palm oil. It does not seem possible to memorize every name on this list in order to read labels and avoid purchasing products containing these ingredients/derivatives. We recommend supporting RSPO member companies and sustainable palm oil production instead! View and/or download a .pdf list of alternate names of palm oil.

Sustainable vs. Non-Sustainable:

The WAY Palm Oil Grows Makes All the Difference

  • Palm oil plantations and mills that are certified as sustainable by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) have met many criteria to achieve certification. 
  • Palm oil plantations and mills that are NOT certified as sustainable by the RSPO do not have to adhere to RSPO regulations. Therefore, consumers can’t be sure whether or not the palm oil coming from non-RSPO producers has harmed native wildlife, violated the rights of indigenous people, or had other negative environmental impacts.
Outcomes of Palm Oil Plantation Practice Choices  SUSTAINABLE  NON-SUSTAINABLE 
Clear-cutting rainforest when there is degraded land available for palm oil plantations.  

Harming orangutans and other wildlife that enter palm oil plantations.  

Using chemicals such as pesticides safely and responsibly.

Ensuring that plantation employees and their families have adequate housing, schools, healthcare, and a decent wage.

Monitoring greenhouse gas emissions in mills and disposing of waste responsibly.

Using the land as productively as possible. This includes using all the loose palm fruits that fall to the ground, and quickly replacing any plants that die.

*Getting HCV (high conservation value) assessments done on their land.


*HCV assessment is conducted in order to make sure that a plantation is not cutting down forest where endangered species live or taking away land with social significance from indigenous people to plant oil palm. Please note: This is a very simplified explanation of certified sustainable palm oil.  For more information go to

What is Being Done? YOU Can Make a Difference!

If you are concerned about the effects of NON-sustainable palm oil production on orangutan habitat, we encourage you to:

  • Use your power as a consumer! Shop responsibly. Use this Palm Oil Shopping Guide when you go to the store. Support companies that have joined the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
  • Write to your favorite restaurants and companies.  Let them know that you care about tigers and the environment, and that your concern is reflected in products you are willing to buy.  Ask them to join the RSPO if they haven't done so already. 
  • Promote better labeling.  Encourage RSPO companies to label products with a "Tiger Friendly" label, just like the "Dolphin Safe" tuna labeling.  Ask them to indicate how much (%) of the palm oil is certified sustainable.
  • Visit! Your tourist dollars make the rainforests worth more standing than cut down for plantations.
  • Be a responsible wood and paper consumer.
    • Ask for FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood and lumber products.
    • Use recycled household and office paper products (examples: paper towels, bathroom tissue, notebooks, stationary, and printer paper).
    • Recycle paper and cardboard.
  • Write to your local legislators and The President.  Ask them not to explore palm oil as a biofuel option.  Cutting down rainforests to grow palm oil is not a "green" substitute for gasoline.
  • Write to Malaysian government officials.  Ask them to preserve their precious natural resources. This is the only country in the world that has wild Malayan tigers!

Get involved today and remember; each person CAN make a difference!

Demand Certified Sustainable Palm Oil & Product Labeling

Make a Difference for Wild Tigers & All Wildlife.


For more information regarding the Palm Oil Crisis, please visit our friends at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.


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