Cruelty Free Shopping Guide

Sustainable Palm Oil: More to Buying Cruelty Free

Key Points

  • Palm oil is the #1 vegetable oil worldwide. Most is used in food, and it's the main cooking oil in many developing countries.
  • To satisfy growing demand, palm plantations have expanded rapidly, often clearing critical habitat for endangered species.
  • "No palm oil" is not the sustainable option. Palm oil takes less land than other plant oil crops, making it the most environmentally sound plant oil, if sustainably grown. Replacement oils take 2-10 times more land to produce the same amount of oil. World Wildlife Fund & Rainforest Alliance agree: replacing palm oil with a different plant oil worsens deforestation.
  • Companies say they'll switch to sustainable palm oil if customers ask. Use the WWF Scorecard to tweet retailers & ask them to require 100% sustainable palm oil in products.

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Palm Oil - Why It's Important & Why It Must Be Sustainable

In personal care products, "cruelty-free" usually means "no animal testing." For many, however, cruelty-free goes beyond this. An increasing concern is the destruction of critical habitat to grow cosmetics ingredients, especially palm oil. Although most palm oil is used in food, some (<10%) is used in cosmetics.

Palm oil is an important vegetable oil, not easily replaced in food or cosmetics, and if sustainably grown, it's also the best vegetable oil environmentally. The key, then, is to pressure companies to use only sustainable palm oil.

For more about this unique vegetable oil and a list of companies that are and aren't requiring sustainable palm oil, read on. If you're short on time, the important takeaway is this:

As consumers, we have greatest leverage through large retailers, who can dictate prerequisites for stocking products. Walmart already requires 100% sustainable palm oil in products. Costco, Kroger, Safeway, Target & others do not. Contact these retailers and let them know you want products with 100% sustainable palm oil. You can use the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Retailers Scorecard to tweet many major retailers in just a few minutes. To tweet, choose the bluebird next to the retailer's name.

Palm Oil - Increasing by Popular Demand

Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil from the flesh of the oil palm fruit. The American Palm Oil Council reports that about 90% of palm oil goes into food. Non-food uses include greases, lubricants, biofuels, candles, pharmaceuticals, soaps and detergents, and cosmetics (in this article, "cosmetics" refers to personal care products and makeup) (R.E.I. Holdings, 2016).

Palm Oil Fruit
Fruit of Elaeis guineensis (oil palm). Photo credit: By Cayambe, March 2010 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13809442.

Palm oil has particularly nice qualities for food preparation: It's stable at high temperatures and has a high smoke point, making it good for frying. It contains a significant amount of vitamin E, a natural preservative that helps extend shelf life. And rare among vegetable oils, it is semi-solid at room temperature, making it a good replacement for trans fats.

Although cosmetics use is dwarfed by food use of palm oil, it's still an important market. Palm oil and its components are in bar soaps, where it's a key fat for soap-making; in lipsticks, to improve texture; in lotions, to help skin retain moisture; in shampoos and hand and body washes, to improve lather; and in hair care, for conditioning.

Palm oil has grown rapidly to become the #1 vegetable oil in the world (WWF, 2016). The rapid expansion largely results from economic growth, especially in China and India, and from consumers' desire to switch from cooking with animal fats to cooking with vegetable fats (WWF, 2010). India, China, Indonesia & Malaysia use almost 50% of global palm oil; the US uses about 3% (Union of Concerned Scientists, 2011). Palm oil is the main cooking oil in many developing countries, because it's relatively cheap. It doesn't hurt that it has uniquely good qualities for food prep.

We often equate cheap with "must be bad," but in this case, cheap is the result of an excellent environmental quality: Palm requires less land than any other plant to produce the same amount of oil. Coconut oil, which is the next highest yield plant oil crop, requires twice as much land for the same amount of oil (McDougall, 2014). Sunflower, rapeseed, or soybean oil requires 4-10 times as much land (RSPO, 2018).

Palm oil sounds great. So what's the problem?

Endangered Species
Critically endangered species, from left: Orangutan, Sumatran Tiger, Sumatran Rhino. Photo credits (left to right): © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime; By Nichollas Harrison, July 2013 - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Indrah_the_Sumatran_Tiger.jpg; By Willem v Strien, April 2008 - Own work, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sumatran_Rhinoceros_Way_Kambas_2008.jpg.

The Problem: Destruction of Critical Habitat for Endangered Orangutans, Rhinos, Tigers & Elephants

The demand for palm oil has triggered extensive clearing of rainforests for oil palm plantations, especially in Indonesia and Malaysia.

These rainforests are the last refuge of many endangered and critically endangered species. WWF states: "Of all WWF's priority agricultural commodities, palm oil poses the most significant threat to the widest range of endangered megafauna - including tigers, elephants, rhinos and orangutans."

Deforestation for oil palm plantation, Indragiri Hulu, Riau Province, Indonesia. Photo credit: By Aidenvironment, June 2010, CC BY SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Riau_deforestation_2006.jpg.

The Sumatran orangutan, Sumatran rhino, and tiger are now listed as Critically Endangered, which means they face an extremely high risk of extinction in the immediate future. Plantations are now moving into Africa, threatening the big apes, too.

The Solution: Consumer Pressure to Force Changeover to Sustainable Palm Oil

Sustainably harvested palm oil is available. It's certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

RSPO Certification Label
This logo identifies certified sustainable palm oil.

The RSPO's approach is have all stakeholders in this issue work out solutions together - a roundtable approach. Its members include plantation companies, processors, traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers of palm oil products, and environmental and social welfare groups.

You can see this group has many competing interests, so compromise is necessary. A search online reveals internal and external criticism of their slow progress. Still, WWF and Rainforest Alliance, who are RSPO members, and other major environmental groups temper their criticism with support.

Sustainably produced palm oil is currently about 19% of total palm oil production (RSPO, 2017). Yet, much goes unsold for lack of demand. Consumers have not demanded sustainable palm oil, and so companies do not feel compelled to pay a premium for it.

In 2013, nearly half of certified palm oil failed to find a buyer. It had to be sold off as conventional palm oil without the price premium (The Guardian, July 4, 2013).

The palm growers look at this through a strictly business lens. In a November 2014 article, The Guardian quotes Yusof Basiron, CEO of the Malaysian Palm Oil Council: "The Malaysian palm oil industry aspires to supply what the consumers want. Customer is 'king'. We can supply RSPO-certified or zero deforestation palm oil or normal palm oil, based on demand, preference and price being offered."

The solution is straightforward. Consumers (we) must press manufacturers to buy only certified sustainable palm oil, and we must press retailers to stock only brands that use certified sustainable palm oil.

Contact These Companies

WWF publishes a palm oil scorecard for manufacturers and retailers. As one of the founding members of the RSPO, WWF has worked with most of these companies at the roundtable. The scorecard is the best assessment available of company performance.

Contact Retailers

As consumers, our greatest leverage is with retailers. Large retailers in particular can set prerequisites for carrying products. If they require products to use 100% sustainable palm oil, manufacturers will do that. Check WWF's 2016 Retailer Scorecard here.

The WWF 2016 scorecard shows Walmart as the only large US retailer demanding sustainable palm oil. Costco, Kroger, Safeway, and Target either do not require this or did not report.

Use the WWF Scorecard to tweet the retailers and ask them to require 100% sustainable palm oil in products. WWF makes it easy! Just choose the bluebird next to each retailer's name to send a tweet.

Contact Major Consumer Brands With Poor/Hidden Records

WWF's 2016 Scorecard for Manufacturers shows the following consumer brands either are large buyers of unsustainably grown palm oil or refuse to release information about their palm oil buying. Take a few minutes to call or email them. Let them know sustainable palm oil is important to you and that you will be considering that in your purchasing decisions.

Consumer Companies with Poor/Hidden Records

Company/Contact Palm Oil Use Company's Brands
Procter & Gamble
Cincinnati, OH
513-983-1100 (general)
Send an email
493,677 tons, 59% unsustainable (improved from 87% unsustainable in 2014) Always, Aussie, Bold, Bounce, Bounty, Braun, Cascade, Charmin, Cheer, Comet, Crest, Dawn, Downy, Febreze, Gain, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Joy, Luvs, Olay, Old Spice, Oral-B, Pampers, Pantene, Pepto Bismol, Prilosec, Puffs, Rejoice, Safeguard, Scope, Secret, Swiffer, Tampax, Tide, Vicks, more.
Vevey, Switzerland
US office: Glendale, CA
Canada office: North York, ON
800-387 4636
Send an email
417,834 tons, 78% unsustainable100 Grand candy bar, Abuelita, Aero candy bar, Alpo dog food, Baby Ruth, Beneful dog food, Boost, Butterfinger, Cailler, California Pizza Kitchen, Carnation, Cini Minis, Coffee-Mate, Cookie Crisp, Nestle Crunch Bar, DiGiorno, Dreyer's Ice Cream, Edy's Ice Cream, Estrelitas, Fancy Feast, Felix, Friskies, Gerber, Gourmet cat food, Haagen Daz, Herta, Hot Pockets, KitKat, La Laitiere, La Lechera, Lean Cuisine, Maggi, Milo, Nescafe, Nespresso, Nesquik, Nestea, Perrier, Poland Spring, Purina, San Pellegrino, Skinny Cow, Stouffers, Tollhouse, Tombstone pizza, more.
Kao Corporation
Tokyo, Japan
US office: Cincinnati, OH: 513-629-5210
Canada office: Mississauga, Ontario: 905-670-7890
Send an email
100,000 tons, 76% unsustainable Ban, Biore, Curel, Goldwell, Guhl, Jergens, John Frieda, KMS California, Molton Brown
Johnson & Johnson
New Brunswick, NJ
Send an email
86,686 tons, 39% unsustainableAveeno, Benadryl, Bengay, Clean & Clear, Cortaid, Desitin, Imodium, Johnson's, Listerine, Lubriderm, Motrin, Mylanta, Neosporin, Neutrogena, Nicorette, Pepcid, Prim'age, Red Cross brand, Rembrandt, ROC, Rogaine, skin ID, Sudafed, Tucks, Tylenol, Zyrtec, more.

Buy Major Consumer Brands with Good Records

The following large manufacturers buy most or all certified sustainable palm oil. See WWF's 2016 Scorecard for other manufacturers with good records.

The great news is that many more large companies have achieved 100% sustainable palm oil since the last article update in 2015. PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive, Reckitt Benckiser, General Mills, and Kellogg Company all now have improved to 100% sustainable palm oil.
Company Palm Oil Use (100% sustainable) Company's Brands
Netherlands and UK
1,513,265 tonsAxe, Becel/Flora, Ben & Jerry's, Breyers, Brummel & Brown, Caress, Clear, Country Crock, Degree, Dove, Hellman's, I can't believe it's not Butter, Imperial, Klondike, Knorr, Lever, Lipton, Nexxus, Noxzema, Ponds, Popsicle, Promise, Simple, St Ives, Suave, TRESemme, Vaseline, more.
Purchase, NY
452,743 tons Pepsi, 7UP, Mountain Dew, Aquafina, Gatorade, Tropicana, Quaker Oats, Lay's, Ruffles, Doritos, Tostitos, Cheetos, Sun Chips, Grandma's cookies, more. The chip brands are the main products using palm oil.
New York, NY
174,328 tons Ajax, Colgate, Tom's of Maine, Murphy Oil Soap, Palmolive, Speedstick deodorants, Softsoap, Irish Spring, Suavitel Fabric Softener, Hills Pet Care, Science Diet, more.
Reckitt Benckiser
Slough, Berkshire, England
125,843 tons Enfamil, Scholl, Mucinex, Gaviscon, Clearasil, Airwick, Finish, Lysol, Woolite, Calgon, Vanish, more.
General Mills 67,724 tons Betty Crocker, Bisquick, Gold Medal, Pillsbury, Cascadian Farm, Cheerios, Chex, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Fiber One, Kix, Lucky Charms, Monsters, Total, Trix, Wheaties, Haagen Dazs, Annie's, Bugles, Green Giant, Helper, La Saltena, Muir Glen, Nature Valley, Old El Paso, Progresso soups, Wanchai Ferry, Yoki, Yoplait, Mountain High, Totino's/Jeno's, more.
Kellogg Company
Battle Creek, MI
50,313 tons Corn Flakes, Coco Pops, Corn Pops, Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, Mini Wheats, All-Bran, Rice Krispies, Special K, Pop Tarts, Eggo, Fiber Plus fiber bars, Nutri-Grain fiber bars, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburgers, Famous Amos, Keebler, Town House, Pringles, Mother's, Carr's, Cheez-It, more.
Mondelēz International
previously part of Kraft
289,255 tons (96% sustainable) Cadbury, Cote d'Or, Toblerone, Dentyne, Trident, Hall's (cough drops, candy), Chips Ahoy, Club Social, Honeymaid, Nabisco, Newtons, Nilla, Nutter Butter, Oreo, Philadelphia cream cheese, Premium, Ritz, Triscuit, Wheat Thins, Tang, more.
Ferrero Trading
181,000 tonsNutella, TicTac, Ferrero Rocher, Kinder.
United Biscuits
76,196 tonsCarr's, McVitie's, more.

Certified Cruelty Free Brands That Use Sustainable Palm Oil

The following cruelty-free brands have committed to buying only certified sustainable palm oil:

  • Antiquity BC
  • Dr Bronner's
  • Ecover
  • Gilchrist & Soames
  • Grandpa Brand Soap
  • One With Nature
  • Route One Pumpkins
  • The Body Shop
  • Tom's of Maine (parent is Colgate-Palmolive, which purchases 100% sustainable palm oil)
  • Urban Decay (parent is L'Oreal, which purchases 100% sustainable palm oil)

There are likely others, but most companies don't mention either way on their web sites. The preceding companies specifically note their palm oil stance on their web sites.

This list doesn't include brands that state they are "Palm Oil Free" since, as noted in this article, that is not a sustainable option because any replacement oil takes even more land than palm oil. The environmentally sound solution is sustainable palm oil, not no palm oil.

Last updated: February 2018

Photo credits for feature image: Orangutan With Two Babies Photo © Lola Pidluskaya, Dreamstime. Burning Forest Deforestation Photo © Pabloborca, Dreamstime

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