Palm Oil and How You Can Make a Difference


What is the problem with palm oil?

  • Palm oil is an edible oil from the fruit of the African oil palm.
  • Use of palm oil is growing rapidly due to its versatility, high yield, and low cost.
  • Palm oil monoculture is responsible for catastrophic deforestation and orangutan deaths in Indonesia and Malaysia.
  • Palm oil is a hidden ingredient in almost every way it is used: food, cleaning products, makeup, body care, and increasingly, bio fuels.
  • For body care and detergents, it is used to make synthesised ingredients with names such as Glycerine, Emulsifying Wax, Stearic Acid, Polyglyceryl Dipolyhydroxystearate, Caprylic Triglyceride and Cetyl Alcohol.
  • 99% of "sustainable palm oil" claims are unreliable. The industry self-regulating body the RSPO has a complex certification scheme that allows completely non-certified oil use such as GreenPalm to be labelled “sustainable”.
  • The only 100% certain way to know if the palm oil used in your product is sustainable is to trace it back to plantation where it was grown, and this is almost impossible.
  • The complex supply chain, hidden nature of palm oil use, and the fuzzy certification scheme have allowed manufacturers to get away with the guise of “sustainable palm oil” for too long.
  • No manufacturer needs to use palm oil. They use it because it is the easiest plant option. However, if the true environmental cost was factored in (including carbon dioxide released when peat bogs are decimated, and wildlife deaths), and full traceability to source was required, it would be more expensive and less appealing to use.
  • Cruelty Free does not guarantee it is Palm Oil Free, nor does Certified Organic or Vegan.

There is a significant "glossing over" going on with natural and organic skin care brands, and most are using palm oil-derived ingredients, despite saying they are not, many without realising, and almost all without any idea of where the palm oil was grown. 

Many natural brands are happy to claim that they are Cruelty Free and tell us everything they do not contain, but they are hiding their palm oil use behind names such as Plant Surfactant, Stearic Acid and Caprylic Triglyceride, because their suppliers can not guarantee what plant oil they will use to manufacture an ingredient (at the end of the day it is still about profit).  The point is, they need to know what is being used in their products, and unless they fully disclose everything that is contained in their products, consumers can not make a choice.

What is Biome doing?

As an ethical and sustainable business we must keep pushing for the highest standards needed to protect our planet and all who share it. We have spent hundreds of hours to understand this issue. We’ve been misled by manufacturers, not through malice, but because it is not important enough to them. We sincerely thank those suppliers who were transparent and assisted us, eventhough it meant we could no longer stock their range.

By asking questions, digging out the truth, tracing the palm oil back to where it came from, and requiring this to be laid bare on the packaging, we are causing brands to look at what they are doing and place pressure on their suppliers.

We have learned that it is not possible to rely on a brand's assurances about the ingredients that their manufacturer buys from other suppliers, because there are too many links in the chain and when inputs change for commercial reasons no one tells us.  Some suppliers state because they are Certified Organic it means the palm input is sustainable - this is not true.  As you will read below, there is no reliable scheme that certifies palm oil as sustainable.

Any body product that is creamy such as moisturisers, liquid makeup, or sunscreen requires an emulsiying agent to bind the water and oil together into a cream. That emulsifier is more than likely to be a palm oil-derived ingredient. Similarly, most plant-based detergents (or surfactants) are dervied from palm or coconut, and the two are interchanged depending on seasonality and cost. If a brand tells us that their Stearic Acid, for example, is not palm-oil derived, we ask for a written guarantee of this. Once we asked for this, we found on many occasions they could not guarantee it would not be palm.

Therefore, we are taking the huge step for our small business to discontinue products that rely on palm-derived ingredients (except for one at this time, which is Dr Bronner's as they grow their own palm).

This means that Biome is not able to stock many of the top natural makeup and skin care brands because most use numerous palm oil-derived ingredients. However, we do offer other equally effective and safe boutique brands that are palm oil free because they go to extra lengths to reach these standards.

We seek out natural brands that use simple, close-to-nature ingredients, so that you have peace of mind about exactly what is in the products and how those ingredients were grown or made. We also have ingredients for you to make your own skin care! Without this pressure from the grassroots, the system will never change.

Tracey Bailey Founder and CEO, Biome


What you can do to make a difference

  • Together we can make palm oil matter! The only sure way to help reduce the destruction caused by palm oil cultivation is to avoid all palm oil, including that claimed to be "sustainable". With each product at Biome, we state under the product's image if we suspect it may contain palm oil. We are discontinuing those that do.
  • Please support the boutique brands found at Biome who are 100% palm oil free, such as Evohe, Mokosh and Noyah lipsticks.
  • Avoid palm oil in processed and packaged foods also. The use of palm oil in food accounts for 72% of global palm oil use (personal care and cleaning products 18%, Biofuel 10%). Palm Oil Investigations has a campaign for the month of June to help you Eat Palm Oil Free - join the campaign here >
  • Join the Don’t Palm Us Off campaign that is advocating for mandatory palm oil labelling in Australia. Palm oil is found in up to 50% of all packaged supermarket products yet it remains mostly hidden. You have the right to know, as without clear labels you dont know if you're contributing to the deaths of over 1,000 orang-utans a year through unsustainable palm oil production. Write a message to your Minister here >

More About This Issue

Biome's stance on palm oil

How long has Biome avoided palm oil?

Why is "sustainable palm oil" greenwashing?

The RSPO palm oil supply chain models

Which products at Biome contain palm oil?

Which brands contain palm oil and which brands at Biome that are palm oil free

More about the palm oil use, the industry and harm caused

What names is palm oil hidden under?

Is there a law requiring palm oil to be labelled?

More you can do to help


Biome's Stance on Palm Oil

The only palm oil use we accept is if you have grown your own (or you can prove to us the plantation where someone grew it for you)!

Biome does not knowingly stock any products containing palm oil or palm oil derived ingredients*, except for those that contain 100% Identity Preserved / Single Origin palm oil that can be traced back to the plantation where it was grown. That source must not be in Asia and must be grown ethically and sustainably without destroying virgin forests. Full traceability is the strictest and only 100% reliable standard for palm oil use.

* Please note that we are currently undertaking a intensive audit of all palm oil related ingredients and claims made by our suppliers and are in the process of discontinuing numerous brands that we previously understood did not contain palm oil but actually do, or that are not able to provide evidence of the palm oil source. We state under the product image whether the product contains or may contain palm oil so that you can avoid these products if wished.

We also only offer products where the manufacturer has provided to us full ingredient disclosure, including the specific plant oil - we do not accept simply "plant-based surfactant" or "glycerine". There is no mandatory labelling for palm oil in Australia, so manufacturers hide it under many other names.

In addition to its most common appearance as Glycerine or Glycerin, palm oil is used extensively in the cosmetics and skin care industry in synthesised ingredients (made by chemical reactions) that are not really natural anymore in any case, such as Emulsifying Wax, Stearic Acid, Polyglyceryl Dipolyhydroxystearate, Cetyl Alcohol, and Caprylic Triglyceride. Skin care manufacturers buy these ingredients from a producer who purchased the palm oil from a distrubutor, usually from a bulk mixed pool of palm oil from sources around the world. You can see how it is difficult for the manufacturer of your moisturiser to know for sure whether the palm oil used in the emulsifying agent is from a plantation in Indonesia where rainforest has been decimated and orangutans killed.


How long has Biome avoided palm oil?

Since we began in 2003, long before it became a well known issue, Biome has spoken out about palm oil and avoided selling products that contain palm oil or its derivatives because of the associated habitat destruction and threat to endangered species. We constantly keep up with changes in the palm oil industry and take guidance from the statements of organisations such as the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature), BOS (Borneo Orangutan Survival Australia) and Palm Oil Investigations (POI).

An encounter with orangutans by Biome Founder, Tracey Bailey, is in fact at the heart of the gensis of Biome. When we looked deeply at that heritage, we just could not stand by anymore because our efforts to avoid palm oil were not effecting any substantive change.  We realised there were still many brands that had made their way onto our shelves where we had accepted assurances without written proof along the supply chain. 

The exciting news is that since taking this strident stand, we have already seen several brands commit to removing palm oil from their formulations.

Read more about Tracey's journey to Kalimantan's rainforests and orangutan habitat in 1996 here >


Why is "sustainable palm oil" greenwashing?

We are often told by suppliers that they use "sustainable” palm oil. However, we believe this is unlikely or problematic and is an empty claim that confuses customers.

The self-regulating industry body, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), uses a complex and confusing certification scheme that allows a manufacturer to claim "Certified Sustainable Palm Oil" (CSPO) use for GreenPalm (which is merely a certificate trading scheme and no indicator of sustainable palm oil being used at all), or even for just being a member of the RSPO that is "working towards" producing a sustainable product!

Further, even with CSPO, because palm oil is traded in bulk on the international commodity market, the supply chain infrastructure makes it impossible to guarantee exactly where the palm oil originated from. Learn more about tthe supply chain models further on.

There are hundreds of industrial ingredients used in personal care and cleaning products that are derived from palm oil because it is cheap. For most of the brands we have asked, there is little traceability as they are purchasing the palm oil derived ingredients second and third hand.

It takes many communications back and forth to find out whether there is any palm oil in ingredients such as Glyceryl Caprylate, Capric Triglyceride, Glyceryl Stearate, Potassium Cetyl Phosphate and Palmitic Acid, and then which supply chain was used.

The WWF along with BOS requires that manufacturers should be using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil and if they are that they must be fully transparent and

carry the CSPO logo + specify the % of CSPO + specify the supply chain model

Note this means that it is not acceptable to simply use the words sustainable, RSPO, or Green Palm. Without the above detail of the supply chain and the percentage of CSPO in the end product, there is no assurance the palm oil is in any way responsbile. We have never seen a manufacturer give all this info on their packaging.

Biome sets a more strict benchmark than the WWF, and that is 100% Identity Preserved palm oil that is traceable to source.

Similarly, Australian advocacy organisation Palm Oil Investigations announced in September 2016 that it had withdrawn support for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil as an organisation and for RSPO Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) because it had lost confidence in the ability of RSPO to manage its certification system due to repeated governance failures. POI only supports palm oil supply that is completely ethical, traceable and verified by trusted on-the-ground NGOs.


RSPO palm oil supply chain models

Companies can place a "CSPO" logo on their products because the palm oil has conformed with one of these RSPO traceability models:

Identity Preserved (IP) Only the IP supply chain model assures you that the palm product delivered to the end user is uniquely identifiable to a single mill and source, and that it is kept isolated from all other palm sources throughout the supply chain (meaning you could visit the plantation, or at least look at it on Google Earth!).

Segregated (SG) CSPO is from diverse certified sources but remains physically separated from non-certified palm oil throughout the supply chain.

Mass Balanced (MP) Alarmingly, "Mass Balance" allows non certified palm oil to be mixed in with CSPO and sold as "sustainable".

Book and Claim (BC) Even worse, "Book and Claim" (this is GreenPalm) allows trading of certificates to offset the conventional palm oil that ends up in a product claiming to be "sustainable palm oil". Provides for the buyer to pay a premium to the CSPO producer but continue to buy non-certified palm oil!

GreenPalm is not CSPO. According to POI, "GreenPalm is a very cheap option for brands to purchase RSPO endorsed palm oil with a claim stating it supports the production of sustainable palm oil. It is important to note that the physical oil itself is not certified nor sustainable."

According to the RSPO, a manufacturer using the CSPO logo must also include specific statements about the supply chain, so anytime you as a consumer see "sustainable palm oil" mentioned, look for this information to also be given, otherwise do not trust the claim:

“Contains (…)% RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.” (used by both ‘Identity preserved’ and ‘Segregation’ systems)
“Supports the production of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil.” (used by both ‘Mass Balance’ and ‘Book and Claim’ systems)

This diagram explains the Mass Balance supply chain for palm oil that ends up in a product labelled as Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. We fail to see how this is helping reduce demand for palm oil - rather it is helping perpetuate reliance on palm oil as a cheap industrial ingredient.

RSPO mass balance supply chain for certified sustainable palm oil

WWF's solution is: for manufacturers to cover all their palm oil use with CSPO from any of the supply chain options, to be transparent about their palm oil use, and to start investing in traceable supply chains (Identity Preserved). The WWF states that it does not believe a boycott of palm oil is the solution and we agree to the extent that the world needs sustainable plant oils instead of non-renewable petrochemicals, and if palm oil disappears another unsustainable crop will simply take its place. However, unrelenting pressure must be placed upon manufacturers to use only truly ethical and sustainable crops.

BOS's (Borneo Orangutan Survival) policy is: to only allow Certified Sustainable Palm Oil that is Segregated or higher, i.e. Identity Preserved, and not a lesser certification i.e. not Mass Balance or Book and Claim.


Which brands contain palm oil and which are palm oil free?

Any products on the Biome site that have "palm oil free" under in red under the product image are palm oil free.  There are some products that we are still trying to verify whether there is palm in the ingredients.  These are similarly indicated as "may contain palm oil" under the image.

Here is a list of natural brands that Biome has previously stocked that we believe may contain palm oil derviatives >

We only stock one range that contains palm oil, and that is Dr Bronner's

Dr Bronner's Statement on Palm Oil

Our palm oil is produced ethically from sustainably-harvested palm fruits in Ghana’s Eastern Region. The project is owned and coordinated by Serendipalm, Dr. Bronner’s sister company in Ghana. We buy palm fruits exclusively from 500 small organic family farms. These farms were developed without the widespread clear-cutting of rainforest and resulting devastation to local primates that are common nowadays with many of the newer, larger-scale palm oil plantations.

We pay our farmers fair prices for their palm fruits and support them with mulch and organic agriculture training, thus helping them to improve soil fertility and profitability. The 250+ workers in our oil mill, primarily local women, enjoy working conditions and compensation uncommon in this industry – and in an area that has few reliable jobs to offer to its growing rural population.

Serendipalm now supplies Fair Trade and organic palm oil to Dr. Bronner’s, as well as three renowned European Fair Trade companies. For each shipment of palm oil, Serendipalm receives a Fair Trade premium. The premium has been used for a range of community development projects, such as drilling wells and installing tanks to provide community-operated water systems, building public toilet facilities, rebuilding a pedestrian bridge, installing lighting, and providing school supplies to our staff members’ children. These projects are selected by a committee with broad-based representation and offer great opportunities for targeted community development projects for which there are otherwise no funds available.

We believe that the technical characteristics of palm oil give it an important place in organic foods and personal care products. With global demand for palm oil surging, and the realization that large-scale palm oil plantations are often neither “green” nor “fair,” our project is expanding to supply growing demand. It demonstrates that small-scale production of such commodities can indeed be fair, profitable and sustainable.

Brands at Biome that are 100% Palm Oil Free

Evohe, Mokosh, Hurraw, Clean Conscience, That Red House Soapberries


More about Palm Oil Use, the Industry and Harm Caused

The bulk of palm oil demand is created by the food industry (an estimated 40% of food found on our supermarket shelves contains palm oil). Commonly used as a cooking oil, palm oil is often the main ingredient in margarines and found in confectionary, ice cream and ready-to-eat meals. It is a base for many detergents, soaps, shampoos, lipstick, waxes and polishes. Palm oil is also used as an industrial lubricant and increasingly, as a biofuel (despite evidence it may actually increase greenhouse emissions).

90% of oil palm is produced from large plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia. Its versatility, high oil yield and relative cost has increasingly seen palm oil replace animal and other vegetable oils in a wide variety of products. It now currently makes up 35% of vegetable oil production worldwide (35 million tons). Global production of palm oil has doubled over the last decade and is expected to double again by 2020.

The most serious side effect of the growing popularity of palm oil is the removal of forest to make space for oil palm monoculture in Indonesia and Malaysia. The equivalent of 300 football fields are deforested every hour for palm oil production. This is causing major habitat destruction and threatening many species in these areas. Notably, deforestation due to palm oil is considered the single biggest threat facing Orangutans, and is directly implicated in the deaths of an estimated 50 per week.

The WWF states that palm oil can be grown sustainably - the concern being that if palm oil is eliminated, manufacturers will simply replace it with another equally destructive crop such as soy or canola - which in fact consume more land to produce the same amount of oil. Therefore the solution is to ensure that the industry can operate without sacrificing any more tropical forests.


What names is palm oil hidden under?

It is usually difficult to know. In food it is generally labelled under “vegetable oil”. If it is a food product that lists vegetable oil and contains around 50% saturated fat, the ingredient will most likely be palm oil, palm kernel oil (from the same plant) or coconut oil.

Other names to keep an eye out for that could be derived from palm oil are emulsifiers (E471 is a common one), cocoa butter equivalent (CBE), cocoa butter substitute (CBS), palm olein and palm stearine. In cosmetics, is labelled Elaeis guineensis.

Other ingredients which may be palm oil based include sodium lauryl sulphate, cetyl alcohol, stearic acid, isopropyl and other palmitates, steareth-2, steareth-20 and fatty alcohol sulphates - but, this is tricky as some of these ingredients can be derived from coconut and other oils too.

Is there a law requiring palm oil to be labelled?

Australians unknowingly consume on average 10 kilograms of palm oil each year and unclear food labelling makes it hard for people to exercise their consumer choice.

The same applies for skin care, cosmetics and cleaning products. We are all unknowingly using palm oil and its derivatives on our body and there is no requirement for it to be labelled.

Companies could choose to reveal that palm oil is used, but sadly most seem unwilling. Our feeling is because they know that if they did, there would be a negative response from consumers.

There is an organised movement for mandatory palm oil labelling for food to become a reality in Australia. Recently a proposed Food Standards Amendment (Truth in Labelling Palm Oil) Bill was rejected by the House of Economics Committee. However, we hope that with public pressure, this legislation will pass through government.


More you can do to help

Write to your local MP

Let them know your stance on palm oil labelling. Ask what they are doing to make labelling mandatory. Sample letters are available on the Palm Oil Action site.

Write to the manufacturers of your favourite products

Check the ingredients. If a food product contains palm oil (usually labelled as vegetable oil or fat), check with the manufacturer as to whether they use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (remember that being a member of the RSPO is different to sourcing CSPO). You should then ask for a copy of the certification. If they cannot produce this, let the company know you will not be buying any more products from them until they prove they are using CSPO or another sustainable ingredient, and seek an alternative product.

Join the Australian Orangutan Project and donate what you can

“Adopt” an orangutan or give money to help this organisation to purchase a large block of rainforest in Borneo. Donate here BOS Australia

Inform your family, friends and colleagues of the issue

Send them a link to this page, we’ve tried to round up the best sources on the issue of palm oil in Australia. Remember, public pressure can bring change!





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