Palm Oil and How You Can Make a Difference

~ only Biome is 100% free from untraceable palm oil ~

Palm Oil and How You Can Make a Difference

Something very special has happened at Biome. We have acted to help stop the decimation of rainforest and killing of orangutans. To do this, we had to remove from our stores a large number of products with ingredients commonly derived from palm oil. We know this is a big business risk, but it is the only ethical choice for us. After 14 years of asking companies to declare palm oil use on their packaging or to not use palm, nothing was changing. This is one of the most catastrophic issues facing the planet today. The palm oil and logging industries in Malaysia and Indonesia are sending orangutans and tigers to extinction, and subjecting them to horrific cruelty along the way.

We believe that if you use palm and do know where it was grown, a product is not guaranteed cruelty free. We are grateful to the Palm Oil Investigations who guided us in achieving this and are proud to be a POI Approved brand.  Please join us and check out the fantastic palm oil free alternatives we offer.  Change is now happening -- and we are inspiring and helping many brands to reformulate without palm.  Tracey and the Biome team

  • what is the problem
  • why is sustainable greenwashing
  • what is biome doing
  • what you can do
  • palm oil free products

What is the problem with palm oil?


  • Palm oil is an edible oil from the fruit of the African oil palm and its use is growing rapidly due to its versatility, high yield, and low cost.
  • Palm oil monoculture is responsible for catastrophic deforestation and animal 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 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 have always been unreliable. The industry self-regulating body the RSPO has a complex certification scheme that allows 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.
  • Palm oil is easy and cheap to use. However, if the true environmental cost was factored in (including carbon dioxide released when peatlands are decimated and wildlife deaths), and full traceability to source required, it would be more expensive and less appealing to use.
  • If a product is certified Cruelty Free, Organic or Vegan, this is no indicator of it being palm free.

There is a significant "glossing over" going on with natural and organic brands, as most are using palm oil derived ingredients and are not disclosing it on their ingredients listing - some without realising they are using palm, and most with no idea of where the palm oil was grown.

Many brands claim that they are Cruelty Free and tell us everything they do not contain, but they do not tell us that they do contain palm oil, which is hidden under names such as Plant Surfactant, Stearic Acid and Caprylic Triglyceride, because their suppliers can not guarantee what plant oil will be used to manufacture an ingredient. Brands need to know what is being used in their products, and unless they fully disclose all ingredients, you the consumer can not make a choice.

What is Biome doing?

A message from Biome Founder, Tracey Bailey

Biome's mission from day one has been to be a part of the solution to the world's environmental problems. We have always thought deeply about the whole story of the products we offer.  We are not motivated by business growth other than to be financially secure so that we can continue what we love doing.

Since we began in 2003, we have spoken out about palm oil.  This followed on from my encounter with orangutans in Kalimantan that was the catalyst for Biome. For 14 years, we have avoided products with palm oil and engaged extensively with brands asking them to reformulate.  However, nothing was changing.  And certainly, no other natural and sustainable retail stores were talking about palm oil. It was in the "swept under the carpet basket".

Since we made our stance in early May, taking bold action for Biome stores to be 100% free from untraceable palm oil, a chain reaction is happening. Now, other Australian natural and sustainable retail stores are talking about palm!!  We are proud that our action is making palm oil matter and change is happening.  For us, this is about not being contradictory in what we stand for and to create real change for the orangutans and other threatened species.

Every hour, 300 football fields of forest is cleared in South East Asia for palm oil plantations.

Almost 80% of orangutan habitat has disappeared in the last 20 years.

We are losing over 6,000 orangutans a year, 16 today.

There are only 400 Sumatran tigers left in the world.

Source: The Orangutan Project

We have learned that it is not possible to rely on a brand's assurances that they use "sustainable palm" because they generally have not obtained thorough and legally binding commitments from their suppliers. The problem is they use ingredients that their manufacturer buys from other suppliers. 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.

Any body product that is creamy such as moisturisers, liquid makeup, or sunscreen requires an emulsifying 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 derived 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 they could not guarantee it would not be palm.

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 where the palm oil used in the emulsifying agent is grown.

Therefore, Biome no longer stocks any products with palm oil derived ingredients, except for Dr Bronner's who grown their own palm on plantations in Ghana.  Here is a list of brands that we believe may contain palm oil derivatives >

This means that Biome is not able to stock many of Australia and the world's top natural makeup and skin care brands because they use palm oil-derived ingredients.  We do now however, offer other equally effective and safe boutique brands that go to extra lengths to find a different way of doing things.  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.

We sincerely thank those suppliers who were transparent and assisted us, eventhough it meant we could no longer stock their range. 

You can read more about our POI Approved status on their website here >

Read more about my journey to Kalimantan's rainforest and orangutan habitat in 1996 here >


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".

Please support the products found at Biome that are 100% palm oil free, such as Evohe, Mokosh, Hurraw, 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 orangutans and other wildlife. Write a message to your Minister here > 

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


Why is "sustainable palm oil" greenwashing?

We are often told by suppliers that they use "sustainable” palm oil. However, we believe this is unlikely 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. See the 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.

Organisations such as The World Wide Fund for Nature and Borneo Orangutan Survival, require that manufacturers using palm must at least use Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) and if they are that they must carry the official CSPO logo, and also declare the percentage of CSPO in the product, and 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.

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. 

Greenpeace is also calling "sustainable palm" greenwashing.


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" (e.g. 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.


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.


Which Brands Contain Palm

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.







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