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Sustainable Palm Oil

Orangutan conservation experts argue that boycotting palm oil is akin to treating symptoms rather than curing the disease. To achieve sustainable conservation, it is essential to address the root causes of deforestation, which extend beyond palm oil production. Agriculture, logging, and infrastructure development are all contributing factors to habitat loss. Efforts should be directed towards promoting sustainable land-use practices and enforcing strict regulations on deforestation. Governments, both in producing and consuming countries, play a vital role in crafting and implementing policies that discourage destructive land-use practices and incentivize conservation.


While addressing the palm oil issue is crucial, experts emphasize the significance of preserving orangutan habitats as a holistic conservation strategy. Establishing and maintaining protected areas, corridors, and wildlife reserves are essential components of safeguarding the long-term survival of orangutans. Boycotting palm oil alone does not guarantee the preservation of these habitats. A more effective approach involves supporting and contributing to initiatives that focus on habitat conservation, reforestation, and the establishment of wildlife corridors. Organizations such as the Orangutan Land Trust and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) play pivotal roles in acquiring and protecting critical orangutan habitats.


As consumers have become more aware of the need to choose sustainable palm oil, tools to help them navigate the thousands of products which may contain palm oil are being developed. Read more about Sustainable Palm Oil Tools.

Speaking on the role of sustainable palm oil in protecting biodiversity and orangutans in particular, at the TUCO Sustainable Palm Oil Forum held on 5th February 2019.

Michelle speaking at at the TUCO Sustainable Palm Oil Forum in 2019.

Statement in Support of Sustainable Palm Oil

The conservation organisations listed below are committed to driving the palm oil industry in the right direction, and support a move to sustainable palm oil and not a blanket boycott.

Palm oil produced according to the standards set by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), as of 2018, is required to be deforestation-free. Manufacturers, retailers and traders all over the world have made bold commitments to removing deforestation from their supply chains – some are making swifter progress than others towards meeting these commitments.  There are no quick fixes, but the following actions will go a long way to cleaning up the palm oil industry:

  • Palm oil producers must stop converting forests, peatlands and other sensitive natural habitats to oil palm plantations. Instead, they should increase yields on existing plantations, and any expansion should be restricted to degraded land that is not classified as High Conservation Value or High Carbon Stock. They also need to be transparent about their production methods and avoid labour, land and human rights violations.

  • Companies manufacturing or selling products made with palm oil and its derivatives need to investigate their suppliers and only source palm oil from responsible growers, ensuring their supply chain is traceable, and communicating honestly with their customers about their progress on their journey to using solely sustainable palm oil.

  • We expect the RSPO and its members to adhere to the criteria and take action when there is evidence of non-compliance.

  • Consumers can support retailers and manufacturers which are committed to removing deforestation from their products, join social media campaigns to drive the industry in the right direction, and support conservation organisations who are working to break the link between palm oil and deforestation.

There is no denying that the rapid expansion of the palm oil industry over the last 30 years has had a catastrophic environmental and social impact across Southeast Asia, South America and Africa.  Consumers all over the world have been horrified to learn about the destructive practices rife within the industry, and the orangutan has become an emblem for the clash between development and conservation.


Boycotting palm oil is a legitimate expression of consumers’ social and environmental concerns, but the question we urge individuals and businesses to ask themselves is:

Will this action help wildlife, forests and communities?


The problem with a blanket boycott is that it punishes indiscriminately. It removes the market for palm oil from those companies which are making genuine efforts and progress towards sustainability, as well as those which aren’t. And if we remove the market for sustainable palm oil, we also remove the incentive for companies to abide by the better management practices which reduce the footprint of the industry – in terms of impacts on wildlife, forests, climate and human rights.

A blanket boycott of palm oil could lead to the following unintentional consequences:

More deforestation, not less

If the international market for palm oil disappears, palm oil companies and smallholder farmers alike could switch to producing an alternative crop. Oil palms are the most productive oil crop in the world, producing around 35% of global vegetable oil supplies on less than 10% of the total land used for oil crops . A switch to another type of edible vegetable oil (such as soybean oil) would require up to nine times as much land to produce the same yield. This will increase natural habitat loss, species loss and other impacts.

Increasing demand

A blanket boycott of palm oil could drive the price of palm oil down. This could increase demand, especially in markets which have less interest in sustainability. This reduces the incentive to produce environmentally sustainable palm oil.

All agriculture has an impact: bananas, beef, cane sugar, chocolate, coconuts, coffee, pineapples, soybeans, tea and vanilla are all produced in previously forested tropical areas.

With over 4.5 million people in Indonesia alone relying on the palm oil industry as their primary source of income, palm oil is here to stay. What we need to do is ensure that it is cultivated in the least damaging way possible. Oil palms do not need to be grown at the expense of forests and other sensitive natural habitats. Instead we need to break the link between development and the degradation of natural ecosystems.


The conservation organisations committed to driving the palm oil industry in the right direction, and support a move to sustainable palm oil and not a blanket boycott are:

  • Sumatran Orangutan Society

  • Orangutan Land Trust

  • Chester Zoo

  • WWF

  • Conservation International

  • World Land Trust

  • Jane Goodall Institute Australia

  • Borneo Futures

  • Yayasan Orangutan Sumatera Lestari

  • Global Canopy

  • Hutan KOCP

  • Borneo Nature Foundation

  • Earthworm Foundation

  • Zoological Society of London

  • Solidaridad

  • Orangutan Outreach

  • Global Environment Centre

  • Orangutan Veterinary Aid

  • Orangutan Conservancy

  • Danau Girang Field Centre

  • Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

  • Borneo Wildlife Preservation

  • Save Orangutans Now

  • Twycross Zoo

  • Save the Rhino International

  • WildCats Conservation Alliance

  • Borneo Rhino Alliance

  • Save the Orangutan

  • Lincoln Park Zoo

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

  • San Diego Zoo Global

  • Conservation Medicine

  • Houston Zoo

  • Copenhagen Zoo

  • The Living Rainforest

  • Beauval Nature

  • Naples Zoo

  • Zoos Victoria

  • Association of Zoos and Aquariums

  • Woodland Park Zoo

  • British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums

  • Wild Planet Trust

  • Wildlife Reserves Singapore

  • Dartmoor Zoological Society

  • Taronga Conservation Society Australia

  • Wellington Zoo

  • Auckland Zoo

  • National Marine Aquarium

  • The Deep

  • Bristol Zoological Society

  • National Wildlife Federation

  • Forever Sabah

  • Land Empowerment Animals People (LEAP)

  • Marwell Wildlife

  • Yorkshire Wildlife Park

  • Crocodiles of the World

  • Indianapolis Zoo

  • Toronto Zoo

  • Paradise Wildlife Park/Zoological Society of Hertfordshire

  • The Big Cat Sanctuary

  • Orana Wildlife Park

  • Detroit Zoological Society

  • Lubee Bat Conservancy

  • Perth Zoo

  • Oregon Zoo

  • Wildlife Conservation Network

  • Jenkinson’s Aquarium

  • Oklahoma City Zoo

  • Zoos South Australia

  • Columbus Zoo

  • Orangutan Republik Foundation

  • Seratu Aatai

  • Borneo Child Aid

  • PM Haze

  • Tulsa Zoo

  • Kansas City Zoo

  • Little Rock Zoo

  • Blank Park Zoo

  • Staten Island Zoo

  • Wild Welfare

  • Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium

  • Fondation Ensemble

  • Saint Louis Zoo

  • Ocean Conservation Trust

  • Malaysian Primatological Society

  • Aidenvironment Asia

  • Chicago Zoological Society / Brookfield Zoo

  • Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park

  • Amici della Terra Onlus

  • International Elephant Foundation

  • Great Plains Zoo

  • Zoo Knoxville

  • Santa Barbara Zoo

  • Verify Humanity

  • Audubon Nature Institute

  • Zoo New England

Forests. For orangutans. Forever.

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