Britain’s retailers ‘leading the way’ on sustainable palm oil

Marks and Spencer (M&S), Associated British Foods (ABF) and Reckitt Benckiser (RB) are among a cluster of British-owned retailers, manufacturers and foodservice businesses that are "leading the way" on sustainable palm oil sourcing, while others appear to have fallen short of their commitments.

That’s according to the fourth annual ‘Palm Oil Buyers Scorecard‘, released today (21 September) by conservation charity WWF. (Scroll down to read full report).

The Scorecard rates 137 of the world’s largest palm oil buyers based on their commitments and progress towards sourcing ‘100% sustainable’ palm oil and mitigating associated environmental impacts in their supply chains.

Specifically, it assesses the business actions taken last year, after many companies pledged to customers that they would only use sustainably-certified palm oil – a key ingredient in many foods, cosmetics, soaps and detergents – by 2015. These actions include joining the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO); increasing supplier transparency, and committing to and buying from sustainable suppliers.

Eleven UK-based firms scored a full nine out of nine in the WWF report: Boots, M&S, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative, Waitrose, ABF, Premier Foods, RB, Warburtons and Young’s. Tesco is the only British supermarket listed in the report that did not get full marks, scoring eight out of nine points but still referred to by WWF as “well on the path” to sourcing 100% sustainable palm oil.

Agricultural commodities manager at WWF-UK Emma Keller said: “The Scorecard shows a positive story for UK companies, many of which are leading the way. This is welcome news for British consumers who can have confidence that many of the products they buy contain palm oil that is not having negative environmental impacts.

“British retailers, manufacturers and food service companies have shown that in less than a decade it is possible to move to sustainable palm oil supply chains. With the volumes available there is no excuse for not sourcing Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO)-certified sustainable palm oil.”

Falling short

At the other end of the scale for UK businesses, contract caterer Compass Group – which uses 700 tonnes of palm oil every year – scored four out of nine points; crisps and popcorn maker Tayto scored one; and the UK’s largest hospitality group, Whitbread, did not to respond to WWF’s questionnaire.

In the US section of the report, McDonald’s, Colgate-Palmolive, General Mills and Walmart – which owns Asda in the UK – are among the 13 businesses that gained full marks, while Costco, Dunkin’ Brands and Yum! are among the nine brands that scored one or two out of nine, or did not respond to WWF.

According to the Scorecard, more than two-thirds of the globally ranked companies that committed to using only 100% sustainable palm oil by 2015 had reached or exceeded the 90% mark. However, WWF notes that a number of major brands have fallen short of their commitments, achieving only 50% or less.

WWF’s palm oil lead Adam Harrison added: “WWF has published this Scorecard in 2016 because we wanted to evaluate what companies actually did in 2015 and not what they said they would do.

“While we can report gratifying progress by many companies, too many fell short of their own commitments to their customers. Meanwhile, too many companies are still hiding from this issue altogether. That is unacceptable considering the easy availability of certified sustainable palm oil.”

Palm oil is in 50% of packaged products and production is expected to double by 2020, putting even greater pressure on forests and vulnerable habitats in key sourcing areas such as Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.

WWF’s latest Scorecard comes six months after a separate report from fellow environmental group, Greenpeace, which revealed that many big brands still cannot guarantee that their supply of palm oil is not linked to deforestation, and that most are “moving far too slowly” to address the issue.

PepsiCo, Colgate-Palmolive and Johnson & Johnson were among a raft of consumer goods companies that have been “letting their customers down” by failing to break the link between the use of palm oil in everyday products and deforestation, the Greenpeace report concluded.

WWF Palm Oil Scorecard 2016

Alex Baldwin

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie