Estée Lauder targets sustainable palm oil supply chain through farmer empowerment

US-based cosmetics giant Estée Lauder has launched its first sustainability programme for palm oil supply chains, which will see the company work with Indonesian farmers to champion better social conditions and environmental conservation.

Estée Lauder targets sustainable palm oil supply chain through farmer empowerment

The scheme, called Project Lampung, is being run in conjunction with the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RPSO), chemical giant BASF, sustainable supply chain NGO Solidaridad, Business Watch Indonesia (BWI) and the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Extension (KTNA).

Under the scheme, independent farmers and those working for farming organisations in Indonesia’s Lampung region will receive training around the reduced environmental impacts and human health benefits of sustainable agricultural practices. They will be taught, and incentivised, to use practices which improve yields, prevent soil degradation and minimise the use of excess water and chemicals. After the initial training, they will have access to long-term technical support.

The organisations leading the project will also work to improve communication between farms and mills in order to support the development of a growing, competitive and deforestation-free market for palm oil.

Overall, Estée Lauder is hoping to reach 1,000 smallholder farmers across Lampung through the project by 2021. The company has stated that it is a “relatively small” consumer of palm oil but hopes the scheme will benefit the wider business community and encourage other corporates to take similar action.

“We are part of a complex multinational supply chain, and this often means rolling up our sleeves and working with others to address the complexities and turn them into something positive for all involved,” Estée Lauder Companies’ executive director for responsible sourcing Mindi DeLeary said.

Estée Lauder Companies’ brand portfolio notably includes the likes of Clinique, MAC, Too Faced, Smashbox and Jo Malone London.

No more palming off the environment

Palm oil appears in more than 50% of all supermarket products, from confectionary to cosmetics, and is renowned for its versatility and low price point. However, the commodity is linked to environmental destruction in global supply chains. Expanding palm oil and wood pulp plantations are the biggest drivers of deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia, where many species, including the orangutan, are being threatened with extinction.

As awareness surrounding deforestation grows – with a recent YouGov poll of 1,695 UK consumers finding that 77% were aware of the environmental impacts of palm oil –  Estée Lauder Companies is one of a string of brands to have taken action to reduce their use of the commodity.

Supermarket Iceland, for example, famously committed to remove palm oil from all of its own-brand lines by the end of 2018 – a feat which required the business to re-formulate dozens of recipes and invest in certification schemes to ensure its palm oil alternatives were not driving unintended consequences.

Iceland’s managing director Richard Walker said he had made the move to take an ethical stand and “democratise environmentalism” – something he also cited as motivation for pledging to remove plastic packaging from the supermarket’s own-brand lines by 2023.

However, the chain faced criticism for missing its palm oil target deadline and, instead of publicly admitting this, removing its name from 17 lines. In response, it said it did not want to “mislead customers”.

More recently, department store Selfridges this month announced that it had achieved a goal of removing palm oil from 100% of its 300+ own-brand grocery products nine months ahead of schedule.

Back in the cosmetics and health and beauty sectors, the likes of PZ Cussons, Lush, Walmart and Target have all pledged to either reduce or eliminate palm oil from their products – or to shift to sustainably sourced palm oil.

Sarah George

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