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Palm Oil – How to get it naturally wrong.

September 18, 2009

So, you don’t want animal ingredients in your face cream, petroleum turns your stomach over but your skin is hungry for moisture.  What to do? Well, the trend (which I would more accurately describe as a movement) towards natural makes perfect sense. After all, we live in abundant times, using animals for vanity is cruel and prospecting for oil is down right dirty so plants ingredients just make sense. Don’t they?

Well yes I guess it does make sense on one level but there is just one flaw in this green lovefest. It’s all about responsibility.

Take the issue of Palm oil – something close to my heart after spending 3 months working in the Indonesian rain forests with the Orang-Utans, watching the boats taking the trees away….

Now Palm is a plant, its totally natural and it is actually quite an efficient crop to grow as it is tolerant, fast growing, provides copious quantities of oil and is a source of building material. It does tick all of the boxes in that respect. But of course, that’s only half of the story. You see, the global demand for palm oil has stripped many Indonesian rain forests of their ancient, virgin rainforest, commoditizing what should be a long term investment and destroying a rich and vibrant ecosystem.

Palm oil made it back into the news this week as the Body Shop was found sourcing palm oil for its soaps from a company based in Colombia who are allegedly embroiled in the eviction of peasant farmers from what is now high value land.  This particular eviction dates back to 2006 but Colombian plans to vastly expand their Palm Oil production has brought these human rights issues to the fore once again.  Cosmetic Design reports here.

The knee jerk reaction to the above situation is to say “Well its easy, don’t buy products that contain palm oil”.  Again, that would make sense on one level as no demand = no need to supply = happy me and happy planet. But the only way not buying palm oil would really work would be if all of us consumers didn’t then go and replace palm oil with anything else.  Look at it this way, the majority of palm oil production never makes it into a product as palm oil, the oil is fractionated (chopped up via distillation) and then sent to factories all over the world to be turned into “natural” surfactants, emulsifiers and fatty acids. These “natural chemicals” then turn up in a wide range of products including food stuff, cosmetics, detergents and medicines.  All of that makes it very difficult to trace and very difficult to avoid. And anyway, if all we do is go and replace palm oil with something like sunflower oil, corn (non GMO of course) or sesame oil while we may sleep a little sounder and the Orang Utans may breathe a sigh of relief for a while these other natural products will still have to be grown. That means land and resources.

So, what is the responsible thing to do?

With us humans already consuming around 30% more resources than the planet can comfortably provide the only responsible thing to do is to cut back.  Now I am not an advocate of throwing ones hands up in the air and giving up, never again to be seen at the cosmetic counter till.   That approach can actually be counter productive as responsible and sustainable trade is a great way to build global prosperity and peace – as a rule, people are less likely to want to fight and cause problems if their bellies are full and their future is assured. However, it is clear that something has to give and we can all be part of that giving.

Those of us with choices may want to exercise our right to do just that. Choose to value the products that we buy, to use them wisely, to spend our hard earned money in a way that will keep those Colombian and Indonesian farmers in jobs and our skin’s beautiful.  We may want to consider the impact that our purchases have on the environment and to dispose of our finished products carefully. We may also want to choose to be part of the solution.

There is no need to fear for the future. It is going to be beautiful!

8 Comments leave one →
  1. September 19, 2009 5:41 pm


    I don’t think it’s possible to sleep sounder if we encouraged the use of corn, sunflower or sesame oil. Corn yields only 172 litres of oil/hectare, Sunflower- 952 litres of oil/hectare, Sesame- 696 litres of oil/hectare. While Palm oil produces 5950 litres of oil/hectare.

    By choosing corn oil (one of the lowest oil producing crop/hectare)for instance, we are encouraging more lands to be cleared for the crop. You find residents in South America living in fear as 10-foot Anacondas find their way to the city after their habitat’s been destroyed for corn, soy and cattle:

    and recently, the news of a newly discovered Montauk Monster in Panama:

    Are we choosing to boycott palm oil because of the cute cuddly orang utans? What about creatures in the Amazon who go extinct even before we’ve discovered them? And Anacondas… are they too ugly and vicious to be cared for?

    I think as consumers, it’s important to know these facts, and for whatever oil you choose at the end, make sure it’s from a sustainable source.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
      September 19, 2009 9:50 pm

      Very well said. Thanks for taking the time to add your comments. Its clear that the only way forward is for us all to value our natural resources more and use less.

      • Brazil123 permalink
        September 29, 2009 7:01 am

        I totally disagree. The problem that no one wants to face is massive overpopulation – unsustainable if we are destructing the environment to get the products we want. The more people the more demand. If there were less people, less Forest land would be converted to products demanded by populatons. I am sorry, I am not cutting back on Palm oil, water, or anything at all. I want to see some serious birth-control instated, and I do not mean by killing those who are already here, before I would even consider cutting back on anything. What are we supposed to cut back next?

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink
        September 29, 2009 8:39 am

        It is true that population growth is becoming a problem. Your point is sound but while we wait for the population to re-adjust we can all play our part by going easy on our resources. However, this is totally optional at this point. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  2. kay permalink
    September 23, 2009 3:38 pm

    Yes, the key is to value our natural resources!

    I came across this site that shows what the Malaysians are doing with regards to the orang utans and the oil palm plantations. I hope Indonesia’s making an effort too..


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