I love how Dr Bronner have tackled the issue of sustainable palm oil. They have taken the bull by the horns and come up with a solution that spreads the good far and wide.
However, I do have my doubts about how this supply chain would work when scaled up. When I’m formulating (cooking up) cosmetic creations I often find that what works in the lab needs severe tweaking when scaled to factory size. This can be for many reasons not least financial (the costs of rapidly cooling a large batch, the time and labor costs involved in manufacturing a product with several fiddly phases, the difficulty in colour matching a shear sensitive blend). This scale-up problem is also seen in life, what worked to calm and correct my two-year old kids behaviour would be devastatingly ineffective and embarrassing for a pre-teen. Bottom line is that what works for small doesn’t always work for large.
That’s not to say that I give up and wash my hands of the problems that commoditized palm faces, I do not. The ‘problems’ faced at the top need to be addressed and as with life, kids can teach us cynical adults a thing or two due to their fresh eyes, boundless enthusiasm and open questioning.
The main issue I see is with cost. Palm is not just something that goes into expensive soaps (Dr Bronners products are great but they are not something that everyone can afford – a Bronner bar of soap can cost around $10 whereas you can get a commodity bar for less than $0.30. This may be a good example of us not placing enough value on resources and may in turn be a trigger for the cheaper guys to raise costs and put the difference into places where it matters but keep in mind that in parts of the world where bar soap is all that is affordable for sanitation of home, self and clothes $0.30 is already a luxury. So, what to do?
Well I think that the first thing to do is thank Dr Bronner for showing us without fear, emotive pictures of Orang-U-Tan slaughter or smoking fields that there is another way both to communicate this issue and to act in a positive way to ‘solve’ this problem. The next thing to do is to not give up, not give up thinking, engaging and trying to find a way of building equity without sacrificing the people, places and animals that don’t have a choice.
PS: While I can’t take any credit for Dr Bronners video I must share this for reasons of full disclosure. I was asked by the Bronner team about my Palm Oil research and have shared my articles with them.