GreenPalm palm oil goes greener – or does it?

By Niamh Michail

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags Palm oil Oil palm Sustainability

GreenPalm sustainable palm oil certificates will now offer buyers traceability back to the mill, meaning it is now the only fully inclusive supply chain open to all growers, says the trading platform. But campaigners are still calling it a "false solution" to sustainability.

GreenPalm is a trading platform that operates the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil’s (RSPO) book and claim model, which will offer traceability back to the individual originating certified mill for the 2016 market, with the origin declared on certificates. 

The move comes as a response to a resolution put forward by Unilever​ – one of the world’s biggest buyers of palm oil – that was adopted by the RSPO general assembly back in 2014.

But because the book and claim model bypasses the physical supply chain, the traceability offered to buyers will also be a virtual one.

“Currently, businesses have to work with their oil palm suppliers to devise traceability systems as there is no automatic method of tracing palm product purchases back to the originating mill," ​said Bob Norman, general manager of GreenPalm. "[It] is the first non-physical supply chain option to link every purchase back to its source, giving the mill’s name and location so that every buyer of certificates will know which certified mill it is supporting."

Segregated:​ If you want to use the RSPO trademark and claim ‘This product contains certified sustainable palm oil’​, you must use palm oil that has been segregated throughout the supply chain and is traceable directly back to its RSPO-certified source.

Mass balance:​ This combines some segregated RSPO certified oil and some standard oil, and allows users to use the RSPO trademark (‘Mixed’) and claim: ‘Contributes to the production of certified sustainable palm oil’.

Book and Claim​ (GreenPalm): Buyers of GreenPalm certificates are guaranteed that a tonnage of palm oil or derivatives equivalent to the tonnage they use has been produced from RSPO-certified plantations – a 'virtual' supply chain. Although you can't guarantee the actual oil you are buying is sustainable, you know the amount you use has been produced sustainably elsewhere. Participants can use the GreenPalm logo and claim: ‘Supports the production of RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil’.​  

According to the RSPO, the book and claim model means that smallholder growers – which account for around 30 to 40% of global production, rising to around 70% in Thailand and 80% in Latin America – a can also play a part in driving sustainability. These smallholders would not otherwise have a route to export and cannot benefit from demand for segregated supplies which comes mainly from overseas markets.

'The only fully inclusive supplychain'

For Norman, the traceability guarantee now means GreenPalm certificates can be considered sustainable choices in themselves.


“GreenPalm was initially regarded as a stepping stone to sourcing sustainable oil palm. Now, many regard it as the only fully inclusive supply chain that is open to every certified grower.”

But Greenpeace campaigner, Annisa Rahmawati, disagrees: "To overcome the negative impacts of palm oil it is critical to be able to verify production methods at the plantation level. So companies trading and buying palm oil need to know where the palm oil they buy is coming from. Traceability to the mill is an important stepping stone, but not more than that. The bigger issue is that GreenPalm -or any other RSPO supply chain mechanism - continues to rely on a weak standard that fails to prevent deforestation and adequately protect peatlands."

A recent report by NGO Greenpeace​ slammed the model for offering industry “false solutions” ​instead of taking meaningful steps towards ensuring that the physical oil they buy is not linked to forest destruction. It has called on food manufacturers to phase out GreenPalm certificates and replace them with physical certified palm oil that adheres to the strict standards set by the Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) or an equivalent, such as RSPO Next.

Matthias Diemer, co-chair of POIG, said that traceability back to the mill did not necessarily mean more sustainable. “First, I believe that most consumers expect that by now physical palm oil complying with RSPO or POIG requirements is used in food and consumer goods products. To my knowledge GreenPalm certificates cannot deliver this,” ​he told FoodNavigator.

“Secondly, evidence shows that traceability to the mill does not provide assurance that all fresh fruit bunches comes from legal and responsible sources.”

But business executive at GreenPalm, Simon Chrismas, said the different models allowed for value in all supply chain options as they meet different needs. "We fully support all efforts to source sustainably and to drive continuous improvement in the palm industry,"​ he said.

Meanwhile this week POIG announced it has strengthened the criteria used to verify members are adhering to its charter.

The updated verification criteria were added to the POIG’S original charter following a round of field testing by founding members Agropalma, DAABON, and New Britain Palm Oil, as well as feedback from a public consultation.

A full copy of the new indicators can be seen here.

GreenPalm is a wholly owned subsidiary of fats and oils manufacturer AAK.

Related topics Ingredients

Related news

Show more