At present, there are four key certifications regulating the palm oil industry and ensuring sustainability. Two of them, the Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil, and the Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil, are government-led standards that are mandatory to their respective countries. Of greater significance is the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which are based on voluntary standards. The RSPO is a not for profit entity that brings together all stakeholders in the palm oil industry to implement and develop standards to follow for sustainable palm oil.
A recent study shows that even though the RSPO was able reduce deforestation, forest fires were not regulated. The certification was given to companies with good and bad practices alike, as a result of poor standards and weak enforcements, disincentivizing good behaviour.
As such, reforms to RSPO certification, alongside other alternative solutions beyond certification need to come in place at a time where time is limited, as the schemes meant to slow down the environmental impacts of palm oil plantations have not been effective enough to slow down deforestation. A more stringent and effective RSPO, coupled with forest conservation policies, could possibly make sustainable palm oil a more achievable reality.
There is urgent need for palm oil sustainability—the industry is due to cause irreversible and devastating impact on the environment, such as severe pollution and biodiversity loss. How can the multi-million dollar global demand for palm oil be met without putting further strain on existing ecosystems?
Another question also arises out of this discussion: why is the palm oil industry is the only industry that is under scrutiny and pressure to be certified sustainable? What about the alternative vegetable oils—that have far less efficient yields—like soy, rapeseed, sunflower and soya? These alternative vegetable oils produce lesser yields than palm oil, which would mean that they require much greater land mass of crops to be able to produce as much as palm oil plantations would. This would mean the alternative vegetable oil crops might also contribute to deforestation when requiring much more land to produce more oil.