Is Palm Oil Bad For The Environment?

3 CommentsTuesday, 1 October 2019  |  Ken Shaw

Is Palm Oil Bad For The Environment?




The Palm Oil Debate

Before we start, I would just like to make the observation that there are a lot of articles and blog posts on this subject. They are often written by those with the most to gain from one side of the debate.

On one side, you will find companies that offer an alternative to palm oil. Their message is always "palm oil is bad! (p.s. buy our product instead)".

On the other side, you have those that suggest there are no problems with palm oil production and "what's all the fuss about? Keep buying our products".


I heard a smart and amusing saying years ago, which compares every situation to a slice of bread:

"No matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides!"

My approach to writing this article is just that. I will try to address both the good and the bad, albeit simplified, and offer my personal opinion at the end. But is just my opinion :)



Palm oil is the most widely used vegetable oil-based food and product additive on the planet. Originally native to Africa, one crop of this tropical oil can produce up to one-third the amount of oil of other conventional vegetable oils - including coconut oil, corn oil, rapeseed oil and olive oil. 

Also, palm oil crops require fewer pesticides and chemical fertilisers, making palm oil a clean, green, sustainable, and efficient crop.



Palm oil is a natural vegetable oil which can be found in almost 50 per cent of the processed foods and products you purchase in your supermarket. This includes food, shampoo, soap, bread, cooking oil, lipstick and more. 

However, the environmental impact of palm kernel oil continues to be a hot topic of debate. Since palm oil is one of the natural ingredients we use in some of our authentic French soaps, we thought we would address these concerns.



When farmed with integrity, palm oil is a far more sustainable crop than all other vegetable oils. However, farmers throughout many areas of Indonesia and Malaysia have been legally and illegally burning rainforests to plant their palm oil crops. 

This irresponsible clearing contributes to climate change by the release of toxic greenhouse emissions, displacing both wildlife, endangered species and indigenous families. 

Although native to Africa, due to the rampant clearing of African oil palm trees, Malaysia and Indonesia now produce over 85% of the world's supply of palm oil. 




RSPO Sustainable Palm Oil Label



The demand for palm oil is expected to more than double over the next 5 years, leaving many environmentalists concerned about the further impact on the ecosystems and communities impacted by deforestation. 

Organisations from around the globe have joined forces to put systems in place to ensure the palm oil industry are farming on previously cleared land. Or land that does not require deforestation. 

A group called the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is leading this initiative, working with partners such as the WWF, Greenpeace, the UN, and Asia's largest oilseed processing companies and organisations such as Wilmar International and United Plantations. 

A few significant strides have been made thus far:

  • In 2013, Wilmar International signed a 100 per cent zero-deforestation agreement. Since Asia is where most of the tropical forests are cut down, this was a significant step in the right direction.
  • In 2014, the EU changed laws to require products to clearly state if palm oil is present, not just the all-encompassing "vegetable oil". 
  • A certification process has been put in place, and many global companies have committed to purchasing from farms which meet the strict guidelines for sustainable farming. Just look for the RSPO or Greenpeace label.
  • Farmers in tropical climates which are conducive to palm oil farming are expanding their crops on already cleared land. 

These vital changes have already slowed the rate of deforestation; as well as the revenue stream for irresponsible farmers. 


Let's save the King of the Swingers - the Orangutan


Let's help save the King of the Swingers - The Orangutan  -  Photo by David Gonzales from Pexels



All of the above have already slowed the rate of deforestation, as well as the revenue stream for irresponsible farmers. Should we be trying to eliminate these products from our homes and boycotting palm oil supply? No, as this would have a significant impact on the economies of those countries producing palm oil. 

Alternatively, we should pledge to only buying products from companies that are committed to sourcing their palm oil responsibly. Then actually, you will be using one of the most sustainable oil crops in the world. 

To be sure you are buying a sustainable product, just look for the RSPO or Green Palm Label

As we don't have labels on our bar soaps, Natural French soap ensures all of our palm oil is sustainably certified. 



Just to recap, some people advocate entirely, not to use palm oil for ethical, environmental and even commercial reasons. On the flip side, some support the use of palm oil for the value it gives to the economic development of smaller poorer countries through trade.

I think there is a solution for both arguments. We need to encourage the sound farming practices mentioned above so we can all use this precious oil without harming our planet or its inhabitants in any way. What do you think? Please leave your comments or questions below.

Still not convinced? Take a look at this excellent article from The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

Saying ‘no’ to palm oil would likely displace, not halt biodiversity loss – IUCN report

I hope you found this article useful and if you did, you know what to do. You can share it with the world using the sustainable social media share buttons below. :)



Michelle Desilets
Saturday, 17 June 2017  |  14:14

As Executive Director of Orangutan Land Trust, a committed member of RSPO, as well as Palm Oil Innovation Group, I applaud your commitment to sustainable palm oil. I have shared this blog on my social networks.

Friday, 13 March 2020  |  9:58

Hello, a very concise and informative article, as a family we have have tried not to buy products containing palm oil, unless it states it is from a sustainable source. Here in the UK public perceptions slowly ( very slowly ) are being altered, we have some manufacturers actually making it clear on their packets that the palm oil is from sustainable sources, a definite plus.Take care.

Ken Shaw
Friday, 13 March 2020  |  12:23

Thank you for your comment, George. It is important that the message is about using Palm oil from sustainable sources and not about stopping the use of palm oil altogether. Progress is definitely being made :)