Big names team up for greener palm oil, cleaner air

Group making wider push to use sustainable palm oil; includes Unilever, Danone, Ayam

Following a public outcry over the prolonged haze pollution last year, five big companies have banded together over deforestation and the haze by pledging to use palm oil only from sustainable sources.

Yesterday they formed the Singapore Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil, whose aim is to get more manufacturers and retailers to use sustainable palm oil, and give consumers here environmentally friendly options for the many products which contain palm oil.

The five are consumer goods giant Unilever, local manufacturer Ayam Brand, food and beverage company Danone, home furnishing retailer Ikea and Wildlife Reserves Singapore. The alliance is supported by environmental group World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

"The alliance sends a clear signal to consumers about which companies are committed to sustainability," said Ms Elaine Tan, chief executive of WWF Singapore at a media conference yesterday.

About half of the products in supermarkets, from instant noodles to detergent and toothpaste, contain palm oil, she noted.

In order to meet the growing demand for palm oil, some plantation owners use cheap and quick slash-and-burn techniques to clear forests, often leading to uncontrollable fires and haze. Last year's episode, which left Singapore and the region blanketed in haze from July to November and closed schools, was the worst on record.

Sustainable palm oil is produced in a way that has minimum impact on the environment and does not destroy natural forest habitats, according to WWF Singapore.

Unilever, which has more than 400 brands including Dove and Lipton, uses 3 per cent of all the palm oil produced in the world, or 1.5 million tonnes a year. It aims to achieve 100 per cent "fully physically certified oil" by 2019.

Its chief procurement officer Dhaval Buch said it is committed to working with others to eliminate deforestation.

Mr Herve Simon, a director at Ayam Brand, which used 100 tonnes of palm oil last year, said: "We may be a small consumer of palm oil, but small orders make up 90 per cent of the palm oil industry. All the little drops from the rain make a huge river, so we need everybody to be involved in developing sustainable palm oil."

Mr Edwin Seah, executive director of the Singapore Environment Council, said the alliance "demonstrates the importance of promoting sustainability through a collaborative approach".

In February, the council had started certifying palm oil-based products under its Singapore Green Labelling Scheme.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a palm oil certification body, will work with the alliance and share with it efforts by similar groups in other parts of the world.

"The consumer today is bombarded with so much information and it's difficult for them to analyse what options to take," said its chief executive Darrel Webber. "So brands can be the stewards for these consumers."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 28, 2016, with the headline 'Big names team up for greener palm oil, cleaner air'. Print Edition | Subscribe