19 Singapore F&B firms pledge to use sustainably sourced palm oil

15, including big names Crystal Jade and Tung Lok, are part of alliance seeking to help curb haze

Singapore has been free from the scourge of haze for the past two years, but at least 19 food and beverage (F&B) companies here are not taking the clear skies for granted.

The 19 - including big names such as Crystal Jade, F&N and Tung Lok, as well as smaller businesses such as Veganburg in Eunos and NomVNom, which has outlets in Clarke Quay and Tai Seng - have recently committed to sourcing for sustainable palm oil.

Ten of them made the commitment to do so this year, and yesterday, they officially joined the South-east Asia Alliance for Sustainable Palm Oil (Saspo), an initiative led by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Singapore.

The new additions to Saspo, which include Tung Lok Group and Commonwealth Capital, whose portfolio includes brands such as PastaMania and Baker and Cook, bring the number of member companies in the alliance to 15.

Saspo is the first private-sector-led initiative in the region to address the need for sustainable palm oil in relation to the haze.

The other four F&B businesses that use sustainable palm oil are Veganburg, NomVNom, Grain and Burger Beer Bistro.

They are not part of the alliance but have committed to sourcing for sustainable palm oil since last year, after outreach efforts by volunteer group People's Movement to Stop Haze (PM.Haze).

Together, these 19 companies account for more than 200 F&B outlets in Singapore. This is a fraction of the 7,679 F&B establishments here, according to 2016 figures from the Department of Statistics released last year.

But Ms Elaine Tan, WWF Singapore's chief executive, is confident that more companies will come on board. "The member companies of the alliance are the top brands in Singapore... And with the realisation that these top brands are sourcing sustainably, it will create the momentum for others to follow."

The cultivation of palm oil in countries such as Indonesia has long been pointed out as a major contributor of air pollution in the region due to drainage of carbon-rich peatland, deforestation and slash-and-burn tactics used by plantation companies and farmers to prepare land for crops.

Environmental groups are touting sustainable palm oil as an alternative. This refers to palm oil from plantations which adhere to strict standards set out by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

Among other things, certified plantations are not allowed to burn to clear land, and the rights of local communities must be respected, said Ms Zhang Wen, PM.Haze executive director.

Companies said the added costs of sourcing for sustainable palm oil were manageable.

Dr Ng Wai Lek, director of NomVNom, said the price difference between sustainable and unsustainable palm oil is about $3 per tin. Members of Saspo said yesterday that sustainable palm oil adds less than 10 per cent to total operating costs.

The latest additions to Saspo follow a campaign launched by WWF last year pressuring companies here to use sustainable palm oil.

WWF surveyed 27 Singapore firms from April to June to track what companies are doing to prevent the negative impacts of palm oil production. Only 10 responded.

Following WWF's release of the information, four of the 17 companies which did not respond earlier - Tung Lok, Commonwealth Capital, Super Group and Bee Cheng Hiang - pledged that they would work towards using sustainable palm oil.

Mr Andrew Kwan, Commonwealth Capital's group managing director, said his company was surprised by the results of the scorecard when it was first made public, citing the lack of awareness of sustainable palm oil in Singapore.

"The lack of awareness could have contributed to the poorer take-up rate... Events like these and the press could help get more industry players on board," he said.

Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, who was guest of honour at yesterday's event, said that with demand for palm oil projected to grow by another 50 per cent by 2020, sustainable production must take root in the industry.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2018, with the headline 19 Singapore F&B firms pledge to use sustainably sourced palm oil. Subscribe