What is palm oil?

Palm oil comes from the oil palm plant native to West Africa. It has become the world’s most widely produced and consumed vegetable oil, and is now found in over half of all supermarket products.
This high-yielding plant was introduced to Indonesia and Malaysia in the mid 1880s.  Today these South East Asian countries, renowned for their extraordinary plant and wildlife biodiversity, produce 85% of the world’s total palm oil. 

What is the issue?

If grown sustainably, palm oil is fine. The problem is the illegal destruction of rainforest and peatland habitat, and subsequently, the loss of wildlife species, to produce it. The predominant countries that produce palm oil, Indonesia and Malaysia, are regions that house great biodiversity. 

The story of palm oil starts in the rainforest, home to more than half of the world's estimated 10 million species of plants, animals and insects. Rainforests act as the lungs of our planet; they recycle carbon dioxide into oxygen, store water, prevent soil erosion and protect biodiversity, but they’re under serious threat.

Ongoing deforestation and the unsustainable production of palm oil is threatening the survival of thousands of rainforest species, including the orangutan, Sumatran tiger, Sumatran rhino and elephant that rely on these forest ecosystems to survive. 

Why does palm oil matter to me?

"Up to 50% of the products we can buy in an average supermarket now contain palm oil, making us end users of the palm oil supply chain. When we make the choice to support sustainable palm oil, not only do we help endangered species and environments affected by unsustainable palm oil production, we also help ensure a cleaner world for ourselves. Sustainable palm oil mitigates the loss of forests and conversion of carbon rich peat soils which protects important carbon sinks. Protecting these areas is important in the fight against global climate change that affects us all." WAZA

Join us to help create a forest-friendly future

  1. Discover more about certified sustainable palm oil at WAZA
  2. You can now download the PalmOil Scan app through the Google or Apple app stores.

PalmOil Scan FAQs

PalmOil Scan is a great new free smartphone app that puts the power in your hands to shop for products from companies committed to sourcing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) – an action that helps protect orangutans and thousands of other precious rainforest wildlife and ecosystems. The initiative of WAZA (World Association of Zoos & Aquariums) in partnership with palm oil experts from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (USA), Chester Zoo (UK) and Auckland Zoo (NZ), it aims to transform the palm oil industry by enabling consumers to favour companies that are doing the right thing.

Palm oil is the world’s most versatile, widely consumed, and highest yielding edible vegetable oil – yielding 4 – 10 times more per hectare than any other vegetable oil. It’s found in over 50% of all packaged/processed supermarket products, from cake, cosmetics, ice-cream, pastries, and baked goods, to potato chips, sauces, shower and cleaning products, and pet food.

Over 85% of the 8 billion tonnes produced annually comes from Indonesia and Malaysia - two of our planet’s most biodiverse hot spots. Their carbon-rich rainforests, often called ‘the lungs of the Earth’ are home to orangutans, tigers, elephants, rhinoceros and thousands of other animal and plant species. These forests also help regulate the global climate that we humans are also reliant on for our own health and wellbeing. Given the world’s escalating demand for affordable food and the more environmentally harmful vegetable oil alternatives, palm oil remains the world’s best vegetable oil option when it’s grown sustainably –without destroying rainforests, causing biodiversity loss, and negatively impacting the lives of local communities.

You can download the PalmOil Scan app via the Apple or Google app stores.

  • Set the location to NZ (top right of the app home screen), then click ‘Scan a barcode’
  • Scan the barcodes of any products to see if they’re produced by a company that’s committed to sourcing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil – that’s palm oil certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).
  • Companies are ranked as Excellent, Good, Poor, or having No Commitment. PalmOil Scan has a search feature, so if you scan a product with a poor rating, you can easily choose a more rainforest friendly alternative. With the click of a button, you can also let us (the app managers) know which companies to contact to thank or encourage improvement in their sourcing of palm oil.

Companies that use palm oil in any of their products are rated in the PalmOil Scan app. When you scan a product owned by a company that uses palm oil, the app will show you the rating for that company based on their commitment to using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. (NOTE: As more people use the app, we’re able to keep adding to the database of companies here in New Zealand, just as our zoo colleagues are doing in the UK, Canada, USA, and Australia).

Companies are scored on a point structure and are awarded points through assessments of four categories:

  1. Membership of the (RSPO).
  2. Use of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (weighted by supply chain), as reported in the company’s Annual Communication of Progress (ACOP) report to the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil RSPO.
  3. On-the-ground action – companies can achieve these points by performing or investing in conservation activities outside of their own operations. More points are awarded for having these conservation activities benefit areas where palm oil is grown.
  4. Having a public Certified Sustainable Palm Oil commitment displayed on their website.

Points rating are:

  • Excellent (green) rating = 44.5 + points
  • Good (yellow) rating = 27.9 - 44.4 points
  • Poor (orange) rating = 1 – 27.8 points
  • No Commitment (red) = 0 points.

We recognise that companies, like all of us, are on a journey when it comes to sustainability. Ratings get reviewed and updated to incentivise companies to keep improving. As our (consumers’) preference for certified sustainable palm oil increases, we help grow a demand that other companies can’t ignore – good news for rainforests, wildlife, and us humans that depend on healthy ecosystems to thrive!

No. The app only rates companies that use palm oil, based on their commitment to using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). The reason for this is that we do not want to encourage consumers to boycott palm oil as we know this is more harmful.

This is because the parent company that produces this product has other products that do contain palm oil. The app’s focus is on whether parent companies are sourcing Certified Sustainable Palm Oil, not on the palm oil content of individual products. When we purchase a product, regardless of whether it contains palm oil itself, we’re supporting a company that has the power to prioritise protecting wildlife and wild places. We focus on the company for this reason. This approach also prevents the app being used as a tool to boycott palm oil, which is not a solution.

We rate parent companies, and these ratings then apply to all subsidiaries of the parent companies. For example, if you scan or search a Cadbury product (a subsidiary of Mondelēz International), it will come up with Mondelēz. The rating is based on the performance of Mondelēz, which is ultimately responsible for Cadbury’s sustainable sourcing.

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a not-for-profit organisation that unites stakeholders from sectors across the palm oil industry to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil. Stakeholders include oil palm producers, processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

RSPO has developed environmental and social criteria which companies must comply with to produce Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO). The RSPO has more than 5,000 members worldwide who represent all links along the palm oil supply chain that have committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.  Auckland Zoo is an NGO member of the RSPO.


PalmOil Scan: Putting the power in your hands to save wildlife!

Amy explains how easy it is to download and use the new PalmOil Scan app the next time you're in the supermarket, for the betterment of wildlife and wild places!


Palm Oil Supply Chain in Detail

Thanks to our amazing friends at Chester Zoo, you can learn more about sustainable palm oil here.

Related Content