Estee Lauder Palm Oil Impact 2020 10 29 133613

"Is certified palm oil really sustainable?”

Faye Turner

8 min Read Time | October 30th 2020

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"Is certified palm oil really sustainable?”


Written by
: Irena Wieczorek
Company: Estée Lauder Companies
SDG 12:
Responsible Consumption & Production


Feedback from the reviewing team:


"Irena covered this topic carefully, setting the scene for the reader and addressing the problem with the RSPO sourced palm oil that Estée Lauder are currently using. An important and poignant topic, well covered."


Read the full impact analysis below and ensure you login or sign-up to make your ratings about the impact the topic in this analysis has on the planet and society.

“Is certified palm oil really sustainable?”

Estee Lauder Palm Oil Impact 2020 10 29 133613

Palm oil has become the most consumed oil in the world1. Unfortunately, between 1990 and 2008, its production caused approximately 2.3%, or 5.6m hectares, of the world’s deforestation2 and led to the destruction of habitat for endangered species like orangutans, rhinos, and elephants.


Palm oil is an important raw material for the beauty industry with 70% of personal care items containing one or more of its derivatives3. This accounts for 2% of global annual production4 or 71.5 million tonnes5.


Companies such as ELC, L'Oreal and Unilever are major consumers of palm oil. They've committed to source sustainable (deforestation-free) palm oil certified by RSPO6. In 2018, 100% of palm oil and 47% of palm-based ingredients sourced by ELC were from “certified” sources7 (commitment to increase these % to at least 90% by 20258). However, 99% of the production is sourced from categories that come from supply chain models called Mass Balance (47% or 2,172 tonnes) and Book & Claim (52% or 2,403 tonnes)7. Those categories allow the mixing of sustainable oil from certified sources with ordinary “non-sustainable” oil throughout the supply chain (MB) or do not even monitor for the presence of sustainable oil because they allow manufacturers and retailers to buy credits from RSPO certified growers (B&C)9. This way, a product can be certified as sustainable even if 99% of the palm oil is sourced from newly destroyed rainforest areas.


As a comparison, L’Oreal buys their palm oil and its derivates from RSPO certified sources, and 100% of their palm oil is produced through the segregated supply chain model10;p12. This keeps sustainable palm oil from certified sources separate from ordinary palm oil throughout the supply chain9.


Although ELC is taking steps in the right direction, they need to be the drivers of change and make a serious effort to ensure the sustainability of the raw materials used in their production. It’s not enough to only give the impression of supporting sustainability.

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