Kellogg – a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the industry-led body that promotes the use of sustainable palm oil products, since 2009 – will phase out using palm oil obtained through RSPO credits across its global supply chain by 2025. But it will continue to use RSPO ‘mass balance’ sustainable palm oil, which is from certified sources mixed with ordinary palm oil.
Previously it had committed to use 100% RSPO certified palm oil by 2023, which included via ‘credits’, ‘segregated’ and ‘mass balance’.
Kellogg said 15% of the palm oil that the company buys currently is through credits, although all of the palm oil used by Kellogg in Europe is already 100% certified ‘segregated’, with none obtained via 'credits' or 'mass balance'.
Kellogg said: “We will replace our RSPO credit coverage by converting these volumes to RSPO physically certified segregated or mass balance. Through this commitment, we are supporting the need for increased demand of certified material to continue incentivizing suppliers to produce sustainable, certified palm oil.”
The pros and cons of RSPO credit schemes
Credit schemes – whereby manufacturers buy credits for a corresponding volume of oil from a sustainable source – are seen as useful gateway for companies to begin purchasing sustainably sourced palm oil and for motivating smallholders to improve sustainability practices on farms. But they are often criticised for an ultimate lack of transparency.
Deborah Lapidus, Senior Campaigns Director at environmental group Mighty Earth, told FoodNavigator: “Whether its credits, mass balance, or segregated, our view is that RSPO is largely irrelevant when it comes to ensuring supply chains are responsible. That being said, green credits are the weakest amongst the RSPO options because they essentially provide financing to a producer group that may be growing sustainably in one spot but carrying out deforestation in another.”
She added that while Kellogg and consumer brands across the board passed a wave of good commitments a few years ago, implementation has been lacking.
“They need to put a lot more energy into setting up accountability mechanisms for ensuring supplier compliance across their supply chains and demanding that suppliers act jointly to monitor and police the industry to achieve zero deforestation. No consumer companies, Kellogg included, are on track to achieve their goals of zero deforestation by 2020 at a time when our ambition to stop climate change and reverse the species extinction epidemic needs to be higher than ever before.”
That said, she welcomed the other measures announced by Kellogg aimed at strengthening its responsible sourcing efforts. From this year, Kellogg will work the Palm Oil Transparency Coalition and has signed up an independent auditor, Proforest. It has also joined the No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) Implementation Reporting Framework, designed to help companies, customers, and suppliers to systematically track progress in delivering NDPE commitments.
“Kellogg's overall performs better than many of its peers in terms of having a strong NDPE palm oil commitment, regularly reporting against that commitment, and being transparent as to which companies it is supplying from,” said Lapidus. “It should also be commended for extending its No Deforestation commitments to cover other deforestation-driving commodities like paper, sugar, and soy.”
Can palm oil ever be sustainable?
Other activists argue that the idea of sustainable palm oil is oxymoronic. Greenpeace, for instance, has previously said that the “RSPO is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.”
Greenpeace USA Senior Palm Oil Campaigner Diana Ruiz called Kellogg's latest commitment “another policy with no serious enforcement and a reliance on a certification that is not fit for a 1.5 degree world.”
She called on companies to commit to use less palm oil and ensure any they do use comes from suppliers that are 100% deforestation-free. Greenpeace is also urging governments to put in place stricter regulations. “Companies cannot rely on producers’ RSPO certification as a guarantee of sustainability,” said Ruiz.
“Kellogg does not present the robust visionary action needed by the private sector to address climate change. The policy is only further evidence that governments cannot look to the private sector to deliver the change to address the climate change and the biodiversity crisis.”
Boycotting palm oil altogether is not the answer
Kellogg, though, is hoping for a shift in narrative with regard palm oil towards to the more widespread industry view: namely that palm oil is not the problem, but unsustainably grown palm oil is.
A blog post from Dr Emma Keller at World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), for example, argues that boycotting palm oil would be counterproductive as the alternatives could potentially prove more damaging.
“Palm oil is an incredibly efficient crop, producing more oil per land area than any other equivalent vegetable oil crop. Globally, palm oil supplies 35% of the world’s vegetable oil demand on just 10% of the land. To get the same amount of alternative oils like soybean or coconut oil you would need anything between 4 and 10 times more land, which would just shift the problem to other parts of the world and threaten other habitats and species. We need to address the root causes of the problem of bad practice by working with palm oil and other oil producers and buyers to change their ways. Boycotting palm oil is not always the answer, but demanding more action to tackle the issues and go further and faster, is.”