Known for its buttery taste and illicit love affair with Jared Leto, vegan butter could soon be considered even more animal- and planet-friendly thanks to Earth Balance’s announcement that they’ll be using only sustainably-sourced palm oil in their products by the end of 2015.
Lots of creaminess in this picture.
Part of the Boulder Brands family of products, Earth Balance is behind not only their popular, animal-free butter products, but also a line of snack and convenience foods geared toward people who prefer to eat plant-based. Those who make their dietary decisions based on environmental and ethical reasons, however, have taken issue with the brand’s use of palm oil, fueling the debate about whether or not a product that includes palm oil can be considered “vegan” or “cruelty-free” at all.
Palm oil is produced by harvesting the fruit of a palm tree, the likes of which grow in tropical, equatorial regions. Around 50 percent of consumer goods contain palm oil. Many companies have taken to deforesting immense swaths of rainforests, particularly in Southeast Asia, to make way for palm oil plantations. This has not only wreaked havoc on the environment, but it has contributed dramatically to the endangerment of animals living in the delicate ecosystems ravaged in the interest of making shelf-stable crackers.
Exhibit A: Deforestation in Malaysia to make way for palm oil production.
Earth Balance’s decision comes on the heels of many other companies who have vowed to only go with palm oil sourced responsibly. They’ve announced that they will be working closely with Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) to ensure that the palm oil contained in their products adheres to a higher standard, including environmental and conservation standards, human rights, and accountability.
Caroline Hughes, director of corporate communications of Boulder Brands explained in a statement, “Together, Earth Balance and Boulder Brands are dedicated to leading change and improving lives. One way we’re doing this is by focusing on quality ingredients that will help change the way Americans eat.” Hughes continued, “We believe that palm oil can and should be responsibly sourced and sustainably produced, and we’re proud that Earth Balance is becoming a leader in this effort.”
This sounds great and we applaud Earth Balance’s decision to take a stand against irresponsible industry standards that have already caused so much damage, but it remains to be seen if this is actually the way to go in correcting the issue. RSPO, in particular, has gotten attention recently due to the fact that many members of their organization continue to commit violations against indigenous communities impacted by palm oil production. Enforcing the standards held by RSPO can be difficult and resource-intensive, but if members are not being held accountable, then there is no way to ensure that their “sustainability” claims are true. Until a completely transparent system that includes standards and sanctions exists, the entire concept of “sustainable palm oil” appears to be greenwashing, at best.
Saying that something isn’t destructive doesn’t necessarily make it so.
While change can’t be made by standing still, moving forward might not be helpful either if you start moving in the wrong direction. The palm oil industry is doing very real damage to the environment, and attempts to regulate the industry have, so far, proven to be more PR than actual improvement. Avoiding the ingredient altogether is a sure fire way to let companies that use it know you don’t agree with its inclusion.
Hey, you don’t see Olestra popping up in chips anymore right? Spending our consumer dollars on products without this ingredient and supporting alternatives when they’re developed will tell manufacturers very clearly that we demand better for ourselves and our planet. If we don’t buy, companies have to try.
Lead Image Credit: Saving Wild