In October 2012, UK associations and the government committed to “working towards” achieving 100% sourcing of “credibly certified sustainable” palm oil by the end of 2015.
In its third update on the initiative released today, DEFRA gave two varying figures on progress.
Segregated and mass balance certified sustainable palm oil and purchases of GreenPalm certificates accounted for either 72% (up from 55% in 2013) or 93% (up from 71%) of UK palm oil imports in 2014, depending on the baseline trade data used.
Yet RSPO European director of outreach and engagement, Danielle Morley, said whichever data set you looked at - from Oil World or FEDIOL - progress since 2009 had been “steady”.
Another DEFRA report suggested 19% or 25% of this was made up of GreenPalm certificates.
DEFRA said signatories had come a long way since 2012, but challenges remained across the many different sectors using palm.
“The organisations have started from different places and they face different challenges. It is recognised that some sectors are making rapid progress whilst others are finding the transition more difficult,” it wrote in the report.
One signatory, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) – which represents the likes of Sainsbury, Tesco and Spar – reported its members sourced 91% sustainable palm oil at the end of 2014, of which 87% was physically certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO).
Meanwhile the UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) said 85% of its members that used palm oil only used CSPO, with this figure expected to exceed 90% by the end of 2015.
However fellow signatory World Wildlife Fund (WWF) warned: “WWF-UK supports the current UK sustainable palm oil commitment that signatories of the UK statement made on sustainable palm oil but this now needs to go faster and further given that the commitment ends later this year and may be unlikely to be fully met.”
Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC), British Association for Chemical Specialities (BACS), British Hospitality Association (BHA), British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA), British Retail Consortium (BRC), Business Services Association (BSA), Chilled Food Association (CFA), Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), Food and Drink Federation (FDF), Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD), National Edible Oils Distributors’ Association (NEODA), Renewable Energy Association (REA), Seed Crushers and Oil Processors’ Association (SCOPA), Sustainable Restaurant Association (SRA), UK Cleaning Products Industry Association (UKCPI), UK Government, UK Petroleum Industry Association (UKPIA), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Zoological Society of London (ZSL).
The figured used in DEFRA's report included GreenPalm certificates, something environmental NGOs have said equates to ‘green washing’.
Richard George, Greenpeace UK forest campaign team leader, told us: "GreenPalm certificates are a complete waste of time. Instead of wasting money on GreenPalm certificates to try and salve their conscience, companies and governments should focus on ensuring that their palm oil suppliers aren’t chopping down rainforest."
GreenPalm certificates offer buyers a way of ‘offsetting’ their purchase of unsustainable, or non-certified, palm oil.
One GreenPalm certificate represents one metric tonne of CSPO. This in turn allows companies to sport the GreenPalm logo.
The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) advocates this web-based Book & Claim market system – owned by oil giant AAK – as a way for firms who do not have “reasonable access” to physical supply chains to support the production of CSPO.
In the past NGO Rainforest Action Network said GreenPalm certificates were a "step in the right direction", but warned the GreenPalm logo did not ensure palm oil in products was sustainable and said this could equate to 'green washing'.
Asked if it was appropriate to include GreenPalm certificates in such calculations, RSPO’s Danielle Morley told us: “RSPO accepts all options of supply chain certification.”
But added: “The most significant growth in market uptake in UK is with segregated and mass balance CSPO.”
A separate DEFRA report on 2014 palm oil consumption shows segregated and mass balance CSPO accounted for 289,963 metric tonnes (excluding derivatives and finished goods) used by UK refiners, equivalent to either 53% or 68% of UK imports, depending on the trade data source used.
Meanwhile 106,146 metric tonnes of palm oil was supported by purchases of GreenPalm certificates by UK companies. This supported the production of certified oil equivalent to either 19% or 25% of UK import, depending on the trade data source used.
On an EU level, the European National Initiatives has set the ambitious target of 100% sustainable supply chains in Europe by 2020.