Deforestation accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Whilst the causes are complex, it is widely acknowledged that the biggest drivers are the cultivation of soy and palm oil, paper and pulp, and the rearing of cattle — all of which are major ingredients in the supply chains of most consumer-goods companies.

Should we ban palm oil?

Public awareness about the loss of wildlife through deforestation caused by palm oil crops is growing, and there is increasing pressure on retailers to boycott all palm oil, including sustainable palm oil. However, a ban would mean replacing palm oil with other types of vegetable oil to meet the current demand, and this would put progress at severe risk. Compared with other sources — such as rapeseed and soya beans — palm oil crops yield 4-10 times more oil per unit of land. We must avoid confusing consumers and practitioners with conflicting messages and be very clear that the answer lies in the sustainable sourcing of palm oil.

Sourcing sustainably

Soybean farming is responsible for more than double the deforestation of palm oil. Worldwide, 85 percent of the soybean crop is fed to livestock, while the rest is “hidden” in processed food consumed directly by humans. It is therefore imperative that companies start understanding their soy supply chains.

Business, government and NGOs must work collectively to bring about lasting change. Certification is one part of the solution, but jurisdictional approaches are also worthy of increased focus and investment. These lie at the intersection of two existing strategies to reduce forest loss — landscape approaches by governments and voluntary corporate sustainability efforts.

A larger communications strategy must accompany business actions, and companies need to be ready to share their stories to empower consumers and help them to understand the need to support sustainable sourcing.