211.3 Promoting sustainable palmoil; Are consumers really involved or only virtually?

Thursday, August 2, 2012: 9:40 AM
Faculty of Economics, TBA
Oral Presentation
Peter OOSTERVEER , Environmental Policy group, Wageningen University, Wageningen, Netherlands
Palm oil is the leading tropical vegetable oil and used as an input for food products, cosmetics, animal feed and bio-energy. Its production is concentrated in Southeast Asia, but its use is increasingly spread worldwide. The sector provides income and employment to millions of people and foreign currency for many countries. Nevertheless, the growing palm oil sector has led to negative environmental consequences, such as tropical deforestation and soil erosion, to increased greenhouse gases and to air and water pollution. In addition, the expansion of large-scale plantations has contributed to social-political unrest at community level.

Several initiatives have been taken to respond to these challenges, including by governments, private companies and NGOs. Interesting initiatives are the Round Table on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), established in 2004 by international private companies and NGOs, and the recently launched Indonesia Sustainable Palmoil Standard (ISPO). Although consumers are not actively involved in these initiatives, they are often referred to when sustainability standards and certification are proposed or developed. However, it is unclear how consumer concerns are actually involved or whether these are used in an indirect manner to promote the interests of particular organisations. It is complicated for consumers to directly influence production practices because the palm oil origin can hardly be recognized in margarine, soap, cookies or biodiesel. A key question is therefore how consumer concerns play a role in these sustainability initiatives and what this means in the lives of consumers when they are operationalized.

This paper will analyse the ways in which the RSPO and the  ISPO incorporate consumers and their concerns in developing and implementing their respective standards and discuss what this means more broadly for sustainable consumption.