#14 | Inke Van Der Sluijs - RSPO: Champion of Sustainable Palm Oil
Did you know palm oil is in around 50% of all products found on supermarket shelves?
In this episode of Sustainability Matters Today, I interview Inke Van Der Sluijs, head of European operations at the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (aka the RSPO) and #Champion of Sustainable Palm Oil.
Established in 2004, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is the leading certifying body that demonstrates palm oil is produced with the environment and society in mind. The RSPO has more than 4,000 members worldwide who represent all links along the palm oil supply chain. They have committed to produce, source and/or use sustainable palm oil certified by the RSPO.
Please make sure to subscribe to the Sustainability Matters Today podcast to learn more about other champions of sustainability like Inke.
I hope you enjoy this episode!
Assurance Services International (ASI):www.asi-assurance.org/s
Jurisdiction approach to certification: rspo.org/news-and-events/announcements/public-consultation-jurisdictional-approach-for-rspo-certification
Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-governmental_organization
Peatland and Climate Change: iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/peatlands-and-climate-change
RSPO website: rspo.org
Sustainable Palm Oil: eco-business.com/news/what-is-sustainable-palm-oil
Daniel Hartz: I'm here with Inke Van Der Sluijs head of European operations for the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil. Thank you for joining me Inke great to have you on the show.
Inke Sluijs: Thank you, and it's a pleasure to be here.
Daniel Hartz: I'd love to start with your background before we jump into what the RSPO does. So how did you get started in sustainability?
Inke Sluijs: I've always been interested in nature and conservation. So, I did my bachelor's degree in environmental sciences and then after that, I did a master’s and my Ph.D. in biology. And I was very interested in how evolution takes place, but also how humans have an impact on the environment. So that led to eventually this wonderful position in the RSPO
Daniel Hartz: Great, lots of fun to start seeing how humans are actually a part of the ecosystem and they're related to everything we're not our own kind of category that's outside of things. Moving onto the goal of the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm oil it's really too transform the markets to make Sustainable Palm oil the norm. I'd love to hear a bit of background and history about the RSPO and really what the organization does on a day to day basis.
Inke Sluijs: Okay. So, we were founded in 2004 and since then we aim to bring together all stakeholders in the supply chain and work to a common set of criteria to reach 100% sustainable Palm oil.
Daniel Hartz: Great and so the term round table, kind of reminds me of King Arthur; so, you mentioned that you bring all stakeholders to the table and is that why that word was chosen? Because you have everyone who's involved in the Palm oil industry, they're all represented.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, exactly. So, what it means is that we all have an equal say in this organization. So, when we develop new, new strategies to make this sector sustainable we talk with everyone involved in, I think that this makes the round table unique and also very, effective. Slow at times because you have to have the consensus of all the stakeholder groups. But at the same time, if it's a strategy that is supported by everyone, the implementation will be more successful.
Daniel Hartz: And so, there are seven sectors as the RSPO calls it, that are represented; what are those sectors, and I mean you mentioned that it's important to have them all there, but why exactly is it important that they're all represented?
Inke Sluijs: Indeed, so the seven sectors are, one the growers, the second group is processer and traders. Then we have the consumer goods manufacturers, the retailers, banks and investors, social NGOs and environmental NGOs. So, it's very important that we all sit together because we can come up with something that we want to grow or to implement, for example, the growers don't agree, it's hard to make a sector transformation happen,
Daniel Hartz: Right, are any one of those sectors more important than another one?
Inke Sluijs: So, in the board and the working groups, they have an equal vote; so that's why there are seven. They all have, an equal vote and together we find what they think is sustainable Palm oil. And that changes every five years. We review our standard for growers and a, there has to be consensus on the changes.
Daniel Hartz: Gotcha. So, I mean, I think the reason why this is such an interesting, area to focus on is, especially recently Palm oil has been receiving a lot of negative press because of its destructive environmental impacts. But to provide some context because clearly, Palm oil is being grown and used because well they can't be that bad. So, would you mind providing some context on what exactly is Palm oil?
Inke Sluijs: So, Palm oil is a product of the oil Palm; oil Palm originates from Africa it was brought to Asia and so Malaysia and Indonesia currently produce 85% of the global volume.
Daniel Hartz: Wow.
Inke Sluijs: What we have to keep in mind is that this is the most consumed vegetable oil in the world. So, with an increase in population, increase in welfare, we see that the consumption of palm oil even further increases. So, there is sometimes criticism in this sector and some companies feel that it's better to move away from it, which is the easy way out. But if you look at it from a global perspective, we have to tackle these sustainability issues that are related to the sector. Because it is such an important vegetable oil, to feed the world.
Daniel Hartz: And so, you're saying it is an important vegetable oil. I read recently a statistic that said that basically, 50% of items that are sold in a supermarket contain some sort of Palm oil derivative. So, it seems like it's a very versatile product. What can you do with Palm oil exactly other than using it as vegetable oil?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, good question. Yeah, exactly. So, in Europe, we don't see it as a cooking oil very much, but of course in Asia that is, it's used as a cooking oil. But here we process it for margarine, peanut butter, but also shampoos, lipsticks, all sorts of products. So, it's in many products and there's a reason for that. It's versatile, it has certain characteristics of why it is used. So, for example, in margarine we use Palm oil because it's solid at room temperature, other vegetable oils are liquid; you would need to harden that and that is, technically possible. But a Palm oil is naturally solid at room temperature. So, it creates that margarine or peanut butter or chocolate paste melts in your mouth, but not in the packaging.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, it's possible to replace palm oil with other vegetable oils. But what do we have to keep in mind is that palm oil is a very high yielding crop? In fact, it's given four to 10 times more oil than other vegetable oil crops.
Daniel Hartz: Wow.
Inke Sluijs: So, if you replace with one of the oils that you mentioned, you would need more land, you possibly create issues in other regions. Think of [soy] and Amazon and it's not necessarily sustainable solution to move away from Palm because the other oils are not as efficient in terms of oil yield.
Daniel Hartz: Right, So, it's not such a simple solution in that sense. As we're saying, oil palms do take up space in kind of crucial parts of the global ecosystem, meaning tropical rainforest. So as much as we'd love to stop cutting those areas down and clearing them, using other vegetable oils like soy would actually probably take up even more space and be even more destructive. So, oil palms are actually the best crop in that sense because they're the most efficient. So really it sounds like the solution here is to find a way to balance the increasing demand for Palm oil while also protecting the ecosystems where they're growing. And that's exactly where the RSPO steps in and starts focusing on sustainable Palm oil. So, what exactly in that case is sustainable Palm oil?
Inke Sluijs: So sustainable palm oil is palm oil that is produced with respect to people, planet and prosperity. So, we have together with our stakeholders described what that means into grower standard. So, it's important that there is no deforestation for new plantations. There should not be planting on peatlands and human rights need to be respected.
Daniel Hartz: So, there's three, you mentioned three people, planet prosperity and so all of those are created into basically these rules, which is what the RSPO calls the principles and criteria.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, that's correct, yeah.
Daniel Hartz: I mean the principles and criteria; I took a look at the website. There is a lot of stuff going on there. So, does it organize all of the rules in by stakeholder or how exactly do those P and C's work?
Inke Sluijs: So, the principles or criteria applied to growers and mills, right? So, this is for the production and then there's supply chain certification for the actors in the chain who want to trade sustainable Palm oil. And the principles and criteria are evolved around people, planet, prosperity. And we'll describe for farmers and plantation companies we describe how to meet, the people, planet, prosperity principals and criteria and indicators that can be measured. And the compliance is checked not by us, but by third-party, independent third-party certification bodies.
Daniel Hartz: Very interesting, so there's actually two forms of kind of criteria. There are principles and criteria, which are for growers and mills; mills are the ones that process the--.
Inke Sluijs: The fruits.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, and then you have a whole separate set of criteria, which is specifically for people in the supply chain.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly yeah.
Daniel Hartz: So, does that, is that basically everyone else? I mean there are seven sectors so are growers and mills one sector two?
Inke Sluijs: One sector, it's the growers. So, it applies to the mill. The mill often owns plantations, but it also applies to growers who don't have their own mill but are linked to a mill. So, they have to comply with the principles and criteria. And then when you look at the other, stakeholders, processors and traders trade sustainable Palm oil, so they need to comply with the chain of custody certification. Same for consumer goods manufacturers when retailers are exempted from certification because they don't process, the products. It's end products that are delivered to the store. So, the retailers are very important in the demand for Palm oil, but they don't certify their own shops, so to say. And so, for banks and investors, that's quite similar. So, they have policies around how they invest into plantation companies or traders or refineries. So, they have policies to move the market but themselves are not involved in trading oil for example.
Daniel Hartz: Right, that's really interesting; it makes sense to me if you don't certify the growers in the mills because they are directly related to what happens in the rain forest or what doesn't happen in the rain forest. But certifying, the processors and people further down the supply chain, the first question that comes to mind is what would happen if, you just focused all of your time and attention on the growers and mills and didn't really worry about certifying the banks and others further down the supply chain.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, exactly. So, the idea is indeed to put most of the effort into the growers, but then the growers have to be rewarded for changing their practices and the costs that are involved in changing their practice and become certified by an independent party. So, the idea is that others in the supply chain have a responsibility in encouraging that sustainable production. So, the processors and traders support the growers by buying their material and trading that to the consumer goods manufacturers for example and what they need to comply with. is just that they don't sell more than they buy. So, the supply chain certification is focused more on that the companies are making the correct claims and not overselling their volumes.
Daniel Hartz: Got it. So, it's basically, it's making sure that people further down the supply chain are actually rewarding all the hard work that the growers are doing.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly.
Daniel Hartz: Beyond just the standard principles and criteria the RSPO also has a voluntary add on, which is called RSPO next, which is basically like the next stage or advanced, set of criteria, for Palm oil production; that prevents deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, plus it also strengthens human rights commitments. So, focusing again on people, planet and prosperity. So, what additional policies are included in RSPO next that are not included in the standard P and C's?
Inke Sluijs: Okay, so, after the previous revision of the principles and criteria, so I'm talking about 2013 we reviewed the principles and criteria and not all the market players who are satisfied with what was defined as the grower's standards. So, this led to this add on module RSPO next where you have indeed stricter criteria on deforestation, peat, reduction of greenhouse gases, no fires and respect for human rights. But these add on criteria are now incorporated into our new standards. So, in November 2018, the RSPO adopted, members RSPO adopted new principles and criteria for the, for growers and the mills; and all of these criteria are now in the new standards so it's now the default.
Daniel Hartz: Okay, so this RSPO next is basically doesn't exist anymore.
Inke Sluijs: It's still there, but the board is discussing what, we will do with it, but it's likely that it will disappear, trying to look into the future. as soon as the new standard is completely adopted. I mean it's already adopted the new standard, but not fully implemented I should say.
Daniel Hartz: Gotcha. Yeah, I mean it's really interesting to hear that it's just becoming stricter and you're really tightening up what it means to be sustainable.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah.
Daniel Hartz: I think that's really, really important.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah.
Daniel Hartz: So, you mentioned earlier that a very important part of being sustainable is no deforestation and I think that's really what's on a lot of people's mind when they think about Palm oil is you know, they see videos of orangutans losing their homes and all these trees being cut down. So, you have new planting procedures that are designed to protect forests, land, people, and wildlife when planting new oil Palm plantations. so, what are some of the considerations that must be made before any planting begins?
Inke Sluijs: So, before a company starts a new plantation, they have to have an independent impact assessment of that plantation. So, they need to assess whether the land that they want to clear has a high value biodiversity or perhaps communities that use the land before they can clear. So, if there is important bio diversity that we need to conserve, if there is community use of the land, you cannot log there or if there's peat. So, you'll have to consider before you start a new plantation what is on the land and whether that is something that we need to conserve or whether it's something that we don't worry about. And you can't convert that.
Daniel Hartz: In quote-unquote unsustainable planting, has that historically just not been any consideration at all? People just say this is a perfect place to plant, let's just do that and they didn't think about what was there?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, exactly not just for palm oil. For many, commodities land has been cleared because they have legal ownership of the land. If you have legal ownership of the land somehow that gives you access to it and the rights to clear it. And we're saying, no, you can have legal ownership but what if there is customary use by communities or what if there are rare and endangered species on that land you cannot clear - you to have to conserve as an RSPO member.
Daniel Hartz: So, you mentioned that it's, that land sometimes has community use, or you know, specific people are using the land in a specific way. And so, that's an important part of the assessment is really assessing whether indigenous peoples and local communities will be affected, or their livelihood will be affected. so that's what you call the free prior and informed consent. why is that such an important consideration?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, so when you first, let me take an example because it makes it easier to understand; in Africa not so, the land is owned by the government, but communities have customary rights. So, in the past, you would see that companies buy legally, and they buy land from the government and think that since they are the owner of them, they can clear it. But then there were conflicts with the local communities because they may have been farming there forever, they lived off the forest. and in that case, there's a conflict. So, what we say to our members, they have to investigate first who is the owner of the land and if you bought it legally, you have to find out whether communities made use of the land. And if they, you have to enter this process to talk with them and say, okay, I'm now the owner are you using this land? Would you mind if we turn it into an oil palm plantation? And you have to have the consent of the community to develop the land.
Daniel Hartz: It's only fair because they're using it, I mean, perhaps a company may have legal ownership over the land, but if other people are, if they depend on it, it doesn't seem very fair that someone else just comes in and says, well I have legal ownership here? So, I don't really care what happens to anyone else. Does focusing on human rights really tie into environmental benefits as well? Or are they kind of two separate categories?
Inke Sluijs: Well, sustainability sort of covers both. So, in the past, we may have developed, voluntary schemes from an environmental angle or from a farmer's angle. But these days, sustainability is about social and environmental aspects, not to forget the prosperity running and economic business. So, I think what, what we tend to forget when we talk about Palm oil is how much it has brought to the livelihoods of people. So yes, we are all concerned about the planet. We only have one and we need to respect it and treat it properly. But at the same time, we need to allow people to develop and build up proper livelihoods and the oil Palm sectors are actually very successful in that. So, this sector has lifted millions of people out of poverty and we should never forget that the economic aspect that, has been so important for the producing countries to lift themselves out of poverty and build up healthy livelihoods and being able to bring their kids to school. That is the economic aspect of it. So, we should never forget that we need a holistic approach to sustainability. We need to consider, the human rights aspect, so no forced labor, no child labor these kinds of things, but at the same time respect the environment and ensure that the forests maintained. So, it's really a very broad approach to sustainability that we're talking with our members.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, I think it makes sense. I mean it’s kind of what we were saying earlier, which is people are part of the environment as well. And so, when you're thinking about sustainability, it is, I think it is important to go beyond just the environmental aspect, because if you're, if you're respecting people's rights as well, then you're probably also, well, hopefully also trying to respect the environment. Going back to one of the things that you mentioned about how where you can and cannot plant, you mentioned that something about, you mentioned something about peat and specifically, you can't really plant on peat or peatland. so, what exactly is peatland? Why is that important trying to protect?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, very good question. So, peatlands need to be conserved and not drained because if you drain peatlands you have emissions of greenhouse gases. So, in the past, especially in certain countries like Indonesia, lots of plantations more on peat, which means that you have to drain it otherwise it's too wet for the oil palms. And if you drain it, you have greenhouse gas emissions. So, with our new standards that we adopted last year, we have a complete ban on peat, so they cannot, RSPO members cannot plant on peat anymore.
Daniel Hartz: Now what exactly is peat?
Inke Sluijs: It is alike, organic soils. So, I come from the Netherlands and we had in the past a lot of peat and we used to extract it because if you're drying it, it's a very good way to burn your stuff down. So, we have done that moat in the past and we're telling other parts of the world that they cannot do it anymore because now we understand the environmental impact of draining peatlands.
Daniel Hartz: Got it. So, it's kind of like a swampy area?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah.
Daniel Hartz: And is it, is there a lot of trees growing there? I mean, is it a part of the rain forest or ...
Inke Sluijs: No, it's not part of the rain forest. Rainforests, typically on a drier soil, but, yeah. Peatlands are like indeed swampy areas, where you have a unique birdlife, you have other species migrating and, and, and staying in those fertile soils and, yeah, we now prohibit planting peatlands and it's important for, for certain countries because there were many plantations on peatland. So, when they are currently already on peatlands, they need to maintain water-tables to make sure that it doesn't drain too much.
Daniel Hartz: Oh, I see; that's interesting that really jumped out at me as a very specific rule. I understand that deforestation obviously wouldn't want to cut down rainforest, especially primary ones where haven't been people there. But peat seemed like a very specific thing. Yeah, it's interesting to hear about if you drain it, then all of a sudden there are lots of CO2 emissions. So, a big part of what really of what you're doing is also not only are you protecting rainforests, but you're also looking to reduce or maintain or at least prohibit excess CO2 emissions.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly, exactly. And that impacts climate change. So, apart from maintaining the forest, which is important for biodiversity, but also who climate change, we also preserve the peatlands now.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah. Fantastic. So, going to the certification process in terms of becoming sustainable and for companies to, actually get that seal of approval, what exactly does it take for a company to become certified and sustainable?
Inke Sluijs: So, to become certified for plantation companies, they need to comply with the complete set of principles and criteria. So, the study, it's in a thick booklet that has criteria [that hates 01:11] you comply with. They study, their criteria, they changed their practices and then they invite an independent certification body to come and audit compliance against the standard. So, they invite auditor's and usually, it's a team of auditors for plantation companies because they have to be audited on compliance for environmental criteria and social criteria, meaning that you need different skill sets. If you are more of an environmentalist, you would be able to read the satellite images of the plantation and surroundings and you would be, knowledgeable about what a rare species are, for example.
Inke Sluijs: But if you want to check compliance on workers' rights, for example, you need to do interviews with the workers, which is a completely different skillset. So, what we typically see for plantation companies is that the group of auditors come to the plantation and they verify compliance against the whole, set of principles and criteria. Then they may have, nonconformities that they need to address once these are properly addressed and closed, the certification body issues or a certificate and then after one year they have another audit. So, it's an annual audit for compliance.
Daniel Hartz: Got it. And you mentioned that these auditors are third party.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah. So, they're independent of us and they're accredited by assurance services international ASI.
Daniel Hartz: Gotcha. So, they basically have your list of rules and or the principles and criteria and they have to take a look at, does the plantation match and meet all of those principles and criteria.
Inke Sluijs: Yes. That's correct.
Daniel Hartz: And so, one, let's just say that they, the auditor says, yes, they do, this is all good. Then, what happens after that part?
Inke Sluijs: So, if all is good, the auditor, issues a certificate and that's published on a website so everyone can check which growers are certified.
Daniel Hartz: I see.
Inke Sluijs: And then after one year they come back and check compliance again.
Daniel Hartz: And so those are the certified sustainable companies. But you also have over 4,300 members of the RSPO. And so, what are members and how do they get involved or what are the benefits that they see as being part of the RSPO?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah. So, indeed, we're growing quite fast with our membership. So, we have more than 4,300 members globally from many different countries, many different sectors. These members sign up to the code of conduct and the code of conduct says that you need to use and purchase sustainable Palm oil. So, if you are a grower member, you go towards certification of your plantations. If you're a goods manufacturer, you work towards using 100% sustainable Palm oil for your products. If you're a bank, you say, okay, I become a member of the RSPO, I will incorporate it into my policy for example when I invest in plantation companies, I require RSPO membership or RSPO certification.
Inke Sluijs: So, all these members have their own responsibility and their own way to influence this sector transformation to 100% sustainable Palm oil. The social and environmental [ NGO's 05:13] are very important as well; they stimulate demand. So, they ask the companies whether they're using sustainable Palm oil, but there are also often involved in projects on the ground to work with farmers to make them aware of how they changed to more sustainable practices. So, every, every stakeholder group has a responsibility in this trend, in a sector transformation and, they all have different roles.
Daniel Hartz: Gotcha. As you've been saying, it's really important that everyone gets involved, because then they all support each other, and it becomes kind of a virtuous cycle. So, what exactly is the motivation for companies to get certified? I mean, if I'm a company, why would I want to...why would I want this sustainable certification?
Inke Sluijs: So, for plantation companies, it becomes access to the market. So, if plantation companies want to supply to the European market or the American market, this is what the market will ask for. So, it's to show that you have been audited by an independent certification body against a set of criteria that we all agree to. And it's to show that, that you produce sustainability. And it’s really what certain markets demand, of course, the market demand in other regions is as important and we need to collectively work in other markets to increase that market demand as well. So, you can imagine that Europe and the US are already demanding sustainable Palm oil.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah.
Inke Sluijs: But that is not. The biggest market is India, Indonesia, China. So, my colleagues in regional offices are also working with these markets to stimulate market demand there, which is much harder of course.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, I would imagine. Do you have any insight into how they're doing that?
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, so for example, in India and China, the industry formed a coalition or an alliance to work together towards that, demand for sustainable Palm oil. And that has proven to be very effective because also in different countries in Europe we have national initiatives to move to 100% sustainable Palm oil and these are often sector initiatives. So, it’s the processes and traders of Palm oil, but also the consumer goods manufacturers who should together and say, okay, we need to tackle this issue because it's big and it's important to us. Let's see how we can collectively transform this movement.
Inke Sluijs: And that's also what is happening in sort of the newer markets for certified sustainable Palm oil like India and China and it will be at a different speed, but for sure that will make changes in the market as well.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, great. Well, I think it's very important if we're going to see the global change that everyone who's using Palm oil in whatever way gets involved and has the correct motivation. One thing I was really surprised to learn about is actually, we're talking about companies getting certified, but actually, 40% of Palm oil is grown by smallholders. And I thought that was very surprising cause that's a lot more than I ever imagined. And you did mention that Palm oil has brought millions out of poverty. I guess it does make sense that there a lot of Palm oil is coming from smallholders. It also means that it's very important to get smallholders on board. if, if we are going to see a world where all Palm oil is sustainable. And just to provide some context who are smallholders and what are some of the common issues that they face as producers?
Inke Sluijs: So, indeed 40% of the land that is under production for oil palm is owned by smallholders. So, this means that we have a huge challenge because, in principle, smallholders don't have the same access to knowledge and resources as bigger companies.
Daniel Hartz: Right.
Inke Sluijs: So, we have a unique a rule in RSPO where we say that mills are responsible for their contracted smallholders or also called schemes [smallholders]. So, the smallholders that are contracted by mills should be brought to sustainable production within a set time frame this is different for independent smallholders. So, independent smallholders are not contracted by mills and they have a choice where they want to bring their fresh fruit punches to one or the other mill. So, these independent smallholders are more difficult to reach, and we need to educate them on how they can produce sustainable, but also how they achieve RSPO certification. So, this year we're sort of implementing our smallholder's strategy and that also means that we will have a separate standard for independent smallholders where we allow a step by step approach to certification. And, this document is not finalized yet. Our members will vote in November whether they agree to this new approach and hopefully, they will adopt it because it is a way to support independent smallholders in the steps towards full compliance.
Daniel Hartz: So, yeah, smallholders as a person basically the definition of a smallholder is, they have to have less than 50 hectors of land. And another big part is that the family provides all of the or most of the labor. And then also the Palm oil is where the oil palms rather are the primary source of income.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, exactly that's correct. So, their challenges to prove that they legally own the land. That is a challenge. That seems like admin here in the Netherlands and perhaps where you are in the UK.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah.
Inke Sluijs: In producing countries, it is a struggle to get land titles in certain countries. So, they have to prove that they exist on a legal plantation. You mentioned the family labor that is of course perfectly accepted in farms here because we all have the right to education. And then if we help our father at the farm in the evening, that's not an issue. But we have to ensure that is the case in smallholders as well. So, the children need to have an education and then there are limited ways that they can work at the plantation it has to be always safe and they're not physically too heavy.
Inke Sluijs: So, these are challenges for smallholders because they depend on the new family labor. And then other things that they're challenging to them is have access to the methodologies that independent assessors use to assess whether you can clear land. So, we talked earlier about before you start a plantation you need to, ensure that you don't have rare and endangered species on the land for example. It costs a lot of money to have this assessment done by independent parties; so, smallholders struggle with that and there are different models needed to support smallholders in ensuring that they are fully compliant with our principles and criteria.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, that sounds challenging--.
Inke Sluijs: Certainly.
Daniel Hartz: Especially considering that there's millions of them.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, I mean what happens if I'm a smallholder and I'm able to prove that I own a small plot of land, it's definitely mine. My family is working on it and I'm passing all of those criteria. Everything looks good but then it turns out that my plot of land is right in the middle of a very important part of an ecosystem for an endangered animal. What do I do? I mean the whole point of the smallholders that they're making their living off of the oil palms there. How can they get certified if where they're living is kind of fundamentally... it's almost like it's not allowed to be a Palm oil?
Inke Sluijs: Exactly, exactly. So, if this farmer has not cleared the land, it cannot clear the land and it cannot be certified sustainable, if they have cleared in the past it depends on when they did that. So, if they did it before our cutoff date of 2005, they can still become certified. If they have done it after 2005 there are compensation mechanisms to compensate for the loss of that piece of land.
Daniel Hartz: As far as the compensation models, that's something that the smallholder would pay as a form of compensation.
Inke Sluijs: Yeah, that is how it should work. But it will be extremely challenging for them to bear the costs. So, the conclusion might be that, if they did recent clearing, they cannot be RSPO certified.
Daniel Hartz: Gotcha. As far as why a smallholder would want to be certified sustainable and go through what sounds like a pretty arduous process for them. What's the benefit for a smallholder to be certified sustainable?
Inke Sluijs: So, we did a study on smallholders and it showed that smallholders that become RSPO certified have higher profitability and lower cost. So, that is the direct benefit and of course, now premiums are paid for sustainably produced, fresh fruit branches. So, it's three aspects it's the premium, it's the profitability and the lower cost. So, it's proven that smallholders have higher use on the same piece of land. And as we spoke earlier about how Palm oil is the most consumed vegetable oil in the world, we all don't want deforestation, planting on peat, we have to find ways to increase yields on existing land. And for smallholders, we've shown that direct benefit.
Daniel Hartz: Yeah, that's fantastic. Basically, you provide that knowledge and access to the tools required to get to that point.
Inke Sluijs: It's not only RSPO it’s also RSPO members who help them, as I said, if they are contracted by mills, the mills will help them to get there, but also our NGOs are very active in bringing smallholders up to speed.
Daniel Hartz: Oh, okay. Oh, that's great. So, it's one more reason why it's important to have all seven sectors involved.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly.
Daniel Hartz: Okay, very cool. So, it all starts to.... everyone works together to work towards the common goal of 100% sustainable Palm oil. Yeah. Fantastic. So, you mentioned, in November you're going to be tightening up and hopefully passing the smallholder, strategy. are there any other kind of next steps or big plans that the RSPO has in the next year or two years or even five years that we can look forward to.
Inke Sluijs: So, indeed, adoption of the new independent smallholder standard is one we hope to achieve by the end of this year. And another really important development, but quite technical, let me warn you, is the jurisdictional approach to certification. And what it means is that you have a region where all stakeholders come together; so, it's the seven groups that we mentioned before, but this time we also bring in the government. So, what we do and the government and all the stakeholders do is sit together and agree what the boundaries of the year of the region is, where the no go areas are and agree to that, where the plantation companies are and agree to that and bring this whole region to compliance. And it's a new process, but it's the one way we can scale up our impact because what we see now is certified plantations in fragmented habitat. In a fragmented region. And what we want to work towards is a wider view and look at what is important in a certain landscape and let's agree to conserve that, not just for palm within the future for other commodities and then move that whole region to a sustainable production basically. So, our members and the governments in four jurisdictions are working towards that. I promise you it's going to be a long process, but it will be with a very high impact.
Daniel Hartz: That's interesting. So, it's looking really at how an entire region works almost like an ecosystem and respecting that rather than just considering fixing one little aspect and then perhaps ignoring other parts of it.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly. Yeah.
Daniel Hartz: Very interesting. So, it sounds like your kind of alluding to the fact that the RSPO will probably be focusing on other commodities beyond just Palm oil. Meaning you might be looking at soy potentially or other commodities that are currently impacting the environment and in these kinds of areas like Malaysia or countries rather like Malaysia, Indonesia.
Inke Sluijs: So, what will happen in the future is that we will invite other voluntary schemes like RSPO to the table. I don't think that RSPO has the ambition to work on other commodities. What we like to see is when we have figured out how it works for Palm oil in a certain region, that, that is also adopted for tea or coffee for example, in the same region. So, what we would like to do is, invite other sustainability initiatives to come to the table and ensure that the no go areas defined for palm are also respected by other commodities.
Daniel Hartz: Fantastic, and that keeps your name Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil intact and be kind of ethos of bringing everyone together it's still being followed, which is great. So, what, what can people listening to the podcast do to support the RSPO? And I mean, what, what can people do to be more environmentally friendly with their choices as far as Palm oil is concerned?
Inke Sluijs: Okay, so, for companies, it's really important to develop policies for sustainable sourcing not just palm everything and this becomes your license to produce. Consumers have trust in the brands and the consumer goods manufacturers to deliver products that are sourced, in a responsible way. So, I think that is very important for the companies, not just to develop policies, but also to implement their policies. Many of the companies have a target for 2020, and that seems far away when they defined it. But of course, now it's around the corner, so- these companies really have to step up and commit to buying RSPO certified material and it's out there so they should really act.
Inke Sluijs: For consumers, it's a more complicated issue, so, if you are a conscious consumer like me and you turn every package around and read you may find on some of the products that there is sustainable Palm oil in it. It's mandatory for our members to the use RSPO trademark on the pack. So, not making claims on the package is not mandatory, consequently, you don't see many products that make that claim. So, what you can do as a consumer checks the brands whether they have sustainable sourcing policies. So, as a consumer, ask on platforms like Twitter, ask your favorite brands whether they use sustainable palm oil. Please don't ask them whether they are using palm oil and whether they cannot do without Palm oil. Because we have just explained palm oil is a very efficient crop, palm oil is used for certain reasons. And especially in our markets, we need to drive that demand for sustainable Palm oil. So, it's important to call out to the companies to use sustainable Palm oil, it's available in the market, then they should simply buy it.
Daniel Hartz: I think it's so interesting that it is not mandatory for packaging to have the seal of certification or some kind of indication of sustainability. Just because that seems like such a powerful marketing opportunity, especially considering as you mentioned that in the US and Europe, there's such a big demand for it.
Inke Sluijs: Exactly, yeah. The reason is that our members decide about the rules, so, in multi-stakeholder settings, we say, okay, what do we make mandatory and what does voluntarily. And our members wanted voluntary trademark use. and it makes sense on certain products. We talked earlier about where you find palm oil, think about margarine, peanut butter, shampoo, lipstick, palm oil is in there, but it maybe 1% or 5% or 20%. It's not the main ingredient; so, what does it mean if you claim that there is sustainable Palm oil. What does it say about the other ingredients? So, our members wanted the freedom, to talk about sustainable Palm oil or not. And consumer awareness of the use of Palm oil in itself is already very low. And, that may also then lead to the choice that, the use of the trademark is voluntary. I think certain markets, especially where you are in the UK, are changing. Consumers are becoming more aware of the uses of palm oil and I think this is an opportunity for RSPO members to start communicating about the things that they have already invested in for years, but never really spoke publicly about. This is their opportunity to step in and say, yes, I'm using Palm oil and guess what I've been using sustainable Palm oil for years already.
Daniel Hartz: Right, yeah, I completely agree it's a really big opportunity. And yeah, Inke as we start to wrap up here the last minute or so, so where can people find more information about the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil and really learn about the work that you're doing?
Inke Sluijs: So, we have a website RSPO.org also where I'm more active on LinkedIn; I, myself, I'm active on LinkedIn. Not so much on Twitter, but our colleagues are. So, we're on Twitter and Facebook if you just Google RSPO you get a lot of information. So, I think there's lots of information out there, but if people have additional questions, please find me on LinkedIn and ask the questions there its always welcome.
Daniel Hartz: Excellent, well, hopefully, this will start a dialogue and people will become a bit more aware of their purchasing habits, both on a corporate and on a personal level. So, Inke can thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Inke Sluijs: Thank you, Daniel. It was a pleasure.
Thank you very much for listening to this episode!
If you’d like to learn more about Inke and RSPO, visit their website at rspo.org, or like their Facebook page, @RSPO.org. You can also follow them on Twitter for fascinating facts - @RSPOtweets.
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