Half of all the packaged and processed foods in your nearest supermarket contain palm oil, a cheap and versatile product whose growth also happens to have dreadful environmental consequences.
The palm oil industry is booming but at the same time is responsible for cutting down literally millions of acres of rainforest, particularly in Indonesia and Malaysia, the countries that make 88% of the globe’s supplies of palm oil. This means countless vital rainforest species are being pushed right to the edge of extinction, and the wildfires that break out as a result of the deforestation, fanned by climate change, have led to a thick blanket of smog so bad it’s breaking every air pollution record.
Since the year 2000 palm oil production has more than tripled. But the small yet determined nation of Norway has brought about a dramatic change in the face of all this wanton destruction. Their long term national consumer boycott went viral, and it means that Norwegian food producers, who used 15,000 tons of palm oil in 2011, cut their palm oil use by two thirds in 2012, thanks to eight major food producers slashing their palm oil use by just short of ten thousand tons, a drop of more than 60%.
The campaign in question asked Norwegians to ‘stop eating the rainforest’, and it proved an uncannily powerful message. These days all the nation’s food products are produced either completely without palm oil or with only very tiny amounts of it.
The Rainforest Foundation Norway and Green Living launched the campaign to expose the link between palm oil production, deforestation and social conflicts in Indonesia and Malaysia, to cut the country’s consumption of palm oil in foods, and force Norwegian food producers to demand traceability and transparency from their palm oil suppliers. It was designed to fix the status quo: an almost complete lack of traceability and transparency in palm oil supply chains.
Targeting all Norway’s biggest food producers, the campaign involved a survey, meetings with food producers, an online guide for the consumer, the tactical harnessing of traditional and social media, a nationwide petition plus lots of readily-available information and news about the palm oil industry.
The campaign worked beautifully in Norway, and there’s no real reason why it shouldn’t work just as well elsewhere. Let’s hope we see similar campaigns being rolled out in other nations where foods commonly contain palm oil.