Woolworths has become the first South African company to become a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), a global organisation which has developed a set of standards that address the legal, economic, environmental and social requirements of producing sustainable palm oil. Around the world, more palm oil is produced than any other vegetable oil. It’s found in everything from food products to toiletries and cosmetics. Worldwide, some 47 million tons of palm oil are used annually. Currently, the majority of palm oil – over 80% – is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia. Oil palm is grown most often on newly cleared rainforest or peat-swamp forests rather than on already degraded or abandoned agricultural land, something the RSPO is closely monitoring and working to end. In both countries, the number of critically endangered and threatened land mammals – most notably the orangutan — has increased significantly. In addition to the effect deforestation has on the habitats of endangered species and in speeding climate change, the rapid expansion of oil palm plantations has also resulted in disruption to human settlements and conflicts between local communities and palm oil producers. The RSPO, which has some 300 members around the world, was formed in order to address these challenges and promote the sustainable production of palm oil by:  Researching and developing definitions and criteria for the sustainable production and use of palm oil;  Undertaking practical projects designed to facilitate implementation of sustainable best practices;  Developing solutions to practical problems related to the adoption and verification of best practices for plantation establishment and management, procurement, trade and logistics;  Involving the entire supply chain to support sustainable palm oil. Woolworths has joined the RSPO in order to promote and raise awareness of the need for sustainable palm oil production. This commitment includes purchasing certified sustainable palm oil certificates for the tons of palm oil used in Woolworths foods and beauty products. By buying these Green Palm certificates Woolworths is contributing to RSPO efforts to incentivise Indonesian and Malaysian palm oil producers to become certified sustainable producers. Woolworths has also undertaken to replace palm oil with alternatives where possible and has further committed to using only certified sustainable palm oil by 2015. The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the conservation organisation, which was instrumental in the formation of the RSPO, has welcomed the news that Woolworths has become a member. “We commend Woolworths for taking the lead on this issue and strengthening its already evident commitment to responsible product procurement. In joining those in the RSPO Woolworths is helping to promote socially and environmentally responsible palm oil production and mitigate the spread of forest conversion in Southeast Asia. South African consumers also stand to benefit from the opportunity to choose products that are not associated with harmful practices,” said Morné du Plessis, CEO, of WWF South Africa. ENDS NOTES FOR THE EDITOR  Woolworths Good Business Journey Woolworths Good Business Journey is a comprehensive 5-year plan announced in April 2007 to help people and planet. It incorporates a series of challenging targets and commitments centred on four key priorities: accelerating transformation, driving social development, enhancing Woolworths’ environmental focus and addressing climate change.  The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Formed in 2004, the RSPO brings together stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.  Sustainable Palm Oil (excerpted from the RSPO web site) Driven by ever increasing global demand for edible oils, the past few decades have seen rapid expansion in the production of palm oil. The area under palm oil cultivation had increased by about 43%, mostly in Malaysia and Indonesia – the world's largest producers of palm oil. However this rapid expansion has naturally put pressure on the environment and on societies where the palm is grown. While better managed plantations and oil palm smallholdings serve as models of sustainable agriculture, in terms of economic performance as well as social and environmental responsibility, there is concern that not all palm oil is always being produced sustainably. Development of new plantations has resulted in the conversion of large areas of forests with high conservation value and has threatened the rich biodiversity in these ecosystems. The expansion of oil palm plantations has also given rise to social conflicts between indigenous communities and growers in some places. Hence sustainable palm oil is seen as a way forward to continue to supply the world with its much needed vegetable oil without harming the planet and its people.