ICELAND + GREENPEACE
VS PALM OIL
In 2018 Iceland Foods, a UK-based supermarket chain, banned palm oil from their products. Palm oil, a global commodity found in a wide array of goods from foods to cosmetics, is associated with significant deforestation of tropical forests, the climate in which it grows best. This rainforest destruction is not only bad news for climate change, as such landscapes are massive carbon sinks, but also for biodiversity conservation. Rainforests in countries like Indonesia, where a significant proportion of palm oil production occurs, are home to unique wildlife like Orangutans whose survival is very sensitive to habitat destruction.
It was around the latter topic that Iceland Foods, in collaboration with Greenpeace, launched a public engagement campaign on their palm oil ban. They released an emotionally-powerful and beautifully animated video featuring renowned actress Emma Thompson about a little girl learning how the palm oil in her products is destroying the homes of Orangutans. The video was not allowed to air as a commercial on British television due to rules on political ads, sparking widespread public outrage among the British public. The ban ironically helped propel the video to over 65 million views. The video became so popular that it has now been turned into a children’s book.
Amid the public furor around the advert, unfortunately some scientific nuances were lost. Many scientists argue against outright bans on palm oil. As palm oil is a far more efficient crop than other alternatives, it may prove better for the planet to buy sustainably certified palm oil rather than occurring more destructive replacements. Palm oil is also linked to financial livelihoods in low and middle income countries, so there are economic development implications as well.
Overall, however, the campaign has played a significant role in raising consumer awareness of how everyday goods are linked to environmental destruction. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) adopted stricter standards on their certification programme. Other companies are also trying to show increased action toward reducing tropical deforestation associated with their products, though current efforts still remain largely inadequate. The campaign is an excellent example of how effective storytelling, art and the utilisation of celebrity influencers can help shift consumer awareness of hidden ecological impacts and change purchasing behaviour.
Story by Josh Ettinger