What do Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, Palmolive dish soap and Friskies cat food have in common? The answer is sustainable palm oil.
Palm oil might be the most prevalent product ingredient you've never heard of.
It's estimated that the edible vegetable oil in its various manifestations can be found in as many as half of the processed foods and packaged products in grocery stores, from snack foods to cosmetics, but that doesn't mean you'll find it listed by name among the ingredients. The highly saturated, trans fat-free oil, harvested from African oil palm trees on plantations in the tropics, is a main component in many preparations of sodium laureth and sodium lauryl sulfates, present in makeup and pretty much every product that foams, from shampoo to dish soap.
The majority of palm oil is grown and produced on the southeast Asian islands of
These animals include the wild orangutan,
"Non-sustainable palm oil is the biggest threat to so many of these species. It's not just orangutans who are affected. It's other animals. It's humans. It's greenhouse gases," said
In its most recent project to raise palm oil awareness, the zoo has developed a smart phone app that helps users choose products containing sustainably produced palm oil.
The free Palm Oil Shopping Guide app, a digital upgrade of the zoo's paper palm oil shopping guide, includes more than 5,000 products from companies certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, an international membership organization that works toward environmentally conscious production of the substance.
The app, available on Google Play, lets users quickly search for products by name; there's also an alphabetized list of items arranged by category, information on the palm oil crisis and a button for donations.
"Humans are going to keep buying and using these products that have vegetable oil in them. We're not going to stop that, and the population of the Earth is growing all the time," lead animal keeper
Sustainable palm oil comes from trees grown on land that historically has been used for plantations, rather than a site freshly razed for the purpose.
"There is land available that was cleared so long ago, that is the land that ideally should be used," Hester said. "But they can actually get more profits from clearing timber because they can then sell the wood for picture frames, furniture, paper."
Bredahl has been working on the zoo's palm oil campaign since 2007, when she found a dearth of information on the subject and set about to help change that - for
"It's kind of been on our radar that there was this thing called palm oil. When you tried to look it up, it wasn't clear what the connection between orangutans and palm oil was," Bredahl said. "People in zoos weren't sure what to tell zoo guests about palm oil. We decided, well, somebody needs to get a handle on that and someone needs to be an expert and we decided to be that expert."
In 2008, the zoo launched a website explaining palm oil and its devastating impact on wildlife in the areas where it's produced. Also that year came the zoo's Quarters for Conservation program, which allows guests to donate
"We came back and made a resource kit for other zoos to use, we revamped our (paper) shopping guide and revamped our website," Hester said. "It's pretty much about choices. Plantations can choose to grow palm oil in a sustainable way, companies can choose to buy palm oil from those sustainable plantations and consumers can choose to buy products from those companies."
"Zoos years ago weren't necessarily conservation organizations," Bredahl said. "Fifty years ago, it was more of the menagerie and sharing animals. Now, it's more about sharing animals so people fall in love with them and want to save them in the wild."
What do Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey, Palmolive dish soap and Friskies cat food have in common?
The answer is sustainable palm oil.