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December 8, 2021
Policies & Claims

The RSPO Certification, Explained

Yashi Shrestha

What does “sustainability” really mean? How can we achieve it? How can we maintain it? Realistically, true sustainability will look different depending on the industry and the application. The UN defines sustainability based on the principle that "sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs."

There are three pillars of sustainability: economic, environmental and social. By analyzing the three pillars of sustainability as they apply to palm oil, we can then determine what “sustainable palm oil” means, as well as how we can ultimately uphold sustainability standards as an industry.

Image by Oral Saulters via ResearchGate

What's all the fuss about RSPO?

RSPO, or Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, is a not-for-profit organization that develops and implements standards for sustainable palm oil. RSPO consists of thousands of members worldwide and encompasses 7 sectors within the palm oil industry. In order to obtain the coveted RSPO certification, producers must meet stringent environmental standards throughout the entire supply chain.

While RSPO is the leading certification for palm oil, there are several other certifications:

  • Rainforest Alliance: This international non-profit works on various initiatives in agriculture (including palm oil) to tackle climate change and to protect forests, biodiversity & the rights of rural communities. The alliance has developed land strategies to address tropical deforestation and does work in more than 70 countries.
  • Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO): ISPO is a standard established by the Government of Indonesia that is intended to protect all palm grown in Indonesia (including exported palm).
  • International Sustainability & Carbon Certification (ISCC): ISCC certification monitors deforestation-free supply chains and other sustainability criteria, covering a broader scope than both ISPO and RSPO.

Such certifications are important because they help minimize the negative impacts of palm oil farming.

Palm oil's environmental impact

Infographic via RSPO

One of the biggest concerns for palm oil is the deforestation that takes place to create space for plantations. However, deforestation isn’t unique to the palm oil supply chain. In fact, it’s a growing concern across all industries. Mono-crop agriculture requires large amounts of land, and with the increasing strain of human populations on land availability, forests have become a target. Some farmers fail to consider the impact of agriculture on wildlife. According to the National Geographic, agriculture alone accounts for 80% of deforestation.

Like many other areas of sustainability, palm oil is not without controversy. In fact, it can be argued that there is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. There are several situations where this classification of sustainability enters a grey area. For example— if a rainforest area is cleared for palm oil farming and then years later obtains RSPO certification, it’s technically considered sustainable. However, the ethics of that certification are certainly questionable.

Sustainable palm oil labeling on your products

Environmental activists have also been lobbying for mandatory labeling of unsustainable palm oil. Currently, labeling or participating in certification is completely optional. Some retailers (Sephora, in particular) are now proactively requiring any products with potentially palm derived ingredients to be RSPO-certified. As society becomes more aware of the environmental impacts of deforestation, mono-crops and the decline in biodiversity these certifications could become the standard— rather than the exception.

How does Novi vet for potentially palm-derived ingredients?

Photo by xp3rt5 via Getty Images

Evidently, there are many things to consider when sourcing palm-derived ingredients. However, Novi aims to make your decision-making easier.

Our ingredient vetting system analyzes your product ingredients and identifies all potential palm-oil-based ingredients. Then, our team partners with the raw material supplier to verify that the material is either “not derived from palm oil” or “sourced from sustainable palm oil.” If a palm-oil-based ingredient causes your product to fail the brand and/or retailers' standards, our system provides suitable alternatives for reformulation!

There are several tiers of RSPO-certified materials.

  • Identity Preserved (IP): Palm oil from a single plantation is kept physically separate during the transport and refining process. The refinery has been certified as capable of doing this, and the end user can trace the unit of palm oil to a single certified supply base.
  • Segregated (SG): FFBs (Fresh Fruit Bunches) from multiple certified plantations are combined at the mill. The resulting CSPO (Certified Sustainable Palm Oil) is kept physically separate through the supply chain, but cannot be traced back to a single plantation.
  • Mass Balanced (MB): The mill takes in FFBs from certified and non-certified plantations, and processes them together. The resulting oil is not physically linked to sustainable plantations, but the miller keeps track of how much sustainable palm oil it is producing and selling.
  • Book & Claim (B&C): Manufacturers do not have to buy physical CSPO, but can pay for ‘RSPO Credits’ in an online marketplace to claim sustainability credentials. The funds from these sales support farmers to implement sustainable farming practices.

Our marketplace offers a variety of RSPO-certified ingredients. Got a question about its specific tier or anything else related to the certification? Contact us!

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