Ecotourism for Orangutans

Wild orangutan in Indonesia

Inquiring Minds Promote Change.

We have been getting some great questions, and wanted to share them! Please feel free to contact us with any comments.



Q:  Are the companies considered safe for orangutans and the rainforest on the Palm Oil Shopping Guide App, labeling their products as containing palm oil only from sustainable plantations?  If not do they plan to do so?

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Answer:

A:  No, the companies are not labeling their products as containing certified sustainable palm oil for several reasons. First, their products do not necessarily contain 100% certified sustainable palm oil. While that is the goal within the RSPO, there is not enough certified sustainable palm oil available for large companies to make the switch to 100% sustainable palm oil yet. Once demand for CSPO goes up, the supply will increase as well. When a company joins RSPO, they have to commit to using some portion of CSPO or buying Greenpalm Certificates, with a goal date by which they will use 100% CSPO. The second reason this is not included on packaging, as we recently found out through working closely with a local company that does use sustainable palm oil, the word "sustainable" has not yet been defined by the FDA.  We were also shocked to find out that it can cost $40,000 every time a small company changes their packaging.  So as far as detailed updates --such as 'this product contains 50% certified sustainable palm oil'...then 3 months later saying 'this product contains 75% certified sustainable palm oil'...this does not seem practical.  We are encouraging companies to start labeling their products as orangutan friendly and we've created a logo for this purpose. You can find a sample letter to RSPO companies encouraging better labeling on our website, and you can find the logo there as well.  As far as the detailed updates go, it would be great for companies to post this type of information on their websites.


Q: How do you know if an RSPO member company is using certified sustainable palm oil?

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Answer:

If you go to http://www.rspo.org/en/rspo_members, you can look up RSPO members and view their reports year to year. The CSPO commitments or percentage being purchased are listed year to year in these reports. This still relies on good-faith information to a large extent. ‘Watchdog’ NGO activities and the press have been helpful in keeping tabs on RSPO members as well.



Q:  Who is certifying the sustainable plantations or is the RSPO just going on their word?

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Answer:

A:  Becoming certified by the RSPO is a rigorous process. There are many criteria a plantation has to meet in order to be certified. Ultimately, the RSPO is certifying the plantations, but neutral agencies are hired to do the inspections. One example would be the HCV (high conservation value) forest assessments that a plantation must have done in order to be certified. An HCV assessment determines whether or not there are endangered species, indigenous people, waterways, etc. that will be impacted if a plantation exists in a certain area. We met with some scientists from Flora and Fauna International who are performing these assessments in Indonesia. You can find out more about what the RSPO's principles and criteria at www.rspo.org    Here are a few specific documents:

http://www.rspo.org/files/pdf/Factsheet-RSPO-Criteria-Certification.pdf

http://www.rspo.org/files/resource_centre/RSPO%20Criteria%20Final%20Guidance%20with%20NI%20Document.pdf

http://www.rspo.org/sites/default/files/RSPO%20Code%20of%20Conduct_0.pdf


Q:  Why are there mixed messages, depending on which conservation organization you talk to, about the best way to help orangutans?

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Answer:

A:  Palm oil is such a huge issue and the reason people are so passionate about it is that it affects something we all care deeply about- orangutans.  Everyone should make their own decisions about what they are comfortable doing in their personal lives, or with their organizations.  Here is an explanation for why we believe in our new messages...

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has spent 5 weeks in Indonesia and Malaysia finding out as much as we could about the palm oil industry and how it affects orangutans and the planet.  We realize that 5 weeks can only skim the surface, but during that time we talked with many people there, from oil palm plantation managers to scientists who have studied orangutans in-situ for many years to a conservationist who is a native Malaysian and has been fighting to preserve orangutan habitat but who knows a palm oil boycott would be disastrous.  Before going on the trip, most of us were boycotting palm oil in our personal lives.  After talking with so many people that are on the ground and see the situation every day, we made the decision to stop boycotting and start supporting the RSPO.  We realize that the RSPO is not perfect, but it is the best and most responsible solution to the palm oil crisis right now.


Q:  Can you give me an idea of what is required to become a member and what our zoo would be bound to if we do become a member?  Cost logistics would be helpful also.
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Answer:

A:  The best advice I can give you is to explore the RSPO website (www.rspo.org).  Here is an important link
http://www.rspo.org/?q=page/503  which outlines the expectations of RSPO members and code of conduct.
http://www.rspo.org/?q=page/13 - how to apply for membership. 
Cheyenne Mountain Zoo chose to apply for Ordinary Membership, we wanted the ability to claim RSPO membership and have voting rights.  There is a big difference in membership fees between ordinary and affiliate memberships.

Ordinary Members are any organizations that have direct involvement in the palm oil supply chain, or associated NGOs (Non-governmental Organization). These members have voting rights at the General Assembly and are able to publicly state they are members of the RSPO.

Affiliate Members are individuals or organizations with an indirect involvement or interest in the palm oil supply chain, do NOT have voting rights and do NOT have the right to claim they are members of the RSPO.

Possible discount for Environmental NGO's - view RSPO fee sturcture for NGO's

It may be helpful to familiarize conservation and/or education staff at your zoo with palm oil issues and the RSPO, and include interested staff members from those departments on your palm oil team.  When considering whether or not to apply for membership, decision makers at your zoo may be interested to see a variety of Conservation NGOs who are RSPO members:
http://www.rspo.org/?q=categorystat/Environmental%20or%20Nature%20Conservation%20Organisations%20%28NGOs%29


Q: Many companies (like Post, Campbells, Farley's and Sathers to name a few) claim that they source all of their palm oil from suppliers who are members of RSPO.  Why are they not on your Palm Oil Shopping Guide App?

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Answer:

A:  If you read closely these companies do not say they are members of Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), and they are not listed as members of RSPO on the RSPO website.  These companies talk a lot about the RSPO and they are well-versed (which is good), but if they are committed to sustainable palm oil they should be willing to apply for RSPO membership.

It is a good start that they source only from RSPO members.  It is also commendable that they are committing to 100% certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) by 2015, which is a pretty standard target date, when it is believed there will be enough CSPO in the system to satisfy entire product line demands.

We had to draw a line somewhere so Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's palm oil team decided that if companies are willing to join the RSPO they are headed in the right direction, and officially they are obligated to follow RSPO's principles and guidelines.  We did not arrive at this decision lightly, it was a huge shift for us (we had "avoided" palm oil for several years).  After touring certified sustainable palm oil plantations and mills, meeting with a representative of RSPO, and working with numerous conservation groups in Indonesia and Malaysia, we feel strongly that supporting the RSPO is the best way to move the sustainability process forward.  We do not feel that boycotting (or avoiding) palm oil is a constructive way to move sustainability forward.  The RSPO is not perfect, but it is moving things in the right direction - and will be more effective if we are supportive.

The GREAT thing we see happening more and more is that consumers are asking companies these important questions, showing them that we are interested in certified sustainable palm oil, which is crucial.  So thank you for writing to these companies!