A New Milestone in the Journey Toward Sustainable Palm Oil

Feb 19, 2013 11:45 AM ET

By Simon Perry, Sourcing Manager for Sustainable Palm Oil, Johnson & Johnson Consumer Group

In the past, we’ve told you about Johnson & Johnson’s support of sustainable palm oil, like this blog post about our connection to a program at the Philadelphia Zoo. Although we are very small users overall of palm oil (less than 0.2% of the estimated 50 million tons produced a year) we take our responsibility to protect the environment and our natural resources very seriously. Now, we’re pleased to share with you the latest milestone in our journey to source palm oil sustainably, this time from another part of the world—Thailand.

As the Sourcing Manager for Sustainable Palm Oil within the Johnson & Johnson Consumer Family of Companies, I take pride in helping to drive our organization toward our commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil. So it was with great enthusiasm that I recently witnessed an important milestone in this journey, involving a group of 412 independent palm oil farmers in Thailand.

These farmers have been certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which means that they now meet the RSPO standards for sustainable palm oil planting and production. They’re able to realize better prices from the mills, produce more and also improve the quality of the fruit by employing better agricultural management practices. I’m pleased to say that Johnson & Johnson has committed to supporting these farmers by purchasing all the available GreenPalm certificates associated with this group for the next three years, meaning that the farmers have a financial incentive to continue producing palm oil in a sustainable way. With this purchase, Johnson & Johnson became the first company to buy GreenPalm certificates from RSPO-certified independent small holder farmers.

As Thailand is the third largest producer of palm oil globally, and approximately 70% of all production in Thailand comes from independent small holders, the opportunity to purchase the GreenPalm certificates from this group of farmers made sense. Small holders are farmers who own less than 50 hectares of land. Typically, independent small holders lack access to financial capital from banks and good agricultural management practices, making it difficult for them to work toward growing palm oil sustainably. From 2009 to 2012, the German International Cooperation (GIZ) organization worked with these small holders to train them in better farming practices and RSPO certification standards.

The certification was a big milestone for not only the farmers but for the RSPO as well, serving as an inspiration for other independent small holders and demonstrating that they, too, could become RSPO-certified.

Shortly after the RSPO certified the farmers, I journeyed to Thailand for an official handing over of the GreenPalm certificates. I wanted to meet the farmers, and get a sense for the improvement that Johnson & Johnson was making to people’s lives. This was a great opportunity to celebrate this wonderful achievement.

I spoke with a number of the farmers and got a sense of what this certification means to them. At the start of the project, they were motivated by the prospect of better financial returns, and this remains important to them. But as the project evolved, additional benefits became clear to them as well, such as their understanding of a better way to farm oil palm, and the role they could play in preserving this precious resource.

This effort will improve the lives of these farmers tremendously. As examples, the use of less pesticides and fertilizer means the farmers can save money, the reduced application of both means they have more free time to focus on other tasks, and the better-quality fresh fruit bunches (from which the palm oil is extracted) means higher prices from the mills and less rejections, providing more rewards and greater satisfaction. All these changes are having a positive impact on their daily lives—socially, environmentally and financially—contributing to a healthy business, healthy people and a healthy planet.

Going forward, Johnson & Johnson will continue to identify other opportunities to purchase GreenPalm certificates from independent small holders. We also will continue to work with relevant organizations to grow the independent small holder-certified sustainable palm oil capacity.

For more information on Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to sourcing sustainable palm oil, click here.