Sustainable Palm Oil

What is Palm Oil?

Palm Oil comes from the fruit of the oil palm plant. It is the most widely produced vegetable oil on the planet and the demand for this product is increasing. Palm oil, or its derivatives, can be found in almost everything, including food products, plastics, detergents, shampoos, and cosmetics. It is also being used as biofuel. The reason it is so readily used is that it is relatively cheap to produce, high yielding, has a long shelf life, can be used in a wide range of products and contains no cholesterol.

Toronto Zoo Position

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The Toronto Zoo realizes that the production of palm oil may result in deforestation, loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. This product is referred to as “unsustainable” palm oil. Sustainable palm oil products come from plantations that have been certified by a third party organization like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) that ensures the whole palm oil manufacturing process follows certain criteria. These criteria include:

  • no primary forest or areas which contain significant concentrations of biodiversity (e.g. endangered species) can be cleared;
  • limited use of pesticides and slash and burn practices for pest control;
  • fair treatment and wages for workers;
  • communication and consultation with local communities before the development of new plantations on their land;
  • routine reporting on practices.

The consumption of palm oil and its byproducts is increasing around the world. Conservation action is required now to prevent numerous species of plants and animals from becoming extinct. As Canada’s largest zoo and a national leader in saving wildlife, the Toronto Zoo is in an excellent position to raise awareness about the palm oil crisis and provide the tools and information needed to allow Zoo visitors and stakeholders to make globally responsible consumer choices.

The Toronto Zoo also recognizes the importance the palm oil industry has on the economy in the areas where it is grown. Putting a stop to the industry without first establishing sustainable alternatives would threaten the livelihoods of local people and potentially put the environment at further risk by driving communities to play a role in illegal activities such as wildlife trade. Transforming the market to a sustainable and traceable supply of palm oil is the most responsible way to go.


Palm oil itself is not the problem, but where and how it is grown needs to change. Unsustainable palm oil cultivation is a significant threat to biodiversity as it is a major cause of deforestation. The forests of Southeast Asia are filled with a rich diversity of flora and fauna and it is these forests that are disappearing at an alarming rate. Clearing of land for palm oil cultivation in Southeast Asia has increased in the last few decades and has even spread to tropical South America and Africa.

Creating a market for Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CPSO) is the first step to ensuring that the palm oil industry impacts as little as possible on the biodiversity of the regions it is grown in. The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) is a multi-stakeholder organization with members that include palm oil producers, processors and traders, social and environmental organizations, retail companies and more. It was created as a way in which palm oil can be certified as “sustainable” – Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO) – via a third-party verified certification. This certification is improving the environmental responsibility of the palm oil market. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines sustainable agricultural practices as maintaining or enhancing three categories: economic viability, the natural resource base and other ecosystems influenced by agriculture.

Toronto Zoo Action

The Toronto Zoo receives an average of 1.3 million visitors per year, reaching many more through outreach programs and social media, and therefore is in a position to educate visitors, as well as stakeholders, about unsustainable palm oil production and facilitate change. By doing this, the Toronto Zoo believes it can make an impact.

The Toronto Zoo supports the following strategies to engage visitors and stakeholders to help break the link between palm oil production and deforestation:

  • provide tools that allow every person to advocate for deforestation-free palm oil;
  • make deforestation-free palm oil a social norm;
  • inspire people to act by providing them with information and tools that will allow them to make responsible consumer choices for the betterment of the environment;
  • facilitate change through stakeholder engagement and dialogue;
  • lead by example by implementing deforestation-free palm oil practices within Zoo operations;
  • encourage and support our suppliers to use CSPO or other sustainable alternatives, and over time eliminate the use or sale of products with unsustainable palm oil where a viable alternative exists.

These strategies will provide the framework for the use and development of measureable tools that allow the Toronto Zoo to address the palm oil conservation crisis and its affect on wildlife habitat.