Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Wash your Hands Green with Orangutan-friendly Soap

I very often get emails asking whether we use Palm Oil in our products from people kindly sharing their concerns about the deforestation in Indonesia and Malaysia and the ensuing consequences to local wildlife and to global climate. Even though cosmetics are responsible for just 7% of the world’s production of Palm Oil, this is another one of those thorny issues where everything we can do to help, no matter how little it seems in the grand scheme of things, is important and should be encouraged.

We do use palm oil in our products, but we do not take this matter lightly. We have spent the past two years researching the subject as thoroughly as we possibly could. We also visited the very forests that are in the line of the devastation and we saw endless miles of palm plantation covering most arable land in Indonesia and Malaysia. Even the threatened orang-utans received our visit and in 10 years’ time there may be none left to visit. What we saw shocked us and gave us a first-hand experience of the scale of the destruction. What we couldn’t see, however, were the less obvious, but even more catastrophic effects of rainforest clearance on the world’s climate. If losing one species, like the orang-utans, makes everyone cringe, what about losing 1,000,000 species by 2050 due to climate chaos, land use change and destruction of habitats?

While all of that hellish adventure was happening on-site, behind the scenes, in the labs of Harry Potter (Wesley, our R&D wizard) and in every soap manufacturer in the UK, another kind of struggle was going on. How can we make a commercial soap base without using Palm Oil? We tried making our soap base with various mixes of oils, but it proved too difficult for large-scale manufacturing. The next option was to work alongside companies already making a vegetable soap base and propose to them the challenge of making a palm-oil-free one. One of the manufacturers rose up to the challenge and came up with a saponified mixture of rapeseed oil, sunflower oil and coconut oil.

So our first soap using that base was born, we decided to name it Greenwash as homage to all those people out there who think planting a tree will actually offset the emissions from their weekend away flying to Sicilly, or to our government, who’s nearly drowning in a sea of oil and nuclear lobby, chained to the iron ball of economic growth.

We are testing the new base with all of our existing soap formulae and hope to phase out the current base within the next year. So yes, our products still have palm oil, but we are working hard to make sure we keep those levels to a sustainable minimum. Besides that, through our Charity Pot, we have also given financial help to the Sumatran Orang-utan Society, working locally to save our close cousins from extinction.
As I said at the beginning, cosmetics only account for 7% of total palm oil consumption, but is found in 1 in every 10 food products. These are other things we can do to reduce our palm oil consumption:

*Eat less processed foods;
*Avoid hydrogenated fats;
*Pressure manufacturers to take action.

I’m not even going to touch the Agrofuel (a more suitable name for biofuel) issues heres
, hopefully another time. The most thorough document I’ve read on Agrofuels is here, not suitable for bedtime reading. If after reading you then need some hope for the future, try this www.zerocarbonbritain.org.


Adam said...

we've got a bit more on palm oil in an interview with Lush here:

Crafty Green Poet said...

Another excellent article! I'm trying my best to source toiletries without palm oil. There are a couple of toothpastes out there, soap does seem to be the most difficult one...

Crafty Green Poet said...

Another excellent article! I'm trying my best to source toiletries without palm oil. There are a couple of toothpastes out there, soap does seem to be the most difficult one...

Michelle said...

Thank you Ruth for raising awareness of the issues surrounding unsustainable palm oil.
As I mentioned in an email to Lush,
I have been reading with great interest all the press surrounding your remarkable and landmark decision to avoid palm oil in all your products...something no other major cosmetics or skin care company has been able to commit to yet. While we, The Borneo Orangutan Survival (BOS) Foundation UK, sit on the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil in the effort to promote that what palm oil is produced will someday be produced more sustainably, we certainly feel the best solution would be to not use palm oil altogether. However, for consumers it is so difficult for them to choose products without palm oil or its derivatives. Vague labelling as vegetable oil does not help, and for every day consumers to be educated about all the names that palm oil can be described as , especially in beauty care products, is a tall order. And to expect consumers to read through ingredients labels on so many products is unrealistic. Therefore, I feel you have done an amazing thing by making it as simple as possible for the consumer to know that they have not been made unwitting participants in what can only be called the genocide of one of our nearest cousins: the orangutan.
Michelle Desilets
Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation UK

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