Former teacher, current student. Book, music and nature lover. Christian, creative, and amateur explorer.
My challenge
Find the main causes of deforestation and avoid products that contribute to it.

So I’ve learnt a lot more than I expected to, and done a lot less than I imagined. But finally – I actually stopped, changed a habit, didn’t just buy coffee because it was cheap or tasted good, but because it was fair, and not so bad for the environment I claim to love.

So maybe, a bit at a time, I can make a change.

While palm oil is terribly terribly bad for the rainforest, boycotting it completely is not always the answer. It is a good crop to grow, both for the many millions who depend on it for their livelihood, and because it grows with less space and less chemical use than other oils such as coconut and shea. 

Various methods are being tried to make palm oil sustainable, including using ground that is not forested, increasing palm yield and mixing palm and other crops together.

FairPalm is Traidcraft’s method of creating sustainable palm oil, and while it is ethical and organic, there are still issues surrounding price and scaling up. But hopefully as more companies begin to see the value in sustainable palm oil – encouraged by consumer choice – it will become more ordinary to see labels with sustainable palm oil certification on.

Finally I’m starting – STARTING – to look at labels. Including my vegan ice-cream, which came with its own Rainforest Alliance logo. But what does that mean?

If you’re like me, you’ll know that both Rainforest Alliance and Fairtrade do something to protect some places, and maybe some people. But it seems in some situations (Nestle, for example) the differences between them practically lead to all-out-war.

So here’s the lowdown.

Fairtrade support smallholder farms, ensuring a minimum wage and part-ownership. It is involved in climate change mitigation, including with Fairtrade schools, and aims to bring people out of poverty (or does it keep people in poverty by investing in smallholders instead of large scale business? – you decide). The products are traceable, but only has to be 20% Fairtrade to get the mark.

Rainforest Alliance aims to halt deforestation and improve sustainability through teaching farmers and companies how to farm sustainably. It *encourages* companies to pay extra to farmers and to support their workers’ livelihoods. Mostly, 90-100% of the product sourced must be certified. However, standards for workers are not so stringently enforced as Fairtrade.

Palm oil = 30%….

But their newest plan is to source palm oil from smallholders in the best growing areas. They say this will reduce deforestation – but wait, I thought their focus was halting deforestation altogether where they work? 

And their palm oil certification programme has been phased out; instead, accountability and «social and market forces» – that is, transparent supply chains and business responses.

As for Fairtrade palm oil – they have developed partnerships to enable this, but only with a couple of organisations. One of these, however, is FairPalm. And that will be my next post.

If sustainable palm oil is more a hope than a reality, even with certification, are there any ways around the problem?

The short answer is yes, but –

Yes, there are multiple ideas, but many also require large amounts of land, such as rapeseed oil, or coconut oil, which while healthy could just become another crop to replace palm oil. Others are too costly to grow, such as shea oil, or require unsustainable products to grow, such as certain types of algae.

There are suggestions of developing a palm oil plant that doesn’t need to grow in the same tropical temperatures as tropical rainforest. So leaf oil is a potential, but this requires some genetic engineering and still has some way to go.

The real problem is that it is hard to find an alternative that has all the same properties which make palm oil so well-used. Worse still, palm oil is actually used in fuel! Which means even if I wanted to go completely palm oil-free, I couldn’t long term.

However, there are constantly new initiatives which still have the potential to find solutions. One example is Revive, which uses coffee grounds to make a product very similar. Thanks Shandin for drawing my attention to this!

why is it that everything of quality is expensive? 

I’ve been thinking about the things I buy, for example buying locally-grown or sourced food. Or thinking about products that only source sustainable palm. They are usually more expensive than unethical products, and there is a tension between buying what is good and conserving money.

My readings for university this week have included quite a lot on poverty, for example trawling different supermarkets for the cheapest items of food. People whose lives depend on using their money as sparingly as possible won’t be able to buy quality; when money is tight, who has the luxury of wondering «is this made with sustainable palm oil?»

When you start looking, palm oil is everywhere. It’s found in food – yes, Naomi, it is found in chocolate – and in cosmetics and hygiene products. Imagine, then, just how much is needed to make our world of hygienic, chocolate-happy people go round.

77,000 square miles of palm oil plantations, actually.

RSPO unites stakeholders along the palm oil supply chain, helping smallholders and protecting indigenous groups. Primary o0r biodiverse forest is protected and pollution is monitored. This is checked by inspectors. 

The RSPO claims to have saved about 250,000 football pitches of rainforest.

… However. Naturally, it isn’t perfect. It’s best to check whether the company is using or just supporting sustainable palm oil – you can be a member and no do anything. Also, as it relies on honesty and NGOs, the system has chances of being cheated.

The Palm Oil Integration Group is now working to ensure their standards are being lived up to.

So if in doubt: check!

Those who know me know there is little I love more than chocolate. So when I bought my latest jar of Nutella I – as usual – forgot to check the ingredients until after I had got it home. 

Imagine my surprise and joy to discover that Nutella is actually doing a great deal towards sustainability, with its main ingredients all mentioned on its website with traceable and sustainable assurances. Thanks also to Nutella, I now know about RSPO, a label that certifies a produce uses sustainable palm oil. I’ve been looking out for something like this for ages, and if I can remember (!), it will be on my shopping list from now on. 

According to WWF, food production is the reason for 60% of diversity loss. So part of my challenge, I have decided, is to make the food I buy eco-friendly. It encourages me to learn that consumers are searching supermarkets for eco-friendly products.

What specifically? Well, I have learnt that 1 cup of coffee = 1 inch of rainforest gone… 

Rainforest Alliance is one way, although their standards have gone down in recent years. Two other labels to look for are Shade Grown and Bird Friendly. 

If tea is more your thing: Look for B-Corp accreditation, aimed at being more sustainable and fairer. It’s not just for tea, so look out for it elsewhere.

UTZ is the same: a way to show farms are working for sustainability.

As regards teabags: they actually release plastic particles as the tea brews ( So perhaps now is the time to find a better type of tea…?

Guess what I’ll be doing in the coffee aisle next time I go shopping!

Up until now I haven’t specified exactly what I intend to change in my life, although I’ve had a few ideas based on what I already know about the causes of deforestation. 

Today’s post is my lesson to myself: what are the causes and what tiny shuffling steps will lead me to stand against deforestation?

~ Cattle ranching is the reason for 70% of Amazonian deforestation. After few years they must move on when the ground is no longer suitable. And all the time, meat prices increase, making this an attractive investment.

~ Agriculture: soy and palm oil, the latter named «Fastest Forest Destroyer» by the Guinness World Book of Records. Ironically, much soy is used for biofuel…

~ Logging is surprisingly not the biggest cause. Illegal logging, much more common than legal, is seen as an income generator for the poverty-stricken while those who sell it gain up to $15 billion every year.

~ Road building often cuts straight through pristine forest to reach inaccessible places that then brings settlers and workers who show no respect to the forest that remains. Nearly 10,000 miles of road have been built since 1970’s!

Frightening, perhaps, to consider some of these facts. Not a simple problem, not black and white. In some places, a vicious circle of poverty and desperation.

So what do I do? For each cause, an action I could take:

~ Going veggie (very popular!)

~ Identifying foods with palm oil and soy in them and starting to wean myself off them.

~ Reducing, re-using and recycling paper

~ …. no idea! 

Next week: my thoughts on my soon-to-be actions. And, hopefully, something that can be done about road building!

Today I decided to learn a bit about the forests I claim to love. I’ve realised that although I know they are valuable, I still know so little about them.

I began on the WWF website, which has resources for schools, and discovered that there are three main types: tropical, deciduous and boreal, spread in linear patches all across the world from the tropics to the poles. This very simplified explanation actually hides more than 8 specified types of forest. Each has a carefully maintained ecosystem of incredibly diverse interdependence and I found myself wishing we could truly learn from them how to live alongside each other using as differences as strengths.

A beautiful model of collaboration is one benefit, but there are so many I had to struggle to choose which ones I chose to share. Forests are: 

~ 300 million people’s homes

~ Regulators of the water, soil, carbon and oxygen cycles

~ Where 25% of our medicines come from

~ Producers of rope, linen, cosmetics, food, soap, shelter, even tattoos! 

~ Defined 800 different ways

~ where 80% of species live

~ a source of income for 1 billion people

~ important in many religions, cultures and wellbeing

~ protection for minorities, especially in food provision

~ often the only place a species lives

In fact, in some parts of the Amazon, a species may have evolved for one particular tree, or in one particular square km and be found nowhere else in the world!

I know this doesn’t even start to show their value, but I come away from my research awed by just how dependent we are on forests. We cannot afford to lose them – I cannot imagine a life without those «services» forests provide for free.

Here are my many references, for anyone who wants to know more:

I don’t remember who first told me about deforestation. Perhaps it was at school, perhaps on the radio or TV. But it became important enough for me that by the time I reached the age of 15 and was given the chance to make a speech in English class, this was my chosen topic.

What I found back then horrified me.

A football pitch of forest destroyed every second. Animals left without habitats, people without homes. Valuable plants that could cure our diseases lost before they were even found. New species, beautiful diversity, gone forever.

My speech centred around the fact that the rainforest was of more benefit – materially, socially, environmentally, financially – if left as it was, that more money could be made using it sustainably than unsustainably. And yet no one was paying attention.

My interest never waned, but I felt removed, too far from the forests I longed to protect to be able to do anything. Now a decade has gone past and I return to the facts to find the same sorrowful story wherever I turn.

I’m not entirely sure where this challenge is going. I know I want to find out what the causes are. I know I want to find out about crops such as soya and palm that drive much of the deforestation. And from there I hope to find products that are grown sustainably, or that do not use these crops at all. And maybe I’ll be brave enough to consider asking why so many companies aren’t seeking alternatives.

If you’re reading this, then thank you. I invite you to join me on my journey as I start to find a new, and more sustainable, way to live.