Unsung Heroes

This section recognizes individuals who possess the drive and passion towards championing sustainable practices of palm oil on their own accord.
If you feel you are such an individual, kindly send us your summary profile; your blog address/url for your website and a photo of yourself at

Hannah Newberry

After becoming vegan, I started researching my food more, becoming obsessed with environmental sustainability. It didn't take long to find out the trouble with the palm oil industry, and I started boycotting it almost immediately upon discovering how unsustainable the industry is. I got my family's support and got a few friends to boycott it with me. I pestered everyone I know in attempts to raise awareness, and I was constantly looking up facts that would help me educate people.

Eventually, I discovered the RSPO, and conducted hours of research to confirm their legitimacy. Originally, I was boycotting palm oil altogether, regardless of whether or not it was RSPO certified. Then, the RSPO website let me know the problems with boycotting all palm oil, and I found myself at a deadlock. So I interrogated the RSPO via email until I trusted them.

Realizing that this palm oil is as sustainable as it gets, I created a White House petition as well as a change.org petition proposing for the United States to convert to using only 100% RSPO certified sustainable palm oil, since I had learned that some European countries had made the switch.

I've written countless letters to companies asking them to join the RSPO and only use sustainable palm oil. Although both of my petitions failed miserably and most companies only "considered" my suggestion, I did raise some awareness for the cause. And since I knew exactly zero government officials would see my petitions, I translated my petitions to letter form and sent it off to the USDA. I am still emailing companies and corporations and promoting sustainability.

I hope that more companies will join and support the RSPO to help make sustainable palm oil the norm.

Adriana Klompus, New York


I studied anthropology and evolutionary biology in college and developed a great interest, academic and personal, in the apes, especially the orangutans and the other Asian apes, the hylobatids. Through following organizations that are working to conserve Asian ape habitats and trying to keep remaining populations of orangutans viable, I quickly learned about the threat that unsustainable practices in palm oil cultivation--both forest clearing and the way the plantations are managed once the palms are planted--pose to continued orangutan survival in the wild. I also learned that conversion of forests in Africa for planting oil palms is on the rise, threatening the African apes and other sympatric species as well.

And through further reading on my own time, I learned about the move toward certified sustainable palm oil (CSPO) and the efforts of the RSPO. I also learned about the challenges associated with sustainable palm oil, including the obstacles that small-holders, who try hard to employ sustainable and ethical practices but lack some of the resources available to big palm oil companies, face in meeting the RSPO's criteria, and also the difficulties that consumers face in knowing what products contain palm oil that is truly sustainably cultivated (especially products made by companies who are working toward sourcing all their palm oil sustainably but haven't yet met the 100% mark. For instance, when contemplating buying a bottle of lotion by a company that sources 64% of its palm oil as CSPO, it's impossible to know where the palm glycerin in that particular bottle of lotion came from).

So I decided I would avoid palm oil if possible and ask the companies whose products I wasn't buying to switch to CSPO. I wrote countless letters. And I knew that others who cared deeply about this cause were also writing letters. But living in New York, which I love, but which one could also argue exemplifies consumer culture, it was hard to ignore how many packaged foods and personal care products are purchased every day--and of course, how many of these contain palm oil. So I wanted to make it easy for other people to stop buying non-sustainable palm oil, find alternatives that definitely contain CSPO or no palm oil at all, and write letters as well.

This is why I started working on this app. I had  lot of the groundwork already done--all the letters I'd written already, for instance, and also a list of the products I was no longer using because I'd found they contained palm oil from an unnamed source--and so I decided to build this list up. This took hours and hours and hours of scouring grocery store shelves and reading ingredients lists online (since not all companies put ingredients lists on their products' packaging) but today I have 3,300 products in my database and am making fast strides to getting the app done. I add to the database every day, and Unilever's recent announcement that they now use only CSPO in all their products--three years ahead of their goal--gives me a huge list of products I can now tell users are good alternatives. To learn more about how the app works, you can read this post on my blog: http://cookingoilburns.wordpress.com/2012/09/15/hello-world/

Let me also say that I think the RSPO does really great and important work. Since palm oil is here to stay, it's great that there is an organization with high standards for certifying palm oil as sustainable, overseeing the adoption of sustainable, non-deforesting practices by palm oil producers, and helping companies that buy CPO move toward sourcing CPO sustainably.