University establishes Palm Oil Policy

The University has passed a Palm Oil Policy setting out actions it will take to combat the negative impacts of unsustainable palm oil production. Central to this policy is a commitment to source food and cleaning products that contain certified sustainable palm oil.

Palm oil fresh fruit bunches
Palm oil fresh fruit bunches

What is palm oil and what is its impact?

Palm oil is a vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of the oil palm. Due to its versatility and low cost, it is estimated to be an ingredient in around 50% of packaged products. While the University does not buy palm oil directly, many of the food and cleaning products used on campus do contain palm oil or other oil palm-derived ingredients.

The majority of the world’s oil palm plantations are found in Indonesia and Malaysia, where vast areas of tropical forest have been cleared to satisfy the growing global appetite for palm oil. This deforestation has harmed biodiversity and contributed to climate change.

New Palm Oil Policy

Following preliminary student research into possible approaches, a University Palm Oil Policy was developed by the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability and approved by the University’s Executive Committee in May 2019.

The Policy communicates the University’s ambition to source products made from sustainable palm oil. This is defined as palm oil that is certified by a rigorous and independently-verified certification scheme that meets high standards of:

  • environmental protection
  • community relations
  • workers’ rights

The Policy also includes a commitment to collaborate with students, researchers and other Universities to respond to this complex issue.  

The University’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability, Procurement Office, Department for Accommodation, Catering and Events and Estates Department are jointly responsible for implementing the Policy. Over the next year, our departments will work to progress the Policy commitments, starting with an investigation of relevant products purchased by the University.

If we cannot verify that the palm oil in an item comes from a certified source that meets our requirements, then this item will be replaced with a certified alternative or removed, wherever possible.

Find out more about the Palm Oil Policy

It is only appropriate as Sustainability Institution of the Year 2018 (Green Gown Awards) that the University has committed to a new Palm Oil Policy. Through changing our purchasing practices we seek to realise all opportunities to remove non-certified palm oil from our food and cleaning products, and to find ways to reduce demand for these oils as part of our ongoing commitment to provide healthy, freshly prepared food to our community.

Ian MacaulayDirector Catering, Accommodation, Catering and Events

Why not a boycott?

For a number of reasons, banning palm oil is not considered to be an appropriate or sustainable course of action at this point in time. An outright ban on palm oil would mean shifting to less productive crops like soy. This could lead to a greater overall demand for land, threatening habitats and species in other regions.

Find out more about our approach in our Palm Oil briefing: