Social Responsibility and Sustainability

Palm Oil

The University of Edinburgh is working to ensure it buys products that contain certified sustainable palm oil.

While the University does not buy palm oil directly, its prevalence in manufactured goods means that many of the food and cleaning products used on campus will contain palm oil or other oil palm-derived ingredients.

In May 2019, the University Executive passed a Palm Oil Policy setting out our commitment to purchase products made from sustainable palm oil that meets high standards of environmental protection, community relations and workers’ rights. This means palm oil that is certified by a rigorous and independently-verified certification scheme that is based on multi-stakeholder participation.



Dr Fiona Borthwick explains the complex landscape of palm oil production and methods of sustainable development for the future.

Palm oil fresh fruit bunches
Palm oil fresh fruit bunches

Read our Palm Oil Policy

Further information

Read our briefing for more insights into our approach. The briefing below provides further background and information about our policy position.

The problem with palm oil

The global appetite for palm oil drives deforestation and biodiversity loss in tropical countries. It is estimated that half of all oil palm development in the last 5 decades occurred on forested land. Poor working conditions and human rights abuses have also been found on oil palm plantations.

Since the early 2000s, a number of certification schemes have arisen that aim to improve the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production. The most widely adopted certification is operated by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which now certifies 19% of all palm oil produced globally.

Building on past work

Our Palm Oil Policy was developed by the University’s Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability (SRS), the Department for Accommodation, Catering and Events (ACE), the Estates Department and the Procurement Office. We also collaborated with students and spoke to academics to understand the University’s options.

The Policy builds on previous commitments to sustainable supply chains. For example, our Procurement Strategy 2016 - 2021, which aims to 'embed ethical, social, environmental policies within procurement practices'. Our Good Food Policy 2016 includes a commitment to “source food and drink that is produced to the highest environmental, social and economic standards”.

Next steps

  • Over the next year, ACE, Estates and the Department for SRS will undertake an investigation of catering and cleaning 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.
  • The Procurement Office will work to embed our sourcing requirements into future purchasing agreements with suppliers.
  • The Department for SRS will continue to collaborate with students and academic colleagues to understand this complex issue and inform our future approach. In response to staff and student interest in this topic, the Department for Social Responsibility and Sustainability and the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security hosted a public event in February 2019 to explore sustainability issues in palm oil supply chains.
  • Updates will be published on this page to keep staff and students aware of our progress.


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