Written by: Datuk Darrel Webber

The city of Chester celebrates as it becomes the world’s first ‘Sustainable Palm Oil City’. This is no small feat and could in fact be a transformational catalyst, long-needed for the downstream sustainable palm oil market.

In September 2017, Chester Zoo launched an initiative to make Chester, in the north west of England, the first sustainable palm oil city. With a host of businesses already interested, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was delighted to join a group of advisors on this ambitious project and subsequently showcase the campaign’s progress at our Roundtable conferences in Europe and Asia. And in November 2017, RSPO together with the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) signed a five year Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to further our shared goals and objectives in regard to the transformation of markets to make sustainable palm oil the norm. Beyond this MoU, RSPO also works in close collaboration with the equivalent regional and national zoos associations, including the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA).

We know that sustainable palm oil can help fulfil increasing global food demand, support affordable food prices and poverty reduction; safeguard social interests, communities and workers, while dramatically reducing stress and degradation on the environment and wildlife. We also know that zoos can play a pivotal role in driving global consumer awareness and demand for sustainable palm oil.

Chester Zoo has made great efforts to raise awareness about the environmental harm caused by unsustainable palm oil production and to educate their visitors about sustainably grown palm oil as a positive solution. Bringing together small businesses, food service suppliers, school children, and local government officials, the team at Chester Zoo have helped to bridge the gap between palm oil producing countries and consumers in the city of Chester. This week they announced that more than 50 organisations and businesses have pledged to solely source sustainable palm oil. Whether doing the Sustainable Palm Oil Conga or hosting conservation expert panels, Chester Zoo has proved an influential voice with stakeholders at all levels – even hosting an industry summit with Chris Matheson, MP for the City of Chester, at the UK Houses of Parliament in May 2018.

In palm oil producing countries, RSPO has engaged with key palm oil stakeholders, as well as local and international governments to promote a ‘Jurisdictional Approach’ to RSPO certification. In the context of sustainable palm oil, the Jurisdictional Approach involves the certification of palm oil production at the jurisdictional level that uses a particular model of jurisdictional landscape development. And, a number of pilot projects have already been implemented, with the Sabah State government being the first to pledge its commitment to this approach in 2015. Since then, Seruyan (Central Kalimantan) also made commitments and are piloting the Jurisdictional Approach. In 2017, the Ecuadorian government in Latin America, and several countries in Africa also pledged towards the production of sustainable palm oil at a national level, under the Marrakesh Declaration. Arguably in their city-wide multi-stakeholder approach and sustainable sourcing drive, Chester Zoo has not only made Chester the world’s first sustainable palm oil city but also implemented the first jurisdictional approach in a downstream market.

Eighteen months on from the launch of the Sustainable Palm Oil City Project, the signing of an MoU between RSPO and WAZA, and a transformative revision of the RSPO Principles & Criteria, it is my hope that more zoos, cities, and local governments will follow Chester’s example to implement jurisdictional approaches to sourcing sustainable palm oil. Without pressure and demand for sustainable palm oil from the downstream market, the likely outcome is more unsustainable palm oil. Driving market uptake and demand for sustainable palm oil is a shared responsibility. I applaud Chester Zoo for embracing this responsibility, creating city-wide behavioural change, and bringing sustainable solutions to the forefront of the UK consumer consciousness. And sincerely hope that this “downstream jurisdictional approach” will catch on like a Sustainable Palm Oil Conga Line.

About the author:

Datuk Darrel Webber serves as the CEO of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). RSPO is a not-for-profit association that unites stakeholders from seven sectors of the palm oil industry – oil palm producers, palm oil processors or traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks and investors, environmental or nature conservation NGOs and social or developmental NGOs – to develop and implement global standards for sustainable palm oil.

Header Image: The Firs Prep School pledge to support Chesters Sustainable Palm Oil City initiative Credit: CheshireLive