Sustainable Certification – Always a Work In Progress
By Carolyn Lim
Over the years, sustainability certification systems across various commodities have been both praised and criticized. In particular, the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) has been under intense scrutiny. Greenpeace, Environmental Investigation Agency, and other NGOs have highlighted gaps and areas of improvement for sustainable palm oil and other sustainability certification schemes.
First – let’s explore why it works for business. Voluntary, multistakeholder schemes such as the RSPO have seen certification allowing for ‘sustainable’ goods exchanges between the Global South and the North, in a framework managed by the parties most involved (read producers, users, and NGO/CSO). Additionally, as a corporate with comprehensive operations, a certification scheme offers a structured approach to set up processes buttressed by robust governance to ensure that sustainable practices are implemented consistently and efficiently throughout the organization.
Indeed, there are limitations and room for improvement as we better understand issues on the ground, as with any set of rules, voluntary or mandatory. So, we ask ourselves: How do we further improve the RSPO? How do we reach interested stakeholders who might not want to join the RSPO but have ideas for further improvement? The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG) was formed to raise the bar for the RSPO by developing and implementing innovations beyond the 2013 RSPO standard. In 2015, Musim Mas was invited to join POIG and remains the only Southeast Asian member. (In 2019, Musim Mas became verified as compliant with the POIG standard.)
When the RSPO Principles and Criteria (P&C) 2018 was developed and endorsed, as a member of POIG, we welcomed it since it presented substantive improvements to the certification standards. It included elements of POIG, notably the High Carbon Stock Approach (HCSA) toolkit, and stricter NDPE restrictions such as no planting on peat regardless of depth. The new standard showed that RSPO was ready to adopt best practices established by POIG and already demonstrated by its members. Far from being an unambitious group, the RSPO demonstrated it is aiming for the best possible impacts.
RSPO may not be perfect, but it has led the way towards establishing and maintaining deforestation- and exploitation-free physical supply chains that connect producers and consumers. It allows us and our peers to challenge and improve our practices and dialog about companies’ challenges. Yet, we are mindful that RSPO certification is not static and is a work in progress. Our presence at the RSPO Board of Governors and active involvement in the organization allow us to address the challenges faced by the members while supporting the improvement of the standard.
For RSPO to make sustainable palm oil the norm, it needs stakeholders to appreciate its value that it supports and encourages further progress by being the most accessible platform for all to explore issues and challenges in a constructive manner. It also allows financial rewards for producers and a way to show progress for consumers of palm oil.