Case Study: Raising Palm Oil Awareness

Summary

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s (CMZoo) Palm Oil Awareness Mission Statement is to make a difference for wild orangutans by raising awareness about the palm oil crisis and encouraging people to take action by providing tools and information that will allow them to make globally responsible consumer choices.
  • CMZoo firmly believes that boycotting palm oil is not a realistic or responsible solution to the palm oil crisis. Only through strong support and participation in the RSPO as well as sharing messages and action steps about sustainable palm oil with large numbers of zoo guests will zoos effect positive change for everyone involved, including orangutans and other wildlife.
  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo shares its palm oil awareness messages and toolkit with other zoological institutions, which enables them to launch or expand their palm oil awareness programmes.
  • CMZoo’s main objectives surrounding palm oil:
    1. Become a leader in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the go-to resource for palm oil awareness information and tools.
    2. By sharing CMZoo’s resource kit with other AZA zoos, palm oil issues can be communicated to vast numbers of zoo guests. CMZoo envisions a day when the majority of US households are purchasing products with only sustainable palm oil.
    3. CMZoo will assist with consumer action, with the goal of encouraging more companies to join the RSPO and use certified sustainable palm oil.
    4. The ultimate goal:  all palm oil that is produced worldwide to be certified sustainable by the RSPO, 100% traceable, deforestation-free and no new plantings on peat of any depth.
    • CMZoo’s Palm Oil Awareness Campaign is funded through the zoo’s Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) programme. Every admission fee includes 25 cents which is allocated to the Q4C programme, and guests can vote for one of six projects at a kiosk in the zoo’s entry plaza.
    • In 2010 CMZoo became the first zoo to join the RSPO. As an environmental NGO member of the RSPO, CMZoo has a voice and can influence the direction of policies and processes within the RSPO.

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo’s Palm Oil Awareness Mission Statement:
    To make a difference for wild orangutans by raising awareness about the palm oil crisis and encouraging people to take action by providing tools and information that will allow them to make globally responsible consumer choices. 

    Since 2008 Cheyenne Mountain Zoo has strived to be an accurate and reliable resource, sharing information regarding palm oil.

    Keywords: certified sustainable palm oil, product labelling and palm oil, consumer action, zoos and palm oil, zoos and orangutan conservation, Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) membership

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff in Sumatra 2010 © Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo staff in Sumatra 2010 © Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    Background situation

    As sustainability practices have evolved over the past few years, consumer action and palm oil awareness messages have evolved as well. In 2004 the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) began building stakeholder membership and involvement. RSPO-certified sustainable palm oil was not yet available, and therefore purchasing products made by member companies was not considered a wise choice by environmental or social sustainability standards. As a result, many zoos—including Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (CMZoo)—felt that the best message to convey to zoo guests as consumers was to avoid purchasing goods containing palm oil.

    Since then the RSPO has gained momentum in the certification of plantations and mills, while an increasing number of consumer goods manufacturers are making commitments and time-bound plans. Staff from CMZoo travelled to Indonesia and Malaysia in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and 2015 to research palm oil and orangutan conservation issues. After learning about the palm oil industry, oil seed crops, economic issues in Indonesia and Malaysia, RSPO principles and criteria, and sustainability issues, CMZoo changed its palm oil messaging in 2010. CMZoo feels quite strongly that support of, and involvement in, the RSPO is key to addressing the palm oil crisis, promoting sustainable best practices, and driving change.

    Here are CMZoo’s main objectives surrounding palm oil:

    1. Become a leader in the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the go-to resource for palm oil awareness information and tools.
    2. By sharing CMZoo’s resource kit with other AZA zoos, palm oil issues can be communicated to vast numbers of zoo guests. CMZoo envisions a day when the majority of US households are purchasing products with only sustainable palm oil.
    3. CMZoo will assist with consumer action, with the goal of encouraging more companies to join the RSPO and use certified sustainable palm oil.
    4. The ultimate goal: all palm oil that is produced worldwide to be certified sustainable by the RSPO, 100% traceable, deforestation-free and no new plantings on peat of any depth.

    CMZoo’s Palm Oil Awareness Campaign is funded through the zoo’s Quarters for Conservation (Q4C) programme, and the Q4C committee and zoo management are committed to the project’s success. Every admission fee includes 25 cents which is allocated to the Q4C programme, and guests can vote for one of six projects at a kiosk in the zoo’s entry plaza.

    When surveyed in early 2015, at least 54 zoos and aquariums in North America responded that they utilize CMZoo’s Palm Oil Awareness materials.. In addition, general web-users and students have given feedback that they are utilising and appreciate CMZoo’s comprehensive web page on this issue.

    Options and action

    In 2008 several CMZoo staff members began asking questions about palm oil and it quickly became apparent that no one knew the answers. How significant is the threat of palm oil cultivation compared to other threats to wild orangutans? What is the RSPO? What should zoos be telling their guests about palm oil? What actions can people in the US take to help orangutans? Can zoos provide opportunities for their guests to take action? These were just a few of the issues CMZoo needed to explore.

    The President/CEO of Cheyenne Mountain Zoo challenged the animal care manager of primates and carnivores to become an expert on the palm oil crisis. What started as an internet research project then developed into an extensive Palm Oil Awareness programme involving on-grounds activities and signage as well as a huge presence on our website. Every year, the project’s scope has grown to include new resources, information, and tools. Here are just some examples:

    • A site was created to make very large files available to other zoos and aquariums. Examples of materials include sample letters, trading card templates for kids, photo and video library and layered graphics which enable any zoo to modify the images or messages:

    CMZ_Toolkit

    • In 2010 CMZoo became the first zoo to join the RSPO. As an environmental NGO member of the RSPO, CMZoo has a voice and can influence the direction of policies and processes within the RSPO.
    • Tracey Gazibara, a member of CMZoo’s palm oil team, presented at the RSPO meeting in 2014 on many efforts and programs by AZA zoos to increase palm oil awareness in the US.
    • Service Systems Associates (SSA), CMZoo’s food service and retail amenity provider, became a member of the RSPO in July 2015.  SSA serves over 30 million guests at many zoos and iconic cultural attractions each year, so the impact is very exciting.
    • 2010-2015 CMZoo led ground-truthing research trips to Indonesia and Malaysia to learn more about the palm oil industry, RSPO certification, reforestation projects, ecotourism, and orangutan conservation efforts, as well as threats to orangutans and other wildlife. Staff members from other AZA institutions travelled with CMZoo on every trip. CMZoo worked with numerous conservation organisations in Indonesia and Malaysia throughout these travels.
    • Two CMZ staff served on the AZA’s Palm Oil Task Force 2014-2015. The Task Force created a Palm Oil Position Statement which was approved by AZA’s Board of Directors in 2014.
    • 2012-2015 CMZoo has activated a booth in the exhibit hall at the AZA National Conference focused on sharing palm oil awareness materials and information.
    • A palm oil awareness video was created, which numerous zoos have requested permission to use at their facilities:

    • In 2013 CMZoo launched a smartphone app sustainable palm oil shopping guide. In 2014 the app was updated to incorporate a rating system with user-friendly color coding (green, yellow, orange).  The next update will include a barcode scanner.
    CMZoo Sustainable Palm Oil App

    CMZoo Sustainable Palm Oil Mobile App

    • To investigate the progress of AZA institutions in relation to palm oil awareness campaigns, CMZoo created and facilitated a survey for all institutions (2011-2015). The survey helped determine a baseline so that change over time can be measured. (See graph for messaging results.)
    • In 2010-2015 CMZoo presented palm oil awareness research and updates at the Orangutan SSP (Species Survival Plan) Husbandry Workshop.
    • The planners of the first ever gibbon conference in the US invited CMZoo to present on palm oil awareness (June 2012).
    • The EMA (Elephant Managers Association) conference host zoo invited CMZoo to present on palm oil awareness (November 2012).
    • CMZoo connects zoo guests with orangutans and shares palm oil messages during natural behavior shows.
    CMZoo Red Ape Rally

    CMZoo Red Ape Rally

    • Red Ape Rally Days are held at CMZoo each year, typically during spring break. This involves festivities and activities such as letter writing, colouring, t-shirt painting, and a grocery shopping game.
    • CMZoo’s palm oil team shares palm oil messages at Groovin’ for Gibbons and Earth Day events at the Zoo.
    • CMZoo created and moderates a palm oil email listserv that currently has 254 members (as of October 2015). The listserv is a forum for sharing information and news about palm oil.
    Sumatran Orangutan "Abdul" © Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    Sumatran Orangutan “Abdul” © Cheyenne Mountain Zoo

    Outcomes and conclusion

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is at different points of meeting its various palm oil objectives:

    1. Become a leader in the AZA and the go-to resource for palm oil awareness information and tools.CMZoo has accomplished this objective.
    • Two CMZ staff served on the AZA’s Palm Oil Task Force 2014-2015. The Task Force created a Palm Oil Position Statement which was approved by AZA’s Board of Directors in 2014.
    • The website for the Orangutan SSP (Species Survival Plan) has posted this information: The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs, CO, has taken the lead in palm oil education for the AZA and for the Orangutan SSP. Visit the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo web site to learn about palm oil, its impact on orangutans and other species, and what you can do about the crisis. The Orangutan SSP encourages all participating zoos to take advantage of this tremendous resource and link the information to their own web pages to help spread the word! ( http://www.orangutanssp.org/palm-oil.html)
    • The gibbon SSP and Elephant Managers Association invited CMZoo to present on palm oil issues at conferences.
    • At least 54 zoos and aquariums in North America are utilising CMZoo’s resource kit, according to the 2015 palm oil awareness survey.
    1. 2. By sharing CMZoo’s resource kit with other AZA zoos, palm oil issues can be communicated to vast numbers of zoo guests. CMZoo envisions a day when the majority of US households are purchasing products with only sustainable palm oil.
    • By collecting information from staff at US zoos via Survey Monkey, CMZoo was able to compile the following data regarding Palm Oil messaging at US zoos:
    By collecting information from staff at US zoos via Survey Monkey, CMZoo was able to compile the following data regarding Palm Oil messaging at US zoos

    By collecting information from staff at US zoos via Survey Monkey, CMZoo was able to compile the following data regarding Palm Oil messaging at US zoos

    • CMZoo has not focused on measuring the number of US households which are palm-oil-aware, however the AZA has done a baseline survey.
    • Guests surveyed at CMZoo about conservation messages and actions in 2013 and 2014 remember sustainable palm oil messages more frequently than any other conservation take-away.
    1. CMZoo will assist with consumer action, with the goal of encouraging more companies to join the RSPO and use certified sustainable palm oil. 
    • In 2013 CMZoo launched a smart phone app sustainable palm oil shopping guide. In 2014 the app was updated to incorporate a rating system with user-friendly color coding (green, yellow, orange).  The next update will include a barcode scanner.
    • CMZoo was in contact with many companies before they joined the RSPO. Some examples are Justin’s, Girl Scouts of the USA, Mars, Post and Safeway.Whether their conversations with CMZoo had any effect on these companies’ decisions to join the RSPO is not known.

    The number of US zoos sharing palm oil messages has increased from 2011 to 2015, which is exactly the trend that Cheyenne Mountain Zoo was hoping for. The majority of zoos in 2011 were either not sharing palm oil messages with zoo guests or they were sharing conflicting messages. Over the past 4 years there has been a very significant decrease in these categories (see graph).  In addition, the number of zoos sharing the message that consumers should purchase products from RSPO member companies increased from 17% to 61% which is a very exciting trend.

    Cheyenne Mountain Zoo shares its palm oil awareness messages and toolkit with other zoological and aquarium institutions, which enables them to launch or expand their palm oil awareness programmes. CMZoo has presented at numerous conferences and created a website to facilitate this knowledge-sharing among US zoos and aquariums regarding palm oil.

    CMZoo firmly believes that boycotting palm oil is not a realistic or responsible solution to the palm oil crisis. Only through strong support and participation in the RSPO as well as sharing messages and action steps about sustainable palm oil that is deforestation-free with large numbers of zoo guests will zoos effect positive change for everyone involved, including orangutans and other wildlife.

    Prepared by: Dina Bredahl
    Position: Animal Care Manager
    Organisation: Cheyenne Mountain Zoo
    Contact: palmoil@cmzoo.org
    Date: (updated) 3 November 2015