African oil palm fresh fruit bunch © New Britain Palm Oil

African oil palm fresh fruit bunch in Papua New Guinea © New Britain Palm Oil

People have used palm oil for thousands of years. Extracted from the fruit of the African oil palm (Elaeis guineensis), palm oil originated in West Africa, while archaeological evidence suggests that palm oil was traded by ancient Egyptians at least 5,000 years ago. Palm oil was exported across the world with the arrival of European colonial merchants, who transplanted the African oil palm to Southeast Asia, where now over 90% of palm oil is produced.

In just the last 50 years, unsustainable production has expanded on an industrial scale, which has led to a variety of impacts on people and the planet, from local communities and ecosystems to national economies and global climate. With worldwide demand expected to double again by 2050, it is vital for us all to help protect the tropical habitats increasingly under threat.

This section explores the impacts of unsustainable (bad) palm oil production, and how people and organisations can promote and source sustainable (good) palm oil.

RSPO logoThe Zoological Society of London (ZSL) is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), the world’s leading certification body, covering 3.25 million hectares of land for palm oil production.

Next time you’re out shopping, look out for the RSPO ecolabel on select products. Even if you can’t find it on the packaging, the palm oil used might still be certified sustainable; check on the manufacturer’s and retailer’s websites to see if they have responsible sourcing policies.

Visit our shopping page for links to useful resources, such as sustainable shopping guides from Chester Zoo in the UK  and Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in the US. Our information for zoos and aquariums page has plenty of advice on supporting sustainable palm oil.




Visit the RSPO’s for an answer