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Yum! Brands Commits to Using Deforestation-Free Palm Oil By 2017

The Union of Concerned Scientists’ palm oil scorecard shines a spotlight on big brands’ environmental practices

Image via pixabay user sarangib

From fried chicken and french fries to shampoo and face wash, palm oil is a near-ubiquitous ingredient used in many of your favorite products.


About 50 million tons of the stuff is produced annually in oil palm plantations worldwide which cover a total area of over 40.6 million acres, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. Concocting such enormous amounts of the edible vegetable oil has been shown to have profound effects on areas surrounding plantations. In countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia, where 85 percent of oil palm is grown, deforestation to make room for more plantations is commonplace, locals are subject to severe human rights violations, and endangered species like orangutans are either displaced or hunted down.

In an effort to motivate corporations to be more conscientious of their environmental impacts, the Union of Concerned Scientists released a scorecard this month rating major brands on a 1-10 scale each determined by their individual commitment to more sustainable palm oil sourcing.

“Until companies commit to palm oil produced without deforestation or destruction of peatlands, consumers will have cause for concern,” reads the executive summary. “To understand the scope and trends of the problem, this scorecard—a follow-on to last year’s scorecard—evaluates 40 of the largest companies selling products in the United States on their commitments to ending the destruction of forests and carbon-rich peat swamps associated with their use of palm oil.”

The scorecard evaluates 10 companies and brands in four categories: packaged food, personal care, fast food, and store brands. In order to come up with the exact numbers, UCS took into account each company’s commitment to using palm oil gathered without causing deforestation and peatland destruction, as well as their traceability, transparency, and current sourcing methods.

Chart via Union of Concerned Scientists

Chart via Union of Concerned Scientists

Already, as a response to its abysmal score of 0, Yum! Brands, the parent company to KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut, announced this past Thursday their zero deforestation plan for its palm oil sourcing, which they promise to ramp up to total success by 2017. And as more companies seek to boost their scores, others in the industry are forced to follow suit largely because of consumer pressure.

“Seventy percent of the companies scored in 2014 listened to consumers and improved their palm oil commitments or sourcing practices to address the risk of deforestation and peatland destruction,” said the UCS in its conclusion. “However, many companies have no commitment whatsoever or still have a long way to go in adopting commitments that protect all tropical forests and peatlands to minimize climate change emissions.”