Saving Rainforest One Pop-Tart At A Time

An access road is constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia's Sumatra island in 2013. Chaideer. Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

An access road is constructed in a peatland forest being cleared for a palm oil plantation on Indonesia’s Sumatra island in 2013. Chaideer. Mahyuddin/AFP/Getty Images

Thanks to National Public Radio in the USA for this story of palm oil, Pop-Tarts and ethics, wrapped up in the clothing of an entrepreneurial conservation case study among multinational corporations:

If you think a small shareholder can’t get the attention of the multibillion-dollar palm oil industry, think again.

Lucia von Reusner lives half a world away from the palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia that have become notorious for environmental, labor and human rights abuses.

So, how did she nudge for change? She couldn’t tell palm oil plantations in Indonesia to clean up their act. But, as a Kellogg shareholder, she figured out how to put pressure on the company to use its leverage to push for change.

Palm oil, of course, is the fat that lubricates so many of our packaged snacks today, from Pop-Tarts and Eggo waffles to soaps and other personal products. And global demand for palm oil has grown quickly.

The clear-cutting of precious forests in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia to grow the oil palm trees has been well-documented. More recently, an investigation by Bloomberg Businessweek into human rights abuses on Indonesian palm oil plantations and an Accenture analysis that described the use of child labor have raised more awareness about other unsavory realities in the industry.

Von Reusner, who works as a shareholder advocate for Green Century Capital Management, a mutual fund company that attracts green-minded investors, saw an opportunity to do something about it.

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Kellogg, maker of Pop-Tarts, announced Feb. 14 that it will buy palm oil — an ingredient in Pop-Tarts — only from companies that don’t destroy rain forests where palm trees are grown. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

She got on an earnings conference call in August 2013 with the CEO of Kellogg and asked this question:

“As a company publicly committed to sustainability, how will Kellogg ensure that the Kellogg brand is not associated with illegal deforestation?”

One of Kellogg’s main suppliers of palm oil, Wilmar, has, in the past, been ranked among least sustainable companies in the world by Newsweek’s green rankings.

Von Reusner’s questioning garnered lots of attention and was picked up by Bloomberg News. And she filed a shareholder proposal aimed at getting Kellogg to make changes.

Now, keep in mind her mutual fund is a tiny investor in Kellogg. (Kellogg has $21 billion in publicly traded shares. Green Century owns about $180,000 worth.) But von Reusner didn’t see this as an obstacle.

‘”As a shareholder in Kellogg, Green Century has a direct voice that management was obligated to respond to,” von Reusner tells us.

The chief sustainability officer at Kellogg, Diane Holdorf, says that even before this shareholder petition was filed, the company was already at work drafting a new policy on palm oil.

And this month, Kellogg released a new global commitment to work with palm oil suppliers to buy oil that is fully traceable to its source…

Read the whole story here.

5 thoughts on “Saving Rainforest One Pop-Tart At A Time

  1. Pingback: Saving Rainforest One Pop-Tart At A Time | Garr...

  2. Pingback: Saving Rainforest One Pop-Tart At A Time | GarryRogers Conservation and Science Fiction: #EcoSciFi

  3. Pingback: Extinction And Its Discontents | Raxa Collective

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