ANNOUNCEMENT: Sign up for our webinar on “Zooming In: Companies, Commodities, & Traceability Commitments that Count, 2018.” Find out more under the Upcoming Events section below.


Febuary 22, 2018

Dear Colleagues,

I am delighted to be a guest contributor for Supply Change’s February 2018 newsletter. As an Assistant Professor at the University of Hawaii, I research environmental governance of tropical forest-risk commodities with the aim of establishing evidence of how corporate sustainability policies impact ecosystems and people.

Recognizing palm oil production as a leading driver of deforestation and economic growth in Southeast Asia, over 250 companies have made sustainability commitments for their palm oil supply chains.  In fact, this year around 19% of global palm oil production was certified by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), giving this commodity the largest coverage by a sustainability certification.

The RSPO prohibits clearing of High Conservation Value (HCV) areas and primary forests. However, a lack of location data for  certified plantations makes it difficult to quantify deforestation in certified areas. To overcome this barrier, in collaboration with colleagues from the National Wildlife Federation, Daemeter Consulting, and scientists from several universities, my team of researchers compiled data on certified and non-certified plantations in Indonesia, the leading producer of palm oil.

By analyzing land cover in these plantations, our recent publication shows that certification significantly reduced loss of forests by about 33% when compared with similar non-certified plantation areas. Yet, certified plantations were surprisingly old. The average certified plantation was developed in the early 1990s, whereas more than half of all oil palm development in Indonesia occurred in the 2000s. This means that certified plantations contain little forest. By 2015, of all forest in Indonesian oil palm plantations, just 1% was in certified plantations.

Does RSPO-certified palm oil fulfill corporate sustainability commitments? Our research suggests that RSPO-certified palm oil is largely (though not entirely) free of recent deforestation, which is good news for consumers who wish to avoid purchasing products associated with forest cover loss. However, the RSPO’s contribution to active forest protection in Indonesia remains minimal. It will be interesting to see whether this trend changes as more recently-developed plantations gain certification.

I laud the RSPO for demanding transparency regarding plantation boundaries, a first step toward tracking deforestation in certified supply chains. Yet, the RSPO does not yet have a system to monitor, verify, and enforce protection of conservation set-asides within plantation boundaries. High frequency, spatially-resolved satellite data are now freely available, removing technical barriers to such monitoring. Such a system is necessary to ensure that RSPO-certified production both complies with its Principles and Criteria and aligns with corporate procurement policies on deforestation.

Several questions regarding the effects of supply chain commitments remain. Do commitments lead to marginalization of producers who are unable to meet more stringent requirements? Does deforestation “leak” to other regions, actors, or commodities if eliminated from specific supply chains? The Socially and Environmentally Sustainable Oil Palm Research (SEnSOR) and Stability of Altered Forest Ecosystems (SAFE)  are two examples of ongoing environmental research projects that are engaging palm oil producers of all sizes to answer questions like these. Looking forward, I recognize that for the scientific community to advance our understanding of how corporate sustainability policies translate into on-the-ground impacts will require collaborative science which builds trust with practitioners.

Kimberly Carlson, PhD

Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, University of Hawaii


More stories about changing supply chains are summarized below, so keep reading!

- The Supply Change team



Upcoming Events

Forest Trends’ Supply Change Initiative and Ceres Webinar

Zooming In: Companies, Commodities, & Traceability Commitments that Count, 2018

11am EST, 28th February 2018

Forest Trends' Supply Change Initiative and Ceres teamed up to analyze how companies that are committed to addressing commodity-driven deforestation have taken the critical step of tracing their supply chains.  By tracing supplies to their origin—be it factory, farm, field, or forest—companies can uncover their impacts on forests.

Join Supply Change, Ceres, Green Century Asset Management, and CDP for a discussion about this new research and what it means for businesses, investors, civil society, and other stakeholders. Sign up here.


Innovation Forum: Can innovation and technology make agriculture sustainable

Arlington, VA, 4th-5th April 2018

This two-day business forum is designed to debate how to leverage technology, climate-smart agriculture, and cross-sector collaborations to improve sustainable farming. We’ll focus on practical ways to deliver against company objectives and balance positive impact for farmers, businesses and the planet.

Already confirmed to participate are senior professionals from Google, JBS, Bunge, Walmart, Smithfield, WWF, Mars, Cargill, WRI and many more.

Register here and get a 15% discount using the SC15 code or get in touch with Innovation Forum directly –


Innovation Forum: How business can tackle deforestation

Arlington, VA, 18th-19th April 2018

The two-day conference will deliver focused discussion around the big issues facing US businesses. Already confirmed to participate are professionals from Mars, L’Oreal, Domtar, Sappi, Pirelli, 3M, SFI, WRI and many more key stakeholders.  

Register here and get a 15% discount using the SC15 code or get in touch with Innovation Forum directly –



Recent News

Sweetening the deal, sustainably

A new study shows that Ecuadorian land owners with land prone to deforestation are more receptive to commit to long term forest protection contracts if they are allowed to sustainably harvest timber. The authors also concluded that farmers with a smaller risk of deforestation prefer shorter contracts that provide financial incentives to protect their forests. What’s more, the organization offering the contract was also significant as the farmers in the study were more inclined to enter contracts with local governing bodies and NGOs than they were with the Ecuadorian federal government. The authors of this study hope that their findings will be used to create commitments that more effectively reduce forest degradation and deforestation.

Read more from Futurity


Satellites for a rainy day

Satellite monitoring in the Brazilian Amazon continues to get better and is now able to more accurately capture, remotely, data on forest cover, or lack thereof, even with cloud cover and at night. This helps explain the large increase in apparent deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon identified by more sophisticated satellite monitoring (from 9 km2  per month in December of 2016 to 184 km2 per month in December of 2017) rather than just attributing it to a drastic increase in forest conversion over the last year. Unfortunately, improvements in monitoring technologies will not be enough to address deforestation without support and interest from the government, argued Gilberto Câmara, a researcher with Brazil’s National Institute of Space Research in an interview with Mongabay.



In this together

A recent synthesis paper by leading researchers from over a dozen universities and environmental non-profits suggested that for the public and private sector to meet their goals to reduce commodity-driven deforestation, public policies and initiatives should complement existing corporate efforts. The scope of corporate commitments and the level of detail provided for implementation varies widely among the hundreds of companies with commitments operating across different business sectors. As a consequence, the authors propose that policymakers design regulations that reinforce the wide array of existing company standards, share relevant monitoring information, and provide support for compliance costs (particularly for smaller producers).
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