The WWF’s Sustainability Scorecards on Palm Oil and Soy

  • According to the 2021 scorecards compiled by the WWF, soy is a major laggard that is far behind sustainability drives in the palm oil industry.
  • The WWF which has published a scorecard on palm oil for over a decade, also published for the first time in 2021, a scorecard on soy.
  • What does this mean in terms of corporate commitments to sourcing sustainable produced goods?

Its buyer beware as the first ever scorecard on soy will allow the consumer to make a fair comparison between soy and palm oil.

The full report on palm oil which can be read here was critical of for not showing enough support for certified sustainable palm oil.

Palm oil buyers are still not demonstrating the kind of transformative action that is required to halt the destruction of the world’s most vitally important forests and natural ecosystems. With an average score of 13.2 points out of 24, companies have a long way to go in showing they are serious about delivering palm oil supply chains that are free of deforestation, ecosystem conversion and human rights abuse.

This criticism is justified as palm oil buyers have had many years to put their support into certified sustainable palm oil whether through the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) or national certification schemes in Indonesian Sustainable Palm Oil (ISPO) and Malaysian Sustainable Palm Oil (MSPO).

The Problem with Palm Oil Image is the Lack of Focus on Other Crops

Instead, some brand manufacturers have switched to uncertified substitutes like soy and canola. Their decision to move from a certified product to an uncertified product shows a lack of commitment to sustainability but more importantly risks additional reputational harm to their brand image.

Previously, consumer goods manufacturers were aware that the lack of attention by non-profits like the WWF on palm oil substitutes meant they could spin the marketing on the substitutes.

Kraft Heinz best exemplifies the problems. The corporation’s devil may care attitude towards sustainability has long been called out by groups like Ethical Consumer which wrote a scathing piece on Heinz.

The disregard for sustainability in Kraft Heinz products continues to this day as it tried to gain market share with a palm oil free marketing campaign in Canada. This was a poor decision on the part of the marketing team at Heinz who thought the substitution of palm oil with soy would bring commercial success against Nutella, the most popular hazelnut spread in the world which also happens to be rated as the top user of certified palm oil. Needless to say, the anti palm oil marketing behind Kraft hazelnut spread fell flat but it did earn Heinz the title of being the worst company on unsustainable palm oil use on the same WWF scorecard.

The use of soy to replace palm oil may continue to further damage Kraft Heinz’s reputation with the first ever Scorecard for Soy Buyers. Consumer goods manufacturers who were concerned that talking about the use of a certified sustainable ingredient like palm oil might cause their consumers to question other ingredients in their products now have their worst fears realized.

The performance of soy buyers according to the scorecard is much worse than that for palm oil. It is unclear why WWF used different rating systems for soy and palm oil. It might have something to do with an abysmal rating for soy which might have fallen off the charts.

Taking a look at the two scoring cards, if palm oil was rated on the same scale as the one used for soy, it would rate <53 out of 100 compared to 17 out of 100 for soy. Conversely, if soy was rated on the same scale used for palm oil, it would rate rate >4 out of 24. Either way, the sustainability of soy according to the two buyers scorecards shows it is a terrible substitute for palm oil in terms of corporate policies towards preserving the natural environment.

Scorecards Could Be a Useful Reference to Control Green Claims

Unfortunately for consumers, controlling green claims under fair competition acts in Canada and the UK are harder to do than the EU where legal precedents against “palm oil free” labeling exists. The UK is cracking down on green claims as explained in this report “Is the Golden Age of Greenwashing Ending?”

It may require the setting of legal precedents under the authority of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMAUK) to deter irresponsible brands like Kraft Heinz from masking misleading impressions of environmental credentials or hiding behind false, vague, exaggerated or unsubstantiated claims.

In the meantime, scorecards on vegetable oils could be a useful tool for consumers that are concerned about the natural environment.

So here’s a few suggestions for the WWF. Use the same scoring system for all vegetable oils for fair comparison. Start up scorecards for canola/ rapeseed and sunflower etc. Most importantly, make it a priority to compile the work into an overall file where buyers can see how one vegetable oil stacks up against another. This would go a long way towards pushing buyers towards products with a higher sustainability rating whether its palm oil or not.