We Got Mail! … About Sustainable Palm Oil?

Oct 22, 2012 5:00 AM ET

By Paulette Frank, Vice President of Sustainability and EH&S, Johnson & Johnson Family of Consumer Companies

Remember when you were little, and how excited you felt when a piece of mail arrived and it was actually for you? And the bigger the envelope, the more exciting it was? Every once in awhile, a piece of mail arrives that brings back that feeling of wonder and excitement. I received a piece of mail like that a few weeks ago, at my office.

It was a big, yellow envelope from the Philadelphia Zoo. The Philadelphia Zoo sent us mail?! Inside the package, there was a cardboard tree and a smaller envelope filled with colorful paper leaves. Each leaf had a message from a child who had visited the zoo and decided to say “thank you” to Johnson & Johnson for caring about orangutans. Caring about orangutans?! What could the Philadelphia Zoo, Johnson & Johnson and orangutans possibly have in common? Turns out, that would be something called palm oil.

At Johnson & Johnson, we use ingredients like soap chips, surfactants, emollients and emulsifiers, that are derived from palm oil in many of our personal care products. And much of the world’s palm oil comes from Indonesia and Malaysia where orangutans live. The world’s increasing demand for more palm oil has resulted in unsustainable palm oil growing practices that include cutting down the rain forests where the orangutans live and replacing the rain forest with palm oil plantations. To bring attention to the orangutan’s plight, the Philadelphia Zoo launched its UNLESS campaign (http://unless.philadelphiazoo.org/), which challenges students from kindergarten through graduate school to imagine, create and participate in the Zoo’s conservation efforts for orangutans. Part of this program encourages students to write “thank you” notes to companies – like Johnson & Johnson — that support the production of sustainable palm oil.

We support the production of sustainable palm oil in several ways. For one, we support the palm oil farmers who are using sustainable growing practices and not cutting down the rain forest. We do this by purchasing “GreenPalm” certificates, which we have been doing since 2010. The money we spend on the certificates goes directly to the farmers growing palm oil sustainably. We also support projects in partnership with organizations like World Wildlife Fund and Solidaridad that help farmers use more sustainable practices.  Another way we can help is to source our ingredients from suppliers who make them from certified sustainable palm oil. This is called “CSPO” for short, and an organization called the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (“RSPO”) developed the standard and the process for CSPO.  Johnson & Johnson has been a member of the RSPO since 2006, and in 2011, as part of our Healthy Future 2015 goals, we set a public goal to buy ingredients that come from palm oil from CSPO, by the end of 2015.

Now two years into the goal period, we’re learning just how hard achieving this goal is going to be.  The supply chains for ingredients derived from palm oil are complicated and promoting sustainable palm oil in our supply chains is going to require everyone along the supply chain to be working toward the same goal for us, the end buyer, to be successful.  But with the encouragement of organizations like the Philadelphia Zoo and its visitors, we are inspired to press on.  So a big thank you right back at the Philadelphia Zoo and all those visitors who took the time to write us a note.

Frankly speaking, the orangutans aren’t the only ones counting on us to succeed. Our health and the health of our planet are inextricably linked. That’s why we’ve been caring for a healthy future for more than 125 years and will continue to care for generations to come.


Since I received our thank you notes from the Philadelphia Zoo, a number of employees have also reached out to me to tell me about their own visits to the Zoo with their children and how nice it was to see Johnson & Johnson recognized for its support of sustainable palm oil.  I plan to take my own children to the Zoo and the orangutans will be our first stop!  Here are a few more ways you can learn more….

Learn more about orangutans (who share 96.4% of the same genes as humans) and the threats to their habitat at the World Wildlife fund website – http://worldwildlife.org/species/orangutan.

Learn more about Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to sustainable palm oil on our responsibility website –  http://www.jnj.com/responsibility/ESG/Social/Supply_Chain/Responsible_Sourcing_of_Palm_Oil/