Manufacturing, Nonprofits, and Sustainability

Forest Heroes urges Kellogg to become more sustainable

November 22, 2013
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The Forest Heroes Campaign delivered petitions to Kellogg Co. last week encouraging a “Michigan institution that champions the values of social responsibility and sustainability that Michiganders hold dear” to continue to seek alternatives to using palm oil. 

The group, which organized several months ago, held rallies at Kellogg’s Battle Creek offices last week to protest its use of palm oil from rain forests and to urge Kellogg to halt its partnership with a company it says destroys Sumatran tiger habitat.

The group cited Wilmar International, an Asian agribusiness that they said refines a large percentage of palm oil used globally in food and personal care products. Wilmar initiated a partnership with Kellogg in 2012.

Forest Heroes, organized in Ann Arbor, Lansing, Grand Rapids and Battle Creek, focusedon Kellogg specifically “because it is a Michigan institution that champions the values of social responsibility and sustainability that Michiganders hold dear,” said Ben Cushing, Grand Rapids Forest Heroes organizer.

“However, Kellogg’s recent partnership with palm oil giant Wilmar International has put this strong reputation at risk. Instead of standing up for Tony the Tiger’s real-life cousins and the rights of indigenous people, Kellogg and Wilmar are seeking to profit from the destruction of the rainforest.”

Kellogg, however, has emphasized the importance of sustainability in agribusiness, specifically regarding palm oil, in its 2012Corporate Responsibility report:

“Since 2008, Kellogg has taken active steps to source sustainably grown palm oil and to help to end the deforestation associated with palm oil cultivation,” reads the report. “In fact, all of the palm oil we use today is 100 percent sustainably sourced through a combination of GreenPalm certificates, mass balance and segregated, sustainably grown supply. Also, 100 percent of the palm oil we use comes from suppliers who are members of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil, a multi-stakeholder organization working worldwide to ensure that palm oil production is economically viable, environmentally appropriate and socially beneficial.”

Cushing said the RSPO is an industry-regulated set of standards that don’t go far enough in creating a sustainable palm oil industry. He said it allows for clear-cutting of secondary growth forests and for the destruction of carbon-rich peat lands in the rainforest.

Kellogg is not alone, Cushing said: Many food companies use palm oil in their products. But he said change is on the horizon and he hopes Kellogg will join some other large companies in facilitating that change by adopting stronger sustainability policies.

According to Cushing, Nestlé and Mars both agree RSPO does not go far enough, and Nestlé has, in fact, adopted its own, stricter policy, which Forest Heroes is advocating Kellogg also adopt.

“Nestlé, the world’s largest food and beverage company, recently responded to consumer pressure and adopted a strong policy of transparency and no-deforestation for palm oil,” he said.

“Just last week, two major consumer companies — Unilever and Ferrero Rocher — agreed to make their supply chains transparent and deforestation-free by the end of 2014. It’s time for Kellogg to join these companies and be a leader in this transformation.”

“We are asking Kellogg to encourage Wilmar to progress quickly on the development of a new policy to eliminate deforestation and exploitation from their supply chain, and Kellogg should also lead by example by implementing a comprehensive policy of its own,” Cushing said.

“In the past, Kellogg has stated that the issue of deforestation and exploitation for palm oil should be taken up with Wilmar and not them. This is obviously an attempt to pass the buck rather than accepting the culpability and responsibility that their business partnership represents.

“However, we know that Kellogg’s has in fact reached out to Wilmar about this issue since the start of our campaign here in Michigan. We hope that Kellogg's is taking this issue seriously, and we hope that the outpouring of community support will yield aggressive action on their part going forward.”

A media representative from Kellogg sent the Business Journal the following statement:

“Kellogg recognizes and respects concerns about the sustainability of palm oil and has gone to great lengths to ensure we are doing our part on this important issue. Kellogg uses a very small percentage of the global supply of palm oil, and all of the palm oil we use is 100 percent sustainably sourced through a combination of GreenPalm certificates, mass balance and segregated sustainably grown supply. We continue to encourage our blended palm oil suppliers to increase the percentage of sustainably grown palm oil in the supplies they purchase, and are working with others in the industry to explore solutions to this global issue."

Cushing said he and a group of leaders from around the state, including Rachel Hood, executive director of West Michigan Environmental Action Council, met with Kellogg representatives Diane Holdorf, vice president for sustainability, and Kris Charles, vice president for global communications and philanthropy, following the rally at Kellogg’s.

“In the meeting, the group implored Kellogg to join Nestle, Unilever and Ferrero Rocher in being a leader in bringing about a transformation in the way palm oil is produced,” said Cushing.

“Kellogg expressed concern for the issue and referred to themselves as allies with Forest Heroes, recognized that their current use of ‘green palm’ certificates is inadequate and they need to go further and are working on a solution — although they were noncommittal and vague about their specific course of action.”

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