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Making palm oil cultivation more sustainable – Joint efforts in Indonesia

Since 2018, we have been working together with WWF in Indonesia to support smallholders in the sustainable cultivation of palm oil. 

After four years of intensive local involvement, the project is now being extended: Our raw material supplier Evonik is coming on board as a third partner, and by 2026 around 200 smallholders in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan are to have their palm oil cultivation certified in accordance with the RSPO standard. RSPO stands for “Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil” and is the international standard for sustainably certified palm oil.

We spoke with Julia Beier, Responsible Sourcing Manager at Beiersdorf and Victoria Müller, Sustainable Land Use Southeast Asia Officer at WWF Germany. Both coordinate the joint commitment as project managers.

What do we use palm oil for at Beiersdorf and why are we involving in the growing regions?

Julia Beier, Beiersdorf: Palm oil and palm (kernel) oil derivatives are an important raw material for our skin care products and for the cosmetics industry in general. At Beiersdorf, we do not use palm oil directly in our product formulas, but rather so-called derivatives. These are substances further developed from palm oil, such as emulsifiers or surfactants, which are essential for the manufacture of some cleansing and care products.

Victoria Müller, WWF: We at WWF Germany think it is very good and important that Beiersdorf has been addressing the issue of sustainable palm oil for several years now. The Sustainable Palm Roadmap, which Beiersdorf has defined and consistently pursues, also includes local engagement. Together, we support smallholders in Indonesia, the world’s largest palm oil growing region, in managing their plantations more sustainably.

How does it work to manage such a project on the other side of the world from Germany?

Victoria Müller, WWF: Yes, of course that is not always easy from here. That is why WWF Indonesia is an important partner with whom we work very closely and who implements the project with competent local staff. Last year, Julia Beier and I were able to visit the project area together and it was extremely helpful to exchange ideas directly with the Indonesian colleagues and the target groups of our project and to see the conditions on the ground.

What has been achieved in the last four years?

Victoria Müller, WWF: From 2018 to 2022, our activities in the three villages of Sungai Sena, Seberu, and Pala Kota supported approximately 4,500 community members, including around 240 palm oil smallholder farmers – despite significantly more difficult conditions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The activities implemented included, for example, training sessions for smallholder farmers to first raise awareness of more sustainable palm oil cultivation and how they can manage their plantations more sustainably. Specific content included, for example, how to work the soil or how to handle seedlings and harvesting methods. Our work also supported the establishment and development of the smallholders’ association “Mitra Bersama”. In this way, we have created good foundations in the first phase, on which we can now build.

Julia Beier, Beiersdorf: In parallel, activities were implemented to ensure access to clean drinking water in the village of Sungai Mali and to develop other sources of income for the communities that do not depend on the forest. Among other things, the women’s group “Tuah Menua” was founded. The women produce handicrafts and were supported through trainings.

These trainings focused, for example, on making products according to uniform standards and developing new products. In addition, a gallery was set up where the women can meet, hold training sessions and exhibit their handicraft products.

What are the goals of the second phase of the project and thus the continuation of the joint work?

Victoria Müller, WWF: Building on the progress made in the first phase, 200 smallholders are now to be certified according to the RSPO standard by 2026. We also want to recruit a total of 300 independent palm oil smallholders as members of the Mitra Bersama farmers’ association. And another goal is to establish direct market access to a palm oil mill.

Julia Beier, Beiersdorf: It is important to mention that through certification we are also improving the living standards of smallholders, because certified palm oil brings them a higher income without harming nature. Evonik, one of our suppliers of palm (kernel) oil derivatives, has now joined the project to bring about positive changes together. We generally share the vision of being able to source palm oil directly from the project region in the medium term, thus achieving 100% transparency in the supply chain.

How is our palm oil commitment linked to Beiersdorf’s sustainability agenda?

Julia Beier, Beiersdorf: Within our CARE BEYOND SKIN sustainability agenda, we have defined a focus area called “Sustainable Land Use”. This is where our palm oil commitment is anchored. Palm oil is a renewable material, just like shea, soy, or paper. We use these for our product formulas or packaging. For these main renewable materials, we are pursuing the goal of sourcing them sustainably and deforestation-free by 2025. This is an important task area that not only we as the Corporate Sustainability Team are working on, but also our colleagues from Purchasing, R&D and Supply Chain.

Thank you, Julia and Victoria, for the exciting insights into the project and your engagement on the sustainable palm oil topic.

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Katrin Selzer

About the editor: Katrin Selzer

Katrin has been working at Beiersdorf since 2003. After various positions in marketing, strategy, digital and PR, she is since September 2018 Senior Communication Manager and responsible for the topic of sustainability. For Katrin, sustainability has a high personal relevance, since it changes the world for the better – and she contributes by communicating about it. Her communication is very passionate and she tries to also push the topic forward. In her private life, she is constantly seeking new ways and means to live a more sustainable lifestyle and inspire others with it.