UBC Undergraduate Research

Palm Oil Sustainability at UBC Food Services Chizen, Chantel; Najafi, Niki; Souraya, Abdo; Yeung, Paul Quin


Without realizing it, it is likely that your grocery purchases are directly contributing to the deforestation of tropical rainforests (WWF a n.p.). This is due to an ingredient known as palm oil. Paradoxically, palm oil is as elusive as it is pervasive; its processing qualities have made it a staple oil ingredient in a variety of products from chocolate to shampoo to biofuels (WWF b n.p.). An increased global demand for this oil has incentivized unsustainable production practices, with conservationists often citing this industry for contributing to biodiversity loss. The main goal of this Community-Based Action Research (CBAR) project was to provide a baseline on palm oil for our community partner, UBC Food Services. They have raised concerns over the controversial oil, questioning whether or not it is consistent with the sustainable procurement standards outlined in their Food Vision and Values (UBC Food Services). This project investigated the impacts of palm oil production and the prevalence of palm oil at three UBC Food Services locations. Based on our findings we provided strategies to address conventionally sourced palm oil in the food supply. Our methods are both quantitative and qualitative. We conducted an environmental assessment, utilizing primary literature and secondary sources to assess the environmental and social ramifications of palm oil expansion. This assessment included research into sustainable production and procurement options. Afterwards, we conducted a visual audit at three UBC Food Services outlets to determine palm oil prevalence in the food supply; a document audit filled in gaps in the data. Finally, we conducted an interview with Alexis Heeren from the University of Edinburgh to determine their motivation for introducing sustainable palm oil procurement into their Good Food Policy. Our visual audit revealed that 25% of oil containing goods audited contained palm oil. While 29% of the products were manufactured from companies that had acquired some level of palm oil sustainability certification, only one brand in the food supply procured 100% sustainable palm oil. The “worst offender” food types were frozen desserts, cookies, and candies/chocolates; collectively, these food items made up 39% of palm oil containing products . This project represents the first step in understanding how sustainable procurement strategies can mitigate the negative implications of palm oil production. Future research should: ● Conduct a cost analysis of palm oil containing foods (especially the worst offenders) relative to sustainable alternatives, in order to develop more a economically prudent approach to supply chain changes. Obtaining dollar values for those goods may also provide more insights into the prevalence of worst offenders. ● Involved a visual audit on cleaning products and food products from other UBC Food Services locations. Due to the environmental and social impacts of conventional palm oil, we also endorse the following sustainable procurement strategy for UBC Food Services to consider: ● 80% of palm oil containing food items in the food supply should be RSPO certified, within a 5 year timeframe. Implementation of a sustainable procurement strategy will contribute to UBC’s reputation as a global leader in sustainability. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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