Palm Oil Done Right: An Interview with Neil Blomquist

The Public Goods Blog is about health, sustainability and people making an impact. That’s why we seek out and interview amazing people who can share incredible stories or valuable insights. Their wisdom might be the inspiration you need to live a healthier, more sustainable life.

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Palm oil is one of the most destructive and unethical industries in the world. Every year palm oil producers burn forests, endanger wildlife and take advantage of farmers who are struggling to survive. But it doesn’t need to be like that. Organizations such as Palm Done Right are trying to make palm oil sustainable. To learn more about the issue, we chatted with Palm Done Right spokesperson Neil Blomquist, who has a background in ethical products and once ran a natural foods store.

Public Goods: How is Palm Done Right making an impact in the world? Have you seen significant changes in the palm oil industry?

Neil Blomquist: The most direct impact is in the regions of the world where oil palm is grown as we define it at Palm Done Right — converting conventional farms where chemical farming is the norm to organic chemical-free growing methods; where there are fair trade and other protections for the farmers, the workers and the communities; where there are environmental protections against deforestation and attention to protecting watersheds. The people and the environment are impacted deeply. For consumers, there are options for healthier products with ingredients that represent the values of Palm Done Right.

The palm industry is changing but ever so slowly. As worldwide pressure from environment and social watchdogs continues to publicize the problems in Asia, where over 85% of the world’s oil palm is grown, there has been gradual improvement in this part of the world but nothing close to what we have defined as Palm Done Right. Organic palm oil is still a very small part of the industry, but it provides a clear solution to many of the issues the industry faces, and organic consumption is growing faster than the conventional food industry in most of the western world. We hope this will help grow this movement to have a larger positive impact.

PG: Of all the sustainability projects you have been involved in, which ones do you think had the greatest impact? Why were they successful?

NB: I have spent 42 years of my life as a champion for organic agriculture and finding solutions to a broken food system. The impact has affected the food industry worldwide: the availability and affordability of organic products has grown and expanded; there has been a return to less processed, healthier food options; it has opened the door to a market that encourages innovation in developing new products and creating new health trends that were not possible before the organic movement began. Why have they been successful? Because the food system was broken and needed to be fixed with new generations of consumers demanding cleaner, safer, and healthier foods that matched their values. Consumers have spoken and the market has responded.

PG: How can consumers determine which businesses align with their values of sustainability and ethics?

NB: There are now a number of third party certification systems from Certified B Corporation, to Certified Organic and Fair Trade, that verify that what companies market is authentic. Although Palm Done Right was not created to be a third party certification, it is another example of what consumers can look for on product packaging and company websites. Other examples are statements and claims on gluten-free, vegan, GMO-free and so on. Reading food labels should be taught to every student from the time they can read. Access to information through the internet gives all consumers a tool to do their own investigative work to check out companies and what is behind a product or service.

PG: Sustainability can have many definitions. What does it mean to you?

NB: Sustainability evolved in the food industry to define the antithesis of degradation, which represented a broken food system and consumer products that lacked nutritional value and had a direct negative impact on human health. Sustainability also became a way to define the success and values of a business that is selling healthy products. Business can only do the good work they were formed to do if they run their business to be sustainable over time: making a profit, attracting working capital, creating value for their investors, finding great people to work at these companies and being able to pay competitive salaries and benefits — all of the things that create a lasting, dynamic company that can have impact.

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