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Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives

Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives

Morgans, Courtney L. ORCID: 0000-0002-2562-1482, Meijaard, Erik, Santika, Truly ORCID: 0000-0002-3125-9467, Law, Elizabeth, Budiharta, Sugeng, Ancrenaz, Marc and Wilson, Kerrie A. (2018) Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives. Environmental Research Letters, 13 (6):064032. ISSN 1748-9326 (Online) (doi:

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Industrial oil palm plantations in South East Asia have caused significant biodiversity losses and perverse social outcomes. To address concerns over plantation practices and in an attempt to improve sustainability through market mechanisms, civil society organisations and industry representatives developed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) in 2004. The effectiveness of RSPO in improving the sustainability of the palm oil industry is frequently debated and to date, few quantitative analyses have been undertaken to assess how successful RSPO has been in delivering the social, economic and environmental sustainability outcomes it aims to address. With the palm oil
industry continuing to expand in South East Asia and significant estates being planted in Africa and South America, this paper evaluates the effectiveness of RSPO plantations compared to non-certified plantations by assessing the relative performance of several key sustainability metrics compared to business as usual practices. Using Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) as a case study, a novel dataset of RSPO concessions was developed and causal analysis methodologies employed to evaluate the environmental, social and economic sustainability of the industry. No significant difference was found between certified and non-certified plantations for any of the sustainability metrics investigated, however positive economic trends including greater fresh fruit bunch yields were revealed. To achieve intended outcomes, RSPO principles and criteria are in need of substantial improvement and rigorous enforcement.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © 2018 The Author(s). Original content from this work may be used under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 licence. Any further distribution of this work must maintain attribution to the author(s) and the title of the work, journal citation and DOI.
Uncontrolled Keywords: palm oil; sustainability; certification; impact assessment; policy evaluation
Subjects: S Agriculture > S Agriculture (General)
Faculty / Department / Research Group: Faculty of Engineering & Science
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute
Faculty of Engineering & Science > Natural Resources Institute > Agriculture, Health & Environment Department
Last Modified: 25 Jun 2020 07:12
Selected for GREAT 2016: None
Selected for GREAT 2017: None
Selected for GREAT 2018: None
Selected for GREAT 2019: None
Selected for REF2021: None

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