Its World Orangutan Day. This enigmatic great ape has become the flagship species for the palm oil predicament. While commercial oil palm plantations grow in a number of places, 80% of this versatile vegetable oil is grown and produced in Indonesia. And Indonesia is a large part of Orangutan habitat.

You may already know something of the predicament growing oil palm is creating in Indonesia from boycott-palm-oil campaigns such as the controversial one a few years ago from Iceland Foods. This advert was banned for being too political.

While being a cleverly emotive campaign, we know now that calling on a complete ban of palm oil is not the right solution for preventing deforestation of Indonesian rainforest and saving critically endangered species like Orangutan. This predicament is far more complex and requires a careful balance of social, economic and environmental factors.

A number of celebrities have weighed in on the palm oil debate. Here is actor, Harrison Ford’s take on things:

Amy Robbins, leader of the primate team at Auckland Zoo, has a strong relationship with a number of communities on the island of Sumatra. This video series – Wild Work Sumatra –  takes you along on one of her numerous visits to Sumatra to gain some insight into the complexity of daily life in this part of the world.

So, what can we do? Amy makes mention of sustainably grown palm oil in her Wild Work Sumatra series but what exactly is that?

The Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil  (RSPO) have recently put together a couple of very useful video series that help explain what sustainable palm oil is and challenge some of the myths around sustainably grown palm oil.

As these videos point out, we are certainly some way off making sustainably sourced palm oil the norm. But the journey has begun. And this is where each of us as consumers can play our part.

Our consumer voice can pressure companies to begin their sustainability journey. Don’t buy products that contain palm oil that has not been sustainably grown. Educate yourself as to what the different certifications are, and which ones have integrity. I believe the Roundtable of Sustainable Palm Oil is a good start. The WWF also endorses the efforts of the RSPO.

Avoiding unsustainable palm oil can be an inconvenient task in many parts of the world as we don’t have mandatory labelling. That is the case in Australia and New Zealand. At this stage both governments are not prepared to make labelling mandatory as this is an environmental issue not a human health issue. This makes our job as consumers more complicated. This video, again from Auckland Zoo, explains this further.

The link at the end of this video no longer works, but you can read more here.

I think there is a direct conservation action here if you are prepared to put some effort into mindful consumption. Seeking out sustainably sourced palm oil in the products you buy has a positive impact on tropical rainforest habitats and the endangered species that inhabit them.

If you are interested in learning more about Sustainable Development in the context of community development, wildlife conservation, global health, human rights or climate change, I highly recommend GVI’s online courses.

GVI is mostly known for their on-base volunteering opportunities and internships in incredible locations all around the world. If you are interested in making a hands-on ethical impact for endangered species, register for their August Virtual Open Day to find out more. They have incredible offers on these open day events, so well worth checking out!

Here is hoping for sustainable use of resources as the social and economic norm in the very near future. Our future depends on it.