Science Group Issues 2015 Scorecard of Iconic Brands Contributing to Deforestation

Fast Food and Store Brand Sectors Still Falling Short

Published Apr 1, 2015

WASHINGTON (April 1, 2015) – The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) scored the palm oil sourcing commitments of 40 consumer brand companies and found many – especially in the fast food and store brand sectors – have a long way to go to ensure their products do not contribute to deforestation.

“Palm oil is found in thousands of products that you might not connect with deforestation. Did you use products from Burt’s Bees or Avon this morning? Purchase a Starbucks pastry? Pick up a Whole Foods 365 product for dinner? Until these and other iconic brands commit to deforestation-free palm oil, their products might contribute to deforestation,” said Lael Goodman, analyst with UCS’s Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative. “But don’t ditch these brands. There is a lot the companies producing these brands can do to ensure we can still enjoy our favorite products without a guilty conscience.”

Palm oil on its own is not problematic, but the production practices associated with this popular oil often relies on deforestation, which contributes to climate change. The solution is for companies to demand palm oil free from destruction of forests and peatland, carbon-rich areas of decayed vegetation, from their suppliers. This top down action is the best way to change the production practices on the ground.

The scorecard, “Fries, Face Wash, Forests: Scoring America’s Top Brands on Their Palm Oil Commitments,” scored the palm oil sourcing commitments of the 10 largest companies in the store brand, fast food, packaged foods and personal care sectors, and found that 32 of 40 companies do not have adequate commitments to fully protect forests or peatlands. The scorecard urges companies producing popular consumer products to demand deforestation-free, peat-free palm oil.

At the bottom, 12 of 40 companies either do not have commitments or their commitments were too weak to score. Of the 12, five of 10 fast food companies and six of the store brand companies received 0 out of a possible 100 points, including Costco, Domino’s, Target and Wendy’s.

Burger King, the world’s third largest fast food restaurant, is another prominent brand that scored dismally. Since 2010, Burger King has said it is “reviewing its overall rainforest policy to include all of its products.” After five years of review, Burger King has failed to produce a tropical forest commodities policy. Furthermore, the company has not pledged to source deforestation-free, peat-free palm oil.

Among other major brands, Dunkin’ Brands, Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins parent company, scored 70, while supposedly sustainability-conscious Starbucks received only 10 points. Another surprising finding was Whole Foods’ score of 30, which is awfully close to Walmart’s score of 29.

“The scorecard looks behind savvy marketing campaigns and feel-good branding to uncover the environmental impacts these companies condone when they fail to ensure their inputs aren’t harming the environment,” said Goodman.

Yet, the scorecard also highlights some impressive progress. Many companies listed in UCS’s 2014 Scorecard responded to consumer and shareholder concerns by committing to source deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil. The packaged foods and personal care sectors are areas where success is evident. Nearly all the packaged food companies, except Kraft Foods, have commitments. And six of the ten packaged food companies scored received high marks for their commitments. On the other hand, General Mills, HJ Heinz, Kraft Foods and Mondelēz International still have more work to do. Within the personal care sector, eight out of 10 companies improved their scores in the past year and only Clorox scored zero points.

“No doubt companies are getting the message. But committing to source deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil is just a first step. Following through on these commitments and implementing the changes will make all the difference,” said Goodman. “All companies included in the Scorecard – even the high scorers – still have more work to do to protect tropical forests and reduce carbon emissions.”

For more about the scorecard, please see Goodman's latest blog post on UCS's The Equation.