iOS app Android app

Robert Hii
GET UPDATES FROM Robert Hii
Robert Hii was born in Malaysia and left for Canada to further his studies. He graduated with an Honors Diploma in Merchandising and Design from the International Academy in Toronto in 1982.

His work experience includes the manufacture and sales of various consumer goods involving production in Canada and in the Orient. His focus in the past five years has been in promoting sustainable lifestyles through the consumption of consumer goods that have a lighter impact on the environment.

Entries by Robert Hii

Super Seed Identified to Produce More Palm Oil Using Less Land

(4) Comments | Posted May 8, 2016 | 7:49 PM

I love seeds, especially those that are sprouting. They bring a warm fuzzy feeling with their promise to become colorful flowers, food and shelter which my basic human instinct reacts well to.

But when it comes to the palm oil seed, there is always a simmering disdain for it. Not...

Read Post

The Sabah Map to End All Debates on Producing Sustainable Palm Oil

(0) Comments | Posted April 8, 2016 | 6:33 PM

Sabah state in Malaysia has aspirations to become one of the first jurisdictions in the world to produce only certified sustainable palm oil statewide.

Towards that goal, the Sabah Forestry Department has initiated a mapping project that will identify what Sabah state looks like today so that a...

Read Post

Saving an Old Forest in Borneo

(0) Comments | Posted March 28, 2016 | 1:37 PM

"It takes a village to raise a child"

Going through the photos and reports of a flood with water levels never seen before in Tongka village, Borneo, this African proverb came to mind. There is no way a remote community in Borneo should be burdened with saving forests where trees...

Read Post

Wildlife Authority Issues Dire Warning on Elephant Survival

(0) Comments | Posted March 1, 2016 | 9:22 AM

The Sabah Wildlife Department issued a dire warning last week over the survival of the last remaining elephant population in Borneo. The African elephants have been the focus of media attention so much so that some people are surprised to find out that there are elephants in Indonesia and Malaysia...

Read Post

Towards a Global Definition of Sustainable Palm Oil

(1) Comments | Posted December 18, 2015 | 6:24 PM

A green activist walks into a packed bar, followed by a human rights activist, a government official and a corporate buyer.

They noticed that patrons of the bar were all having the same drink so they asked the bartender for that drink. On tasting it, the green activist spits it...

Read Post

How About Helping Forest Communities Help Us Fight Climate Change?

(0) Comments | Posted November 29, 2015 | 6:21 PM

Several studies over the past few years have indicated that if some of the remaining bits of the planet's forests are to be protected successfully, that the people who live in them must be engaged. I won't link them all here as an online search for "local+communities+conservation" will yield enough...

Read Post

Borneo Is Still Burning After Two Months of Fires

(1) Comments | Posted October 20, 2015 | 10:24 AM

2015-10-18-1445201362-1473519-huffpostblogphoto.jpg

Local reports out of Central Kalimantan in Indonesian Borneo indicate that wild fires which have raged out of control for over two months, are still out of control despite the heroic efforts of local firefighters. The resulting smoke from these fires have caused...

Read Post

The Need for Development Is Missing in Defining Sustainable Palm Oil

(0) Comments | Posted September 4, 2015 | 11:51 AM

The orangutan is going extinct because of palm oil cultivation. The same palm oil which is found in our chocolates and skin creams is also accused of being a major contributor to climate changing green house gases that will affect us all from Kiribati to California....

Read Post

Zero Deforestation Commitments the First Step Towards Certified Palm Oil

(0) Comments | Posted June 8, 2015 | 4:49 PM

It was only a few months back when this blog on Grist.org said that "rainforests were rejoicing because yet another palm oil grower made a commitment to produce palm oil without causing deforestation. This is the latest in a series of such commitments, and it means that 75...

Read Post

New Approaches Needed to Save Orangutans in Indonesia

(2) Comments | Posted June 3, 2015 | 7:28 PM

It was disheartening to read the headlines from this news report that said Kansas City and elsewhere, zoos brace against the threat of species extinction. It's as if the orangutans are doomed to an existence merely in zoos located thousands of miles from their natural habitats.

We can't...

Read Post

Seventh Generation Suspended by Certification Body

(1) Comments | Posted March 23, 2015 | 8:01 AM

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which is a globally recognized certification body for palm oil, has suspended a bunch of its members for non-compliance. I was surprised the RSPO acted this fast as the usual complaint is that it acts too slow. At their annual general...

Read Post

Saving Pangolins From Extinction: Brunei

(1) Comments | Posted March 10, 2015 | 5:38 PM

World Pangolin Day 2015 happened on February 21. Compared to previous World Pangolin Days, this particular one should be rated as a great success. Images and videos of pangolins trended on social media with a peak on February 21. What made 2015 so special, is that the experts at the...

Read Post

Helmeted Hornbills on the Verge of Extinction

(0) Comments | Posted March 5, 2015 | 12:19 PM

From the majestic elephants in Africa to the tigers in South East Asia, much has been said about the mass extinctions of life on earth due to human activities. Many of these are expected to come from Southeast Asian countries where the rush to achieve developed nation status has dealt...

Read Post

Will the Year 2015 Bring Us Kinder Girl Scout Cookies?

(0) Comments | Posted March 3, 2015 | 9:45 AM

If you're new to the issue of palm oil, it's a vegetable oil produced from the palm tree Elaeis guineensiswhich could inspire images of warm tropical beaches except when it's grown in the millions of hectares.

The resulting oil from its fruits which is known as Crude Palm Oil...

Read Post

Orangutan's Horrific Death Underscores Need for Brands to Use Certified Palm Oil

(1) Comments | Posted December 15, 2014 | 12:17 PM

The world's largest orangutan rescue organization, Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) reported the horrific killing of a female orangutan this month. She was found in a palm oil plantation that belonged to a subsidiary of the Makin Group of Indonesia. You can read the full story here but...

Read Post

Sustainable Palm Oil: The New Norm?

(0) Comments | Posted November 25, 2014 | 11:26 AM

I have to say, when I first saw the email in my inbox, I thought the guy at the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil had his email hacked. Yet he replied, confirming the invitation to moderate a session at their annual general meeting which took place last week.

...
Read Post

Plantation Level Conservation to Stop Extinction

(0) Comments | Posted October 9, 2014 | 6:50 PM

Did you hear that the sloth bear was officially declared as extinct in Bangladesh last week?

The news came around the same time that the World Wildlife Fund issued its new report on the status of biodiversity on planet earth. Not surprisingly, the report pegged the

Read Post

Pepsico's 'Live For Now' Campaign Sending the Wrong Message

(1) Comments | Posted August 29, 2014 | 4:53 PM

It must have involved tens of thousands of marketing staff hours to come up with the "Live For Now" marketing campaign which Pepsico launched in 2012. The company press release on the campaign called it a "central governing idea for the brand globally" and "the way Pepsi behaves...

Read Post

Animal Welfare and Palm Oil in Products We Buy

(1) Comments | Posted August 5, 2014 | 11:16 AM

In case you missed Jane Velez-Mitchell's interview with model Katie Cleary, here it is. Katie made an impassioned plea to the viewers to stop buying products that use palm oil.

So what is it about orangutans that gets animal lovers like Katie Cleary so worked up against palm oil? A big part of it has to be their human-like characteristics which create an instant bond between us and them, and the fact that the baby orangutan is just so darned adorable!

2014-08-03-yoyopic.jpg

It's not only orangutans that are being affected by palm oil. Equally adorable apes like chimpanzees are being threatened with extinction as well as the palm oil industry moves into Africa. Scientists are calling great apes like the orangutan and chimpanzee "canaries in the coal mine" as many other species of animals will go extinct if nothing is said or done today.

So what can an animal lover do to avoid buying products that may have caused suffering to animals? You can take up Jane Velez-Mitchell's suggestion to eat fresh as palm oil is used mostly in processed foods. Her other great suggestion was to send a message to all companies to "do this sustainably" but what does this mean to the average consumer who wants to remove any possibility of causing suffering in their daily purchases?

From an animal welfare perspective, when companies choose to "do palm oil sustainably" it means that they have surveyed new areas for plantations to make sure that no forest homes for endangered wild animals are within the planned plantation areas. If their surveys show the presence of forests that are home to orangutans or chimpanzees for that matter, then a company that is working sustainably, will preserve those forests.

Sounds simple enough but how do we know what companies or brands are using sustainable palm oil?

That is the hardest question to answer despite all the recent positive statements made by corporations. The Palm Oil Innovation Group (POIG), which was created by palm oil producers and nonprofit groups states clearly in its charter:

"1.8. Protect and conserve wildlife"

A second group of palm oil producers introduced the Sustainable Palm Oil Manifesto (SPOM) recently and included in this manifesto is the pledge that there will be no development in high conservation value (HCV) areas. HCV areas being the homes to orangutans and other wildlife.

While it is great to see all these multinational palm oil producers making the pledge to protect forests for the sake of wild animals, how would one know at the retail level which products use palm oil from these producers? You cannot, not unless the two groups POIG and SPOM decide to introduce eco labels under which they would work.

The only certification body with a global reach is the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). I can already hear the protests that the RSPO is a greenwash that certifies rainforest destruction.

Watch this lighthearted video from Ben Jenkins of ABC Australia on the RSPO and sustainable palm oil to understand some of the issues.

Earth Choice from Natures Organics which was featured in the video is one of the better brands I know of in terms of being environmentally responsible. Despite its quite hefty buying clout, the company is still unable to secure certified sustainable palm oil simply because the supply chain globally for palm oil is so convoluted. Palm oil starting out as certified gets lost as it is sold and mixed in with palm oil from who knows where, and that is unfortunately the reason why there is no "RSPO Certified" logo on Earth Choice products.

Should consumers trust the RSPO logo if they see one on a product?

The answer is yes. The presence of the logo would mean that the palm oil used is certified under their "Segregated" supply scheme. I've challenged enough RSPO members to know that this certification does not come cheap or easy.

But having said that there are a few notes that consumers should make, when approaching their favorite brands about their use of palm oil. A common response by companies is "We are members of the RSPO." This statement means absolutely nothing in terms of their product being sustainable or cruelty-free. It's like saying they paid money to join a club but doesn't tell you if they actually attend meetings or participate in club activities.

As for all the allegations of the RSPO being a greenwash tool for its members and should therefore be rejected, that would be like throwing out the baby with the dirty bathwater. The biggest issue I find with the RSPO is how slow their processes take but considering that any decisions they make affects close to 60 percent of the global supply, it's worth waiting for. As for the other 40 percent of palm oil plantations whose reckless behavior is always blamed on the RSPO, Marcel Silvius from Wetlands International said it best last week in an op-ed.

In my view, the best way RSPO can react to this is by sharing in the outrage of Ford. The abuses highlighted by Ford are the very reason why the RSPO was established in the first place. The RSPO will only be truly successful if it can create the level playing field for achieving 100 percent sustainable palm oil. The RSPO should point its finger at irresponsible industry. And the RSPO should demand from government legislation to hold the entire sector to at least the same principles and criteria that the RSPO stands for. This would be in line with its vision; not 100 percent sustainable oil from its membership but 100 percent sustainable palm oil from the sector as a whole.

If you're still reading at this point, I thank you for showing your concern for wild animals and their welfare. Most people I've talked to about palm oil issues would have quit at paragraph two and cut me short with "So how do I know what product uses sustainable palm oil and which store carries it?"

Good news is that the palm oil production members of POIG and SPOM are members of the RSPO as well, which is to say that every great step they take to produce palm oil sustainably will be become part of the supply for RSPO-certified palm oil.

Solid steps are being taken by better palm oil companies to look after planet Earth and its wild animals. We need to encourage these companies to complete the journey to produce cruelty-free palm oil and that can be done today by supporting the brands that have made commitments to use only sustainable palm oil by 2015.

To make a difference to the industry that can be felt worldwide, we need to encourage a mass movement of consumers who care about environmental issues but do not have the time to study the issues in-depth. The best way of doing that is to have a logo in the marketplace. A tell all symbol like the leaping bunny logo that will say with one glance, this product is OK.

As the only existing group with a logo for the retail side of things, the RSPO has to listen to us, the consumers and work with our concerns to build up what we will accept as cruelty-free palm oil under "RSPO...

Read Post

Conservation Needs Palm Oil Companies to Become Active Stakeholders

(0) Comments | Posted July 7, 2014 | 4:32 PM

One of the most memorable email replies I received this year came from the head of a plantation in Indonesian Borneo. The brutally honest answer was:

"Mr. Hii, we are in the plantations business. We don't know anything about conservation."

2014-07-05-MarbledCatsmall.jpg

Since that chat,...

Read Post