Seventh Generation Suspended by Certification Body

03/23/2015 01:36 pm ET | Updated May 23, 2015

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 meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which I attended, the Chairman of the RSPO, Biswaranjan Sen, was quoted as saying:

If failing to report within six weeks from notice, member companies who have ignored annual reporting requirements for the last three years will be expelled while a suspension will be imposed on two years non-submitters.

Beyond the initial surprise at seeing the headlines was shock on finding out which companies were included. Premium brands included Hain Celestial Group (which owns Alba Botanica, Linda McCartney Foods, Yves Veggie and loads of other feel good brands ) and Seventh Generation which makes household cleaners and diapers. It would not surprise me if Hain gets tossed out eventually as the company never really seemed to place enough attention on where its palm oil came from. Its 2012 Corporate Social Responsibility report stated grandly enough that all its palm oil would be certified by end 2013. Since then, not a whisper on what happened to that grand failure to meet its commitment.

Seventh Generation on the other hand, was a brand that I had contacted way back in 2008. Desperate to find companies or brands that would make a statement for the environment by using certified palm oil, I exchanged a nice series of emails with the folks in charge of raw material procurements at Seventh Generation. The company was a natural choice for me to approach as they were one of the first brands of household cleaners that came to market with sustainable cleaning products. Their website today still talks up the same mission and message:

To inspire a consumer revolution that nurtures the health of the next seven generations.

Back in 2008 though, the supply of certified palm oil was nowhere close to the availability today. The good folks in charge of sourcing at Seventh Generation shared their struggles with sourcing certified palm oil and I agreed with them that it would take time for global demand to build up, before they could actually find supplies of certified palm oil for their cleaners.

I was thrilled to read their blog from 2009 cleverly titled "Little Seed Big Problem" where they wrote:

Seventh Generation has launched a major initiative around palm oil. As you know, the massive expanse in palm oil production has caused vast tracts of tropical rainforest to be slashed and burned to make way for massive new palm oil plantations.

AND made a commitment to source only certified sustainable palm kernel oil by 2012 for all their products!

Even better news came in 2012 as they stated on their website then:

The rapid expansion of palm oil plantations into high conservation value forests in Southeast Asia has had a devastating effect on habitat and local communities.

Chris Miller, Manager of Corporate Consciousness, is quoted as saying in the video:

We have set a goal to source only sustainably produced palm oil across all our products over the next couple of years. We're really pleased to bring to market a line of natural bar soaps that the carry the RSPO seal ... That means old growth tropical rainforests have not been destroyed. Important habitat for orangutans have not been destroyed ... Together as businesses and consumers, the more we know about the products we buy and the impacts that those products have, the better decisions we will make.

AND they had their first RSPO certified bar soap! What a way to show progress towards using certified palm oil!

Their statement on palm oil in 2014 restated that they knew how devastating palm oil cultivation was for the environment.

In the last decade, palm oil has come into high demand as a raw material for consumer products. Unfortunately, the increased demand has proven damaging to the environment, particularly to tropical rainforests where most of the palm oil is sourced.

With everything that they know about palm oil, why did Seventh Generation allow its membership to be suspended by the RSPO? Over a simple little thing like filing their Annual Communications of Progress ( ACOP reports ) which is basically telling the RSPO of next steps that they'll be taking in using certified palm oil. Have they given up on sourcing certified palm oil? How will they justify their use of uncertified palm oil which they know is blamed for massive deforestation worldwide with its tentacles now reaching the great apes of Africa?

How will their customers in Singapore react if they find out Seventh Generation no longer supports the production of sustainable palm oil?

Raging fires in Indonesia to create more plantations has engulfed Singapore in a haze every year. Singaporeans would be wise to read this recent report by CNN. The haze may disappear every year but its effects on human health are long term.

Seventh Generation takes its name from the Iroquois philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future. Somehow I don't see the orangutans or gorillas of the world being able to survive seven generations when corporations walk away from their corporate responsibilities to a sustainable future so easily. Especially one whose name itself is trying to sell a sustainable product. The least that Seventh Generation, the household cleaner company could have done, was to stick up for great apes and their customers in Singapore and file those two reports.