It's Been a Spook-tacular Year for Rainforests

10/30/2014 11:45 am ET Updated Dec 30, 2014

Last October, nearly all of the Halloween candy handed out to adorably-costumed kids had direct ties to rainforest destruction. Most candy companies had no real policy for how they sourced their palm oil, the ubiquitous additive found in everything from candy bars to candy corn.

Without much pressure from consumer-facing companies, palm oil suppliers kept cutting down forests -- threatening the habitats of the critically endangered Sumatran tiger (my favourite animal, for the record) and orangutans -- and destroying carbon-rich peatlands, often using forced and child labor.

Not so sweet.

Last Halloween, if you wanted to hand out tiger-friendly treats, you had precious few options. Aside from a handful of small, environmentally-minded fair trade producers, Nestlé was the only major candy company to have a strong commitment to deforestation-free and peat-free palm oil.

Fast forward twelve months, and it's a heck of a lot easier to find a treat that isn't tricking the Sumatran tigers and orangutans out of their homes.

A quick glance at the Forest Heroes' tiger-friendly Halloween candy buying guide, published last October with our partners at SumOfUs.org, shows just how far we've come in a year.

In the guide, we laid out "10 spooky facts about palm oil," like how some palm oil suppliers to candy companies routinely burned orangutan habitats, including the world famous Tesso Nilo National Park in Indonesia. And while the industry's history of destruction is still fresh and there are still suppliers actively clearing forests, the industry as a whole has undergone an incredible transition in the past year. This Halloween, you'd be hard pressed to find a major candy company that hasn't at least committed to stop buying palm oil from suppliers who cut down forests.

Over the past twelve months, companies like Mars, Hershey, Mondelez, and Ferrero Rocher, have followed Nestlé's lead, announcing deforestation-free, peat-free and exploitation-free palm oil sourcing policies.

This pressure from the big brand name buyers for palm oil (and not just the candy companies -- Kelloggs, Dunkin Donuts, Krispy Kreme and countless other food and snack sellers have made similar commitments) has already had a huge impact on the suppliers.

The demand for responsible palm oil has created what Forest Heroes Chairman Glenn Hurowitz proudly calls "The Second Green Revolution," as more and more palm oil producers and major traders, such as Wilmar, Golden Agri-Resources, Cargill and Bunge, are recognizing the importance of forest conservation, peat protection and responsible human rights practices.

While we've come a long way in a year, there's still a lot of work to be done.

Commitments and policies are great, but the real work -- the hard work -- is in how the companies effectively implement their policies. Fortunately, even here, Mars, Hershey and others continue to follow Nestlé's lead, by joining up with expert NGO implementation partners such as the The Forest Trust. This past year has proven that not only is it possible to produce palm oil in a responsible manner, but that it is increasingly an essential condition for companies' access to markets and financial capital.

Halloween has become a whole lot more tiger friendly this year -- which will make all those cute kids dressed up like their favorite forest animals very happy as they chomp down on those peanut butter cups and Snickers bars.