07/01/2013 12:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

U.S. Brands Failing the Sustainable Grade Just a Little Bit

I read over the plea from the Marshall Islands asking citizens of the world, corporations and other governments to help stop global warming before their island nation goes under water and wondered: Is it OK if we fail them just a little bit?

Sitting a mere two meters on average, above sea level, rising sea levels caused by global warming threatens to wipe out the Republic of Marshall Islands making them the first complete victims of global warming.


I use the term "complete victims" to differentiate the Marshall Islands from other countries that are feeling the heat from rising sea levels. Countries like Singapore and Japan which face a shrinking land mass when sea levels rise will still have a bit of land left compared to a complete drowning of the Marshall Islands. Even coastal communities in the U.S. face a similar threat with Florida and California predicted to lose land mass as the oceans rise.

Honestly though, if I was Minister Tony de Brum from the Marshall Islands, I'd focus on asking the corporations of the world to help in the fight against global warming. There are too few caring consumers to create an effective impact. Our governments are too busy coming up with schemes to create employment, even if they are short-term carbon belching types like tar sands oil.

The good thing about tar sands oil though is that there is wide public knowledge and resistance to it. Led by Bill McKibben and, the campaign against this dirty oil has the support of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Meanwhile, another dirty oil which is palm oil, does its dirty business unnoticed.

What's the fuss with palm oil? For starters, it's rated a close second in terms of carbon emissions to tar sands oil when it's grown on peatlands. Palm oil emissions must be registered on our collective radar if we are to slow down global warming. These emissions carry consequences that will be felt not only in Jakarta and Singapore but globally.

The thing that sucks about the whole situation when comparing emissions from tar sands oil to palm oil, is that there are no clean options for tar sands oil whereas there is a cleaner option for palm oil but we're not using it! Bio-fuels aside, palm oil is used widely in all consumer products but corporations lack the moral fiber to make a firm commitment in the fight against global warming.

CEOs of big multinational corporations like Unilever spout endlessly to try and convince us that they are grabbing the bull by the horns and taking huge steps "in the right direction." As one of the largest users of palm oil, they present a song and dance meant to comfort and confuse the average consumer that they are using sustainable palm oil.

U.S. corporations have taken Unilever's dance lead but with an added plea that they are "small users" of palm oil. Brands including Kelloggs, Earth Balance, General Mills, Avon and L'Oreal are all making this claim to use only a little bit.

That kind of excuse reminds me of the gang members being interviewed in a police station for bodily harm causing death. "I didn't kill him. I only kicked him once when he was down." Put together enough of these individual blows and you have fatal consequences.

Most brands that I've contacted also use availability as an excuse for not using sustainably produced palm oil and that drives me even nuttier. Simply using this directory I was able to contact several U.S.-based suppliers of palm oil who confirmed that they had the sustainably produced variety available. One even asked me to send customers their way if I found one! And this is all in the US of A!

So my message to Minister de Brum of the Marshall Islands, perhaps even to concerned citizens of Florida and California, I hope you all don't mind if we failed you just a little bit.