“It is important to raise awareness of unsustainable and sustainable palm oil production. One customer at a time, we can create the change.”
This article has been published in partnership with RSPO
Almost three years ago when Sameer Hans, along with his partners, Sanu Ratho and Suchismita Naik, started the Bhubaneshwar-based Bocca Cafe, serving great food was not the only goal. In their own words the trio wanted to serve “an eco-revolution on a plate”.
From eco-friendly coir coasters, cornstarch and sugarcane pulp packaging, paper straws to a zero plastic policy, they want to set a positive example for the city’s food and hospitality industry.
Sameer also added, “the fight against environmentally degrading practices by adopting sustainable methods is a continuous process, which will require commitment and a willingness to learn and change.”
And, that is why, when Punyasloka Panda, the lead coordinator at Youth for Sustainability, approached Bocca Cafe to help raise awareness about the harmful effects of unsustainable oil palm cultivation, Sameer and his team were quick to extend their support.
Positive change, one plate at a time
Sameer was shocked to realise that palm oil was not just used as a cooking oil. It appears in many other products like bread, ice-cream, chocolate, and even shampoo and soap. It is one of the most commonly consumed edible oils in the world.
“It is a welcome realisation that there are so many indirect ways of consuming palm oil, be it through ingredients, cleaning products or other packaged items. This is a constant process of learning and improving, and we are doing our best to accommodate and evolve,” says Sameer.
But, the problem is not the use of the oil, but the production. Unsustainable farming practices of oil palms can cause damage to the environment and have been associated with the destruction of millions of hectares of tropical rainforests, and endangering species like the orangutan, rhinoceros and the Sumatran tiger.
On the other hand, when produced sustainably, oil palms have proven to be a more efficient crop.
In Punyasloka’s words, it is our responsibility as consumers and active stakeholders to source and consume palm oil products responsibly.
“Youth for Sustainability is spreading awareness among restaurants so they too can be agents of change,” he said.
Thus, with his team of volunteers, Youth for Sustainability reached out to almost 30 restaurants in Bhubaneswar alone, and at least 15 of them agreed to ask their suppliers to provide certified sustainable palm oil.
Bocca Cafe is one of the many success stories of this initiative.
Youth for Sustainability
Youth for Sustainability began in 2019 dedicated to environmental conservation and becoming the bridge between the youth and influential sustainability stakeholders.
The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) partnered with Youth for Sustainability to educate younger generations about the importance of sourcing and consuming sustainable palm oil products. Their focus was to enhance youth contribution in the achievement of sustainable development goals for climate change and responsible consumption of production of palm oil.
RSPO is an international non-profit organisation, set up to develop standards and drive demand for sustainable palm oil. When grown according to RSPO standards, a space is created where oil palm agriculture, the environment, and local communities can co-exist in harmony. RSPO’s standards work to protect primary and secondary forests, ensure the habitats of wildlife are not harmed, and also safeguard workers, communities, and indigenous people in oil palm producing regions.
As part of the #KnowYourPalm campaign, RSPO along with The Better India is taking a conscious step to encourage consumers, businesses and other stakeholders to demand products that contain certified sustainable palm oil.
It is through the collaboration of all these stakeholders – from palm oil producers, consumers, investors, banks, small businesses to NGOs and youth organisations – that RSPO hopes to accomplish its vision of making sustainable palm oil the norm.
Talking about this process of brewing up a food revolution of sorts, Punyasloka said, “Palm oil comes in forms of various derivatives, which are not often listed under more known ingredients like ‘palm’ or ‘palm olein’, this makes it hard for consumers and other businesses dependent on the products to make a purchase consciously.
The volunteers working with ‘Youth for Sustainability’ clubs are helping the restaurants to recognise the need for using certified sustainable palm oil. We usually focus on restaurants and cafes that are frequented by young people, to ensure that these practices can inspire them to start a chain of change.”
Sameer agrees to this, claiming that Bocca Cafe has always aimed at being an agent of change for the youth.
“Whenever we introduce something new, people might feel it to be inconvenient and give preliminary negative feedback. But that is an opportunity for us to educate them about the thought behind it. For instance, when we would package our deliverables in non-plastic containers, people would initially complain. But after explaining how plastic is degrading the environment and a small effort like ours can have a large impact, they supported it. One customer at a time, we can create the change,” Sameer adds.
Call for brands and restaurants to become RSPO members
By becoming members of RSPO, retailers and restaurant chains in India can show their commitment for certified sustainable palm oil and start sourcing sustainably to encourage their customers and suppliers for responsible consumption and production.
Find out how organisations can become members of RSPO.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)