Sunscreen creators reveal why palm oil is so bad for the planet

Sunbutter Skincare creators Sacha Guggenheimer & Tom Hiney spoke with Yahoo News Australia. Interview: Michael Dahlstrom

Video transcript

- Why is so important not to just be palm-oil free but to also be certified?

- It's a great question. Palm oil is really, it's everywhere and it's under literally hundreds and hundreds of names. So you can just say you're palm-oil free, and there's so many different ingredients that contain palm oil, would be really hard for anyone and pull you up on it. But that doesn't really sit very well with us. We're very much a transparent business in things that we do and how we operate.

So we want to go the extra step working with the POFCAP crew to get that certification so we are definitely, unequivocally palm-oil free. It's super time consuming, it's a little bit expensive, and it's incredibly rigorous just because palm oil is a really readily available Super cheap to produce fatty oil. Really similar to coconut oil but cheaper to produce en masse.

And so a lot of the things that you can get from oil, a really common thing you might have seen is MCTs, medium chain triglycerides. They're quite a buzz thing to add to your coffee or add to after-gym protein shakes. You can get that from a number of sources. And so it's really hard for the certifiers to trace where that medium chain triglyceride or what cocoa can predict cap rate has actually been derived from.

So the amazing crew spearheaded by Bev from POFCAP, they've just been working so hard to find out definitely that the manufacturers of the ingredients supply to our manufacturer are definitely not derived from Palm oil or palm fruit.

- How long did that process take of getting certified?

- So we actually were certified palm-oil free back in 2017, 2018 or such.

- 2018, probably. Yeah.

- And then one of our ingredient suppliers to our manufacturer changed where they sourced the ingredient from and no longer had the right paperwork to guarantee it was palm-oil free. So we lost that status. I guess if we were unethical, we just wouldn't have told anyone. It's exactly the same ingredients. But we said, no, this has changed. Let's get to the bottom of it.

And basically since then, since 2018, we've been working with POFCAP, with our manufacturer, and the ingredient suppliers to source the origin of the ingredient. So that's what we are now. Four years, three, yeah, four years of some tough work going on there.

- OK. Why is palm oil so bad for the environment? I know you've been asked this before and I've covered it before, but I'm interested in particularly in your point of view of why it's so bad.

- Our backgrounds in-- Sasha, marine biology, myself, in tropical ecology, tropical coastal ecology. And so wildlife and conservation is at the forefront of everything that we have done in life before we started running our business. And palm oil as an industry, I wouldn't want to say the entire industry and everyone involved because it's such a wide ranging industry and there are people working so hard to try and clean it up. But it just leads to such huge amounts of deforestation.

And I mean, we're primarily imagining, places like Indonesia, Malaysia that sort of part of the world, huge amounts in tropical Africa as well. But it just leads to such huge destruction of primary rainforest and it's such a vital carbon sink and like the biodiversity lost. Orangutans are the kind of figurehead--

- --drag ship.

- --drag ship species, the postcard of the deforestation. But we're also losing this huge amount of sequestered carbon back into the atmosphere, and just the ecosystem services we're losing from monoculture that supports nothing and generally, isn't great for the local population either. Predominantly, our focus is often on wildlife and conservation.

But if you look at people who rely on the rainforest or the jungles of Indonesia for ecotourism or eco lodges or traditional harvesting things like that, it's all gone for big business to turn up, plant one crop, and not necessarily have the greatest labor standards.

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