Forest Karma's 
Sustainable Soap Initiative

Palm oil has recently come under scrutiny thanks to efforts of conservation organizations such as World Wildlife Fund, Earth Island Institute and Greenpeace.  Palm oil is an ingredient in many consumer products, from cookies to cosmetics.  It is commonly used in soap because it is cheaper than many other oils and it contributes to a beautiful bar with a really nice lather.   According to Earth Island Institute, the demand for palm oil has been the single largest cause of tropical deforestation in recent years.  That’s because in order to make space for palm oil plantations, huge areas of tropical forest are burned or clearcut.  Destroyed—gone forever.  And all of the plants and animals that rely on the forest—including orangutans, tigers, elephants and rhinos and countless lesser known endangered species—are slowly disappearing.  Indonesia is the world’s largest producer of palm oil--with about 15 million hectares of palm oil plantations—and, not coincidentally, the third largest emitter of carbon (after China and the US).  The vast majority of the Indonesia’s carbon emissions come from deforestation, which releases carbon stored in trees and ancient peatland swamps into the atmosphere.  To put it succinctly:  when you purchase palm oil (or a product that contains palm oil) you are unwittingly contributing to tropical deforestation, loss of biodiversity and climate change.  Forest Karma has been unable to find a source of palm oil that is certified sustainable, so we are taking a three-pronged approach:

Solution #1:  Use organic palm oil

Organic palm oil is a better alternative to conventionally grown palm oil because it is grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers.  When a bar calls for palm oil, we use organic palm oil.  However, there is no certification process at present that assures us that the organic palm oil comes from a plantation that employs truly sustainable farming practices and is not sited on misappropriated land.

Solution #2:  Eliminate palm oil and replace it with other oils

But what do you replace it with?  It is very difficult to find oils that are guaranteed to be sustainably grown.  And the properties of palm oil are such that it contributes to the perfect bar of soap.  If you eliminate palm oil, there goes your perfect bar of soap!  For a few bars—Celestial Cacao Original, Celestial Cacao Gently Exfoliating and Dr. Bellwood’s Starry Crown Shampoo—we have successfully eliminated palm oil and come up with a formula that works beautifully.

Solution #3:  Grow our own oil

We have begun to test grow two crops—Styrian pumpkin and Peredovik sunflower— that produce seeds that can be pressed for oil.  We are farming at Elliston Farm in Weston Massachusetts.  Our next step is to purchase an oilseed press to extract the oil from the seeds.

Our Local Tao (Tallow & Oil) Collection highlights soap made with local fats & oils.

Forest Karma's Styrian pumpkins curing in the barn at Elliston Farm.
Is this the future of sustainable soap production in New England?