Sustainable Palm Oil Communities Large and Small Come Together in an Effort to Save Orangutan Homes

Michelle Desilets

Conservationist and Executive Director Orangutan Land Trust

Following in the footsteps of Chester Zoo’s ground-breaking campaign which saw the popular tourist destination city of Chester become the world’s first Sustainable Palm Oil City in 2019, today villages, towns, cities and even entire counties across the UK are creating their own Sustainable Palm Oil Communities. The rainforest-saving initiative was launched by conservationists at the zoo is designed to protect vital habitat for wildlife and prevent the extinction of species, such as critically endangered orangutans.

Now a total of seven Sustainable Palm Oil Communities have declared their commitment to the scheme. The movement requires restaurants, schools, workplaces and attractions within each community to use and support sustainable palm oil, which leading conservationists, conservation organisations, wildlife charities and NGOs, backed by detailed scientific research, say is the best way to prevent habitat destruction and protect biodiversity. 

Unsustainable production of palm oil is wiping out huge areas of rainforest – in order to provide the ingredient for food and household products consumed in the UK and around the world. Almost 100 globally-renowned conservation organisations, including Chester Zoo, WWF, the Jane Goodall Institute, Conservation International and Save the Rhino, plus NGOs working in South East Asia, the epicentre for the issue, have long advocated that embracing sustainable palm oil and halting deforestation is the best solution to the palm oil crisis.

Conservation experts say if consumers and organisations were to stop using palm oil entirely, an alternative supply would need to be found for the global demand for edible vegetable oils. With other oil crops – such as coconuts, soya, olives, sunflowers and maize – being less productive per square kilometre, this would result in even more land being cleared and converted to agriculture. Experts also argue that the only way to create change within the industry to achieve better outcomes for wildlife, is to engage with the industry itself.   

Faye Sherlock, Chester Zoo’s Sustainable Communities Project Officer, says:

“The palm oil issue is complex and not at all black and white. Due to its high yield from small land areas when compared to other vegetable oil crops, boycotting palm oil is counter-productive; shifting the issue elsewhere, creating even greater habitat loss and negative impact on biodiversity. We strongly believe therefore that part of the solution is embracing deforestation-free sustainable palm oil – raising awareness with individuals, communities and businesses and creating increased demand for sustainable.


Cat Barton, Field Programmes Manager at Chester Zoo and a specialist on deforestation-free commodities, says:

“Despite significant progress, products containing unsustainable palm oil still come into the UK every single day. However, as more and more places get on board with our new Sustainable Palm Oil Communities movement to demand sustainability, the pressure is being cranked up on the major suppliers to change and move towards deforestation-free palm oil.

“Our movement is already helping businesses in Chester, Oxford and Newquay to influence their suppliers to switch to sustainable ingredients. These changes are then passed along the chain to other customers – it’s a snowball effect.

“Now, we’re seeing that effect spread around the UK. We’re on the cusp of making sustainable palm oil the norm. Together we can create a turning point in the fight to prevent extinction and have a hugely positive impact on wildlife, by influencing the main supply chains to switch to deforestation-free, sustainable ingredients.”


Marieke Leegwater, Programme Manager of Sustainable Palm Oil Choice, applauds the efforts of Chester Zoo and the communities across the UK.

“This demonstrates the potential for communities and consumers to really play a part in addressing the negative impacts of conventional palm oil by choosing sustainable palm oil instead. We encourage more communities across Europe to take the lead as Chester has done and become part of the solution.”

Want to know how you can make a difference?

Take action