Greenwashing Tactic #6: The Lesser of Two Evils

10 Tactics of Sustainable Palm Oil Greenwashing - Tactic 6 Lesser of Two Evils

Claiming that a brand, commodity or industry is greener than others in the same category, in order to excuse ecocide, deforestation, human rights and animal rights abuses.

Deforestation - Craig Jones Wildlife Photography

The Lesser of Two Evils

The main argument by palm oil lobbyists is that palm oil is better than other crops because it has a higher yield. This argument of a ‘lesser of two evils’ is used to justify and excuse the ecocide, deforestation and human rights abuses associated with ‘sustainable’ palm oil.

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#Greenwashing Tactic #6: Lesser of Two Evils: Claiming a commodity or industry is #greener than others in the same category, to excuse #ecocide #humanrights #animalrights abuses #Boycott4Wildlife #Boycottpalmoil #FightGreenwashing

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Greenwashing: Lesser of Two Evils: Palm Oil Uses Less Land Than Other Crops

Greenwashing messaging is pervasive by researchers

Greenwashing messaging is pervasive on social media

Reality: Human rights, deforestation, land-grabbbing and no difference to the livelihoods of workers on RSPO plantations

Reality: New technology would eliminate any need for deforestation

Palm oil lobbyists refuse to acknowledge the benefit of new technology

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Further reading: greenwashing and deceptive marketing

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Greenwashing: Lesser of Two Evils

“Palm oil uses less land than other oil crops. Therefore, even though palm oil causes indigenous landgrabbing, deforestation, fires, species extinction and causing air and water pollution – it’s still better than other oils”

This ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ argument is supported by WWF and scientists who are part of the IUCN’s Palm Oil Task Force such as Dr Eric Meijaard and Mathew Streubig who are paid by RSPO members to produce favourable palm oil industry research. This argument for higher crop yield is used to maintain the status quo and dominance of palm oil over other oil crops, and also excuses the ecocide, deforestation, human rights abuses and tropical extinction that is ongoing for palm oil, and for so-called ‘sustainable’ palm oil.

Founding members of the RSPO along with WWF talking about why sustainable palm oil is important
Founding members of the RSPO along with WWF talking about why sustainable palm oil is important

Global demand for vegetable oils is projected to increase by 46% by 2050. Meeting this demand through additional expansion of oil palm versus other vegetable oil crops will lead to substantial differential effects on biodiversity, food security, climate change, land degradation and livelihoods.

Meijaard, E., Brooks, T.M., Carlson, K.M. et al. The environmental impacts of palm oil in context. Nat. Plants 6, 1418–1426 (2020).
Eric Meijaard pushing sustainable palm oil - lesser of two evils

At it’s core, it is an economic argument, not an environmental one

Source: WWF

RSPO certified sustainable palm oil is only better than other oils if it stops deforestation, improves the income of workers, stops violence and human rights abuses and stops the extinction of animals. These problems are still ongoing after 17 years since the RSPO began. In fact, NO RSPO member can be 100% certain that their palm oil is free of deforestation and human rights abuses.

‘It’s because conventional palm oil is catastrophic that we need sustainable palm oil”

Slides: Nestle Palm Oil Interactive, IUCN Palm Oil Taskforce and RSPO promotional materials.

  • Greenwashing example - lesser of two evils argument - doesnt hold up under close analysis
  • Nestle - Beneath the surface, greenwashing interactive which offers false arguments
  • Nestle - Beneath the surface, greenwashing interactive which offers false arguments
  • Greenwashing example - Lesser of two evils
  • The IUCN Palm Oil Taskforcer features the same scientists who are paid by the RSPO to produce favourable research
  • Eric Meijaard pushing sustainable palm oil - lesser of two evils
  • eric meijaard rspo conference
  • eric meijaard rspo conference

Greenwashing by researchers, lobbyists and ‘partner NGOs’ who are paid by RSPO members (supermarket brands) to convince the public of the merits of ‘sustainable’ palm oil – using the ‘Lesser of Two Evils’ argument

Chester Zoo Education


Despite promises of sustainability, RSPO palm oil certification has not improved smallholder (worker) incomes in 17 years.

The RSPO has not stopped deforestation, fires and human rights abuses and illegal land-grabbing by RSPO members.

Certification had no causal impact on forest loss in peatlands or active fire detection rates.

Kimberly M. Carlson, Robert Heilmayr, Holly K. Gibbs, Praveen Noojipady et al. Effect of oil palm sustainability certification on deforestation and fire in Indonesia, PNAS January 2, 2018 115 (1) 121-126

No significant difference was found between certified and non-certified plantations for any of the sustainability metrics investigated, however positive economic trends including greater fresh fruit bunch yields were revealed. To achieve intended outcomes, RSPO principles and criteria are in need of substantial improvement and rigorous enforcement.

Evaluating the effectiveness of palm oil certification in delivering multiple sustainability objectives. (2018)

The Neue Zuercher Zeitung used several cases to highlight where slash-and-burn techniques continue on RSPO-certified land, and where new plantations are threatening important ecosystems. These examples are representative of the huge gap between the need for environmental protection and the ever-increasing global demand for palm oil.

Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner. ‘Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? Satellite images show protected rainforest on fire’. Neue Zürcher Zeitung (May 2021) (In English)

Swiss multinational Nestlé received hundreds of thousands of alerts of forest clearing near its palm oil suppliers in 2019 via satellite monitoring.

Nestlé identified over 1,000 cases of deforestation per day in palm oil areas. SwissInfo (2020).

Global Witness October 2021 Report: Violence and death for palm oil connected to household supermarket brands (RSPO members)

“One palm oil firm, Rimbunan Hijau, [Papua New Guinea] negligently ignored repeated and avoidable worker deaths and injuries on palm oil plantations, with at least 11 workers and the child of one worker losing their lives over an eight-year period.

Papua New Guinea -landgrabbing for palm oil

“Tainted palm oil from Papua New Guinea plantations was sold to household name brands, all of them RSPO members including Kellogg’s, Nestlé, Colgate, Danone, Hershey’s and PZ Cussons and Reckitt Benckiser”

The true price of palm oil: How global finance funds deforestation, violence and human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea – Global Witness, 2021


New technology currently in development will mean that palm oil can be made in a lab requiring no deforestation at all – from algae or from microbes.

Palm oil industry lobbyists refuse to endorse or support this new technology. Instead they provide weak excuses for the continuation of the destruction of rainforests including: a synthetic version is expensive to make, a synthetic version won’t contain the same vitamins as palm oil made from dead rainforests.

Ahmad Parveez said the synthetic palm oil could cause harm to the environment due to the required fermentation processes.

“The question is whether synthetic palm oil is more environmentally friendly and sustainable because the production of synthetic materials requires chemicals and microbes.

“How much energy and chemicals are used in the fermentation process and how can the synthetic product be claimed to be more sustainable than the original product?” he said.

MPOB questions synthetic palm oil production, The Malaysian Reserve, 2020.

10 Tactics of Sustainable Palm Oil Greenwashing - Summary

Explore the series

Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and fight greenwashing and deforestation by using your wallet as a weapon!

Further reading on palm oil, greenwashing and deceptive marketing

A Brief History of Consumer Culture, Dr Kerryn Higgs, The MIT Press Reader.

A Deluge of Double-Speak (2017), Jason Bagley. Truth in Advertising.

Anti-Corporate Activism and Collusion: The Contentious Politics of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia, (2022). Ward Berenschot, et. al., Geoforum, Volume 131, 2022,

Balanced Growth (2020), In: Leal Filho W., Azul A.M., Brandli L., özuyar P.G., Wall T. (eds)Responsible Consumption and Production. Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Springer, Cham.

Client Earth: The Greenwashing Files

Contrasting communications of sustainability science in the media coverage of palm oil agriculture on tropical peatlands in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, (2020), Felicia H M Liu, Vignaa Ganesan, Thomas E L Smith, Environmental Science & Policy, Volume 114, 2020.

Commodifying sustainability: Development, nature and politics in the palm oil industry (2019) World Development
Volume 121, September 2019, Pages 218-228

Earth Day 2021: Companies Accused of Greenwashing (2021), Truth in Advertising.

Effect of oil palm sustainability certification on deforestation and fire in Indonesia, (2018), Kimberly M. Carlson, Robert Heilmayr, Holly K. Gibbs, Praveen Noojipady et al. PNAS January 2, 2018 115 (1) 121-126

Fifteen environmental NGOs demand that sustainable palm oil watchdog does its job, (2019), Media release. Rainforest Action Network.

Gibt es nachhaltiges Palmöl? Satellitenbilder zeigen: Auch auf zertifizierten Plantagen brennt es immer wieder’, (2021), Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner, Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

Green Clean, (2021), Cathy Armour (Commissioner, Australian Securities & Investments Commission). Company Director Magazine.

Greenwash and spin: palm oil lobby targets its critics, (2011), Alex Helan. Ecologist: Informed by Nature.

Group Challenges Rainforest Alliance Earth-Friendly Seal of Approval, (2015), Truth in Advertising.

Green marketing and the Australian Consumer Law, (2011), Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Greenwashing: definition and examples. Selectra

Greenwashing of the Palm Oil Industry, (2007), Mongabay

Greenwashing: The Darker Side Of CSR, (2011), Priyanka Aggarwal, Shri Ram College of Commerce (University of Delhi). Indian Journal of Applied Research 4(3):61-66 DOI:10.15373/2249555X/MAR2014/20

How Cause-washing Deceives Consumers, (2021), Truth in Advertising

‘Is there such a thing as sustainable palm oil? Satellite images show protected rainforest on fire’, (2021), Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Adina Renner, Conradin Zellweger, Barnaby Skinner.

Kellogg on Branding in a Hyper-Connected World, (2019), Alice M. Tybout (Editor-in-Chief), Tim Calkins (Editor-in-Chief), Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University.

No such thing as sustainable palm oil – ‘certified’ can destroy even more wildlife, say scientists, (2018), Jane Dalton. The Independent.

Palm oil watchdog’s sustainability guarantee is still a destructive con, (2019), Environmental Investigation Agency.

Plantation Life: Corporate Occupation in Indonesia’s Oil Palm Zone. Tania Murray Li, Pujo Semedi, (2021), Duke University Press.

Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil is ‘greenwashing’ labelled products, environmental investigation agency says, (2019), Annette Gartland. Changing Times Media.

RSPO: 14 years of failure to eliminate violence and destruction from the industrial palm oil sector, (2018), Friends of the Earth International.

Sustainable palm oil may not be so sustainable, (2018) , Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, Jingjing Liang, Alena Velichevskaya, Mo Zhou, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 652, 2019, Pages 48-51, ISSN 0048-9697.

Sustainable palm oil or certified dispossession? NGOs within scalar struggles over the RSPO private governance standard (2019): Working Paper No. 8,
Bioeconomy & Inequalities; Wicke, Janis.

Sustainable palm oil? RSPO’s greenwashing and fraudulent audits exposed, (2015) Ecologist: Informed by Nature.

Sustainable Palm Oil? Who Knows, Thanks to Derelict Auditors, (2015), Kirby, David, Take Part.

Sustainability standards in global agrifood supply chains, (2021), Meemken, EM., Barrett, C.B., Michelson, H.C. et al. Nat Food

Study in WHO journal likens palm oil lobbying to tobacco and alcohol industries, (2019), Tom Miles. Reuters

The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases, (2019), Sowmya Kadandale, a Robert Martenb & Richard Smith. World Health Organisation Bulletin

The palm oil industry and noncommunicable diseases, (2019), Sowmya Kadandale, a Robert Martenb & Richard Smith. World Health Organisation Bulletin 2019;97:118–128|

The Time Has Come to Rein In the Global Scourge of Palm Oil, (2021), Jocelyn Zuckerman. Yale Environment 360, Yale School of Environment.

Truth in Advertising: Green Guides and Environmentally Friendly Products, Federal Trade Commission: Protecting America’s Consumers.

Unequal access to justice: an evaluation of RSPO’s capacity to resolve palm oil conflicts in Indonesia (2023) Afrizal, A., Hospes, O., Berenschot, W. et al. Agric Hum Values 40, 291–304.

‘What do Millennials think of palm oil? Nestlé investigates’, (2021), Flora Southey. Food Navigator.

What is Greenwashing and How to Tell Which Companies are Truly Environmentally Responsible, (2021), Hewlett Packard.

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Published by Palm Oil Detectives

Hi, I’m Palm Oil Detective’s Editor in Chief. Palm Oil Detectives is partly a consumer website about palm oil in products and partly an online community for writers, scientists, conservationists, artists and musicians to showcase their work and express their love for endangered species. I have a strong voice for creatures great and small threatened by deforestation. With our collective power we can shift the greed of the retail and industrial agriculture sectors and through strong campaigning we can stop them cutting down forests. Be bold! Be courageous! Join the #Boycott4Wildlife and stand up for the animals with your supermarket choices

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