Why is palm oil controversial?

Palm oil is the world’s most commonly used vegetable oil. Palm oil is found in many of the products we use and consume.

However, the palm oil industry is associated with massive loss of rainforest, affecting many species of plants and animals, as well as the global climate.

Watch this video to learn more about the palm oil industry and its environmental impacts. Learn what consumers and the industry can do to make palm oil more sustainable.

Conversation drivers

  1. Give some examples of products that contain palm oil. Why is palm oil such a useful oil?
  2. Which continent are oil palms native to?
  3. Which two countries currently produce more than 80% of the world’s palm oil?
  4. What type of habitat is removed for palm oil plantations?
  5. What are some environmental problems associated with palm oil plantations that are mentioned in the video? How does palm oil production affect biodiversity (animal and plant life)?
  6. Why does rainforest destruction contribute to climate change? (You may want to do additional research on climate change to answer this question.) Do mature palm oil plantations store as much carbon as old growth rainforests?
  7. What are some benefits of palm oil that are discussed in the video?
  8. How can we grow palm oil more sustainably?

Have your say: what do you think?

  • What do you think of the palm oil industry, as described in the video?
  • Should we use alternative oils (other types of oils) instead?
  • Would using alternative oils create the same (or perhaps other) environmental problems?
  • Could we reduce our consumption (use) of palm oil? How would we do this?
  • Can our choices as consumers (buyers and users of products) lead to a more sustainable palm oil industry?


Oil palm: A type of palm tree (of the genus Elaeis) from which palm oil is derived.
Palm oil:A vegetable oil that is extracted from the fruit of oil palms.
Palm oil plantation:An area where a crop of oil palm trees is grown.
*Consumer:A person or thing that eats or uses something.
*Producer: A person, company, or country that makes, grows, or supplies goods or commodities for sale.
*Industry:Economic activity concerned with the processing of raw materials and manufacture of goods in factories
Sustainable farming:A type of farming that maintains ecological balance and causes minimal environmental damage.

*From the Oxford Dictionary of English

More about palm oil from Mongabay