Truth Behind The Label: Is This A Faster Way To Find It?

This isn’t very scientific, but it is a fun study in what the true values and priorities of organisations might be through the lens of their surface presentation.

In my last post I noted my immediate visceral response to the RSPO website vs the Rainforest Alliance website. This helped me make a much faster (and hopefully more accurate) decision about whether either organisation, whose logos are on the products I buy, actually deliver on the promise.

This visceral reaction tells me a lot, very quickly, as to whether their heart and my own are aligned in the same direction. See what you think…

Compare and contrast:


  • Pic of something I DON’T care about and DON’T think they should be prioritising: Namely their head honcho:  Secretary General & Team at the RSPO Secretariat (Seriously, how many ‘secretary-related’ things do they need? It immediately makes me think ‘paper pushing’).
  • A slew of Corporate-speak and assorted pdfs, processes and approved minutes – all measuring INPUTS (process, meetings, signatories etc) but not so easy to get a clear outline on how they are MEASURING RESULTS / OUTPUTS that make a difference for wildlife, environment and local folk .
  • An approach that seems geared largely towards large corporations rather than building a community of awareness around all of us involved in the production, sale and consumption.
  • I can’t immediately see how they have people on the ground checking the reality of the situation on wildlife etc in their certified plantations, and if they do it is generally in corporate rather than scientific terms.

Rainforest Alliance:

  • An approach that brings together all stakeholders: me as a consumer, businesses, and local communities.
  • I am getting an immediate impression that they are actually putting people on the ground to check wildlife improvements and impact etc in a scientific way.

Like I say, not terribly scientific, but guess which one I am more likely to believe gets the right results?

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A moment of tea angst, and a weekly shop that is taking way longer than it should be.

“In decision making, the rationality of individuals is limited by the information they have, the cognitive limitations of their minds, and the finite amount of time they have to make decisions” – Herbert Simon

OK, this is my first weekly shop since starting my blog.  And next up on my shopping list is tea.

I like to think I have a pretty good cognitive capacity to make the right decisions.  But what I lack right now is information and time.

Having a day job of my own, I would’t claim to be hugely au-fait with the inner workings of tea companies.  It’s a British thing: tea drinking and those cosy, ‘Britishy’ brands on our shelves, which are so much part of our culture you pretty much forget it comes from foreign parts.

So having clicked on the info page of my usual ‘big brand’ I am now wondering what the Rainforest Alliance thing is all about.  And, like I said earlier, I need some fast info to make my decision so I can get on with my shopping. So I am going with my immediate impression for the time being and purchasing my usual tea brand, with an email winging its way to their customer services to learn more about it for next time.

Here is my immediate experience in making my decision quickly:

  • A quick google doesn’t seem to reveal the range of concerns with the Rainforest Alliance that came up with the RSPO and GreenPalm.
  • A quick look at the Rainforest Alliance website gives me an immediately different and more positive impression than the RSPO did. (This is because their communications are centred around the things I want them to be centred round: wildlife, local people, economic viability of doing the right thing, environment including rainforest. NOT process, conferences, and other corporate speak like the RSPO. See my next posts!)

So, for the time being my usual brand will remain in my basket  until I hear from their customer service team and I get some more research done.  I’m still investigating though, so any further info any of you guys might have is welcome!

And ironically, after all that I am now in need of a nice cuppa…

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Corporate vs Personal Responsibility

Here’s the thing about some of our less conscious Corporations.  They love Corporate Social Responsibility.  It doesn’t work without Personal Social Responsibility though.

What I mean is this:  It isn’t about the charters and sustainability agreements the palm oil suppliers sign up to.   It’s about the personal responsibility they take as individual employees / managers / execs to ensure that their plantation managers and workers are adhering to the agreement.  This begins by recruiting only those who share this value base, and where the charter checklist is being brought to life in spirit as well as letter.

In this Ruler / process driven culture it is very easy to tick the box, sign up to the charter, and display the logo proudly as the official truth of the standards they adopt.

But it needs somebody who cares on the ground and at all levels of the organisation making sure official truth matches real truth.

The other side to this coin of course is that ‘plausible deniability’ isn’t just a corporate thing.  I know I have been guilty of assuming labelling etc means what it says.  Doesn’t it make things so much easier to shift the burden?  I think from a consumer point of view, taking personal responsibility probably equates to taking one extra step, one product per week in our usual shopping list, to find out independently whether it means what we think it means, and making a more informed choice on that basis.

I can’t make individuals in a palm oil supplier plantation, or the companies they deliver oil to, take personal responsibility to ensure their good intentions match reality.  But I can take my OWN personal responsibility to look a little more closely at my purchases, get my own information one product at a time, and start moving my purchases in the right direction.

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Current Conclusion on Sustainable Palm Oil

So from last post’s research, comments and conclusions, it turns out there is most likely a dead orang-utan in my peanut butter sandwich.

Strangely, this can be true even though my peanut butter has been lovingly crafted from ‘Sustainable’ palm oil, and by a company that is of the small, 40 year old, organic, earthy green-labelling kind.

(OK, that’s not quite accurate these days, they are actually ex-small, earthy green labellers who are now owned by a large corporate Group, all of whom are happy members of the RSPO).

As a scientist, my instinct is generally to find out what the facts actually are rather than accept information at face value, which led me to ask them:

How do they 100% guarantee that the supplier they use is actively policing their plantations to ensure the RSPO agreements are being adhered to?

They didn’t specifically answer this, even on the repeat, so in the meantime I am concluding that they don’t or can’t guarantee it.  Which is probably why in the bigger picture there have been concerns raised around whether the RSPO in truth is inadvertently providing a veneer of legitimacy that the many rogue palm oil producers out there can now hide behind.

And also leading consumers to think there is a guaranteed ‘good way’ to get palm oil.

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Why we don’t have influence, and the first place to start

So here’s the first challenge of political shopping: Where on earth to start with it??

Because without starting, we can’t have influence.

And without influence, nothing changes.

So I guess I am starting where it usually makes sense to start: where I am right now, and by asking probing questions.

And where I am right now is looking forward to a peanut butter sandwich.  So an email has been duly dispatched to the organic, ‘earth friendly’, additive free organisation that has produced the PB in my cupboard.

I used more words than this, but the jist is:

How many orang-utans were killed in the making of my sandwich?

I await the response, and I’ll KUP!

Posted in Asking questions, Starting with what we buy | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

First Do No Harm

OK, first post.  Where to start?

First Do No Harm.

This isn’t just for doctors.  I think we all have the capacity to heal, and the opportunity to bring our lives, our communities and our systems back to health and balance.

And one of the main ways we can do this is through the financial choices we make.

Through developing awareness of the chain of events – from something we can live without (peanut butter with palm oil), resulting in loss of things we cannot live without (functioning rainforest, diversity of agriculture, and treasures like the orangutan).

Small innocuous items bought without thinking, resulting in good things being destroyed without thinking.

I am a newbie on this journey, although the seeds were sown a long time ago when my mother first voted with her purse (no French apples, veal, or any non-local farm produce).

And it has been re-ignited for me as a result of many, many articles coming to light about the cruel, ignorant and inhumane activities going on in Asia, Indonesia and elsewhere which are an affront to my humanity, an affront to the potential for genuine good that could be achieved instead, but seems beyond our reach to influence.

It really began in earnest when hubby and I ditched our satellite TV subscription last summer because we couldn’t stomach any more of our cash lining the coffers of the Murdochs.  Even though we were pleased with the service, and the Murdochs only owned a % of the company.

It would have been easy to feel impotent about the phone hacking scandal (hoping the ‘Big People’ would sort it out), and to rationalise that losing out on our paltry subscription isn’t exactly going to be noticed by them.  But i liked my husband’s view on it: there are a lot of things we have no real say in, but how we spend our discretionary cash isn’t one of them.

After the initial trauma of separation, and feeling like I had somehow sacrificed for my values (no new series of Grays Anatomy for me lol), we have now found several new ways of getting the stuff we enjoyed but through different suppliers.

The funny thing is, all these avenues already existed but we had just been going along with the herd and hadn’t even thought to look for them before.  We just went for the big obvious one that made things convenient and meant we didn’t have to think too hard in our busy working life.

So here is the question: As an individual, how can I make my life work WITHOUT my cash inadvertently funding the stuff that drags all that’s best in life into the gutter for the benefit of a few corrupt individuals?  How can I have a normal life, where I get to wear make up and fashionable clothes, have a good investment for retirement, and eat lovely food – but where my hard earned cash is paid into a chain of events that makes things BETTER?

I guess that’s what my blog is about. Every experimenter needs to publish his / her findings, and connect with new information to help them find new solutions.  So let the journey begin!

PS I am feeling a bit intrepid but also lonely so would love to connect with any fellow travellers who might be out there…

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