Auckland Zoo launches app to help Kiwis avoid ‘bad’ palm oil products

New Zealand shoppers concerned about the environmental impact of bad palm oil farming practices in Southeast Asia can now use an app when they shop to check products are using Certified Sustainable Palm Oil (CSPO).

The mobile app – PalmOil Scan – has been launched in Aotearoa by Auckland Zoo to encourage consumers to make better choices when purchasing products and help protect the natural habitats of wildlife. 

Already active in the UK, the US, and Canada, the app is an initiative of the World Association of Zoos & Aquariums (WAZA) in partnership with palm oil experts from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo (USA), Chester Zoo (UK) and Auckland Zoo. It is a tool that zoos worldwide hope will help transform the palm oil industry.

Palm oil is a versatile and highly productive vegetable derived from the oil palm Elaeis guineensis fruit. It is mainly grown in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America and is widely consumed worldwide.

More than half of packaged supermarket products, such as chocolates, cosmetics, cleaning products, pet foods, and toilet paper, contain palm oil. However, only a quarter of the 8 billion tonnes produced annually is certified sustainable.

Dr Sarah Thomas, Auckland Zoo’s head of conservation advocacy and engagement, has played a key role in developing the PalmOil Scan app, along with Amy Robbins, the zoo’s deputy curator and mammals expert, and Claudine Gibson, the zoo’s environmental initiatives advisor.

According to Dr Thomas, using the app to decide which packet of biscuits to buy for their whānau can turn anyone into a conservationist, even if they don’t realise it.

“These kinds of small everyday decisions are conservation in action, and they add up,” she explains. 

 “I hope that every whānau in Tamaki Makaurau and communities far and wide will download the app and use it on their weekly shop to take action for wildlife and join us in our journey to drive transformational change in the palm oil industry – all through the power of our mobile phones.” 

To use the app, users can scan the barcode of any product, and it will display a rating of Excellent, Good, Poor, or No Commitment; reflecting the manufacturer’s commitment to sourcing CSPO.

“Behind these ratings is a quantitative, scientifically robust scoring system developed by a team of international zoo-conservation professionals and is used globally,” said Gibson. 

The app also has a search functionality, where users can find an eco-friendly alternative if they scan a product with a poor rating.

Users can also thank companies doing well or encourage them to improve their commitment to sourcing CSPO.

“We recognise that, like all of us, companies are on a sustainability journey, which is why ratings get regularly reviewed and updated to incentivise companies to keep improving,” Gibson said.

“Ultimately, as consumers’ preference for CSPO grows, this grows a demand that other companies can’t ignore, and that’s a win for wildlife, wild places, and people, which is the app’s goal.”

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