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June 12, 2024

EUDR – Is it Doomed to Abject Failure?

This week, I began reading the latest IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) report – Exploring the future of vegetable oils.

A quote on page 24 jumped out at me.

“Expanding ethical consumption into major consumer markets such as China and India should be a priority to foster responsible and sustainable practices globally”

This makes sense – these countries are home to more than a third of the world’s population.

But it immediately got me thinking about EUDR – an upcoming piece of legislation designed to help reduce global deforestation.

From 30 December 2024, companies will have to prove that the soya, cattle, oil palm, wood, cocoa, coffee and rubber they import into the EU, export from the EU or place on the EU market do not come from any area deforested since December 2020.

I’d just seen figures from the UN suggesting that EU consumption has “only” been responsible for around 10% of global deforestation between 1990 and 2020.

With that in mind – what is the point of EUDR? Will it make any real difference? But first, let’s start with a bit of history and positivity.

Cynicism and Progress - Sustainable Palm Oil

As little as 15 years ago, there was no such thing as sustainable palm oil.

Today, thanks to the collective efforts of organisations like the RSPO, the industry has changed. There is still lots of work to do, but deforestation is down 80%, 20% of global palm oil production is RSPO certified, and around 90% of the palm oil used in Europe is certified sustainable. National certification schemes in Malaysia and Indonesia (MSPO and ISPO) are setting new standards. 

None of these schemes are perfect, but the progress and direction of travel is clear to see. 

I was there near the start of the sustainable palm oil movement – working on the PR and comms for the launch of GreenPalm in 2008. GreenPalm was a certificate trading programme for sustainable palm oil designed to reward palm oil growers for operating sustainably.

I was extremely cynical about GreenPalm, because:

  • There was no actual palm oil involved.
  • I didn’t believe it would drive change in the industry.
  • I saw it as companies looking to Greenwash their supply chains. 

I was wrong.

Today, GreenPalm may have been superseded – but it was a vital step in the right direction. It helped to stimulate production, and it helped to lay the foundation for the traceable, sustainably produced, segregated palm oil we see on the market today. As a result, palm oil is perhaps the most prepared industry for EUDR in terms of traceability. My hope is that in 10 years, all the misgivings and criticisms of EUDR look just as ill-founded.

Is EUDR Doomed to Failure?

As part of the comms and marketing work we do in sustainable commodities, we’ve discussed EUDR with growers, distributors, certification bodies, charities/NGOs, retailers, sustainability professionals, technical experts, and others.

The One Nine Nine team has attended numerous panels and events discussing it – from the RSPO (Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil) meeting in London to the SPOD (Sustainable Palm Oil Dialogue) in Brussels. We’ve attended webinars with satellite tracking experts and certification bodies. We’ve spoken to our clients Efeca, Daabon, KTC Edibles, and Momentive about it.

I’ve seen an EU Commissioner run off a stage to avoid answering questions about it. I’ve seen a member of DEFRA fend off angry industry professionals around the UK’s version of the legislation. And I’ve seen a room full of sustainability experts fail to answer simple questions on the commodities covered by the legislation!

We even launched The Sustainable Commodities Podcast with Murdoch Associates earlier this year!

Following the countless hours of conversation discussing the challenges associated with EUDR, it's easy to be cynical and negative. But there are so many questions that demand answers… 

  • Will the industry be ready?
  • Will the EU be ready?
  • Will the EU publish any proper guidance?
  • Will the EU have a functioning IT system in place?
  • Will EUDR have a meaningful impact on global deforestation?
  • Will smallholders be excluded from the EU market? 
  • Will there be supply shortages of key commodities? 
  • Will prices increase? 
  • Will it be enforced?
  • Will the UK legislation match up?
  • Will the US legislation be the same?

Are we really going to create a two-tier system of increased administration and bureaucracy in which Europeans pay more for premium, sustainable commodities while the rest of the world continues to purchase conventional (and often unsustainable) commodities?

So many questions and few concrete answers!

So should we just scrap it?!

In Defence of EUDR

For all its faults…

The EUDR is a huge step forward.

It’s an ambitious piece of legislation, and the intention is good. For the first time, a region that’s home to 450 million people is banning the sale of seven key commodities that drive global deforestation.

By demanding transparency from murky supply chains – it is providing much-needed accountability. Industries are being forced to ask questions of their suppliers they should have been asking for decades, and to do real due diligence on the sourcing of products. It’s forcing innovation in supply chain visibility, traceability technology is thriving, and it’s helping to build an infrastructure that can be used to drive further improvement. 

Although the legislation only covers the EU, it will inevitably impact beyond its borders – whether shaping policy decisions or prompting multinationals to adopt EUDR compliance as their sourcing standard.

Ultimately, the EUDR will not achieve all its objectives overnight, and whether Europe can create a de-facto global standard for sustainable commodities is yet to be seen.

However, even if the legislation only manages to reduce deforestation a little, it will be a step forward and could drive the direction of change far beyond the borders of Europe. 

Communicating About Sustainability and Marketing from One Nine Nine

Sustainability is rarely straightforward - and talking about it is full of potential pitfalls.

With years of experience in the sustainability sector, we have honed our expertise in writing about all types of sustainability topics, ranging from controversial issues such as palm and silicone to 100% natural disinfectants – we've done it all!

We understand that every client has a unique perspective –and we'll work closely with you to understand the value your business is bringing to the sustainability space. This involves researching the topics we explore to effectively challenge, debunk, and critically examine pervading opinions and established mainstream narratives. We will empower you to market your sustainability journey truthfully, effectively, and comprehensively.

To find out more about how we can help your business with sustainability comms and marketing team at 01138444111 or email us at today.

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