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November 24, 2022

The Issue with Sustainability

Can businesses be 100% sustainable? Is all palm oil bad? Why do we need to be careful when pursuing specific environmental goals? 
The world of sustainability is incredibly complex, but as we attempt to lay the foundations for a greener future it’s important to continue asking difficult questions - challenging the common narrative, recognising limitations and accepting that sometimes compromises are necessary in the journey towards “true” sustainability. 

The topic of sustainability has never been more prevalent. As the world continues to navigate the complex issue of climate change, there’s an increased expectation on everyone to take responsibility and demonstrate how they are reducing their carbon footprint and making more environmentally friendly decisions.

However, when making the journey towards true sustainability and delivering on specific environmental goals such as net zero, it’s important that both businesses and consumers remain realistic and practical. 

When it comes to certain environmental issues, there are unfortunately many preconceptions around particular topics which can lead to polarised narratives and ideology – which over time, does more damage than good.

In this blog we’re exploring how binary ideologies can be extremely damaging to the overall sustainability effort, and reference real-world examples involving palm and silicone to debunk myths and highlight the dangers of taking narratives at face value. 

The Realities of Sustainability 

There’s growing pressure on businesses to be 100% sustainable. 

Climate change is having a noticeable effect on our planet. From rising sea levels through to an increase in the frequency of extreme weather – it’s clear that action needs to be taken. Whilst climate change is an established issue that has been ongoing for years, the concept of sustainability is relatively new in our history and not something that society had to deal with before. 

From rising sea levels and an increase in the frequency of extreme weather to displaced communities – the effects of climate change have already manifested themselves environmentally and socially. 

Although it is widely accepted that this is a problem which everyone is responsible for, businesses in particular are expected to be making a conscious effort to make greener choices, reduce their carbon footprint and operate more sustainably.  

However, whilst this may be aspirational in theory - being completely sustainable in every facet of organisational operations is highly impractical and unrealistic for many businesses for a myriad of reasons. Even for those businesses whose identity, product or service is centred around sustainability, it’s incredibly difficult to be ethically, mortally and sustainably scrupulous throughout the entire supply chain.

Whilst a businesses own operations may rank high in terms of sustainability, an examination of their supply chain and third party practices may reveal discrepancies that don’t align with specific environmental goals.

The Problem with Palm

The damage of myopic views regarding sustainability can be seen when examining the narratives around palm oil.  

Palm oil is an incredibly versatile commodity which is used in every from food and drink to household products. As a result, it is very much in demand, and its value has been capitalised and exploited by a wide range of businesses that have engaged with unsustainable farming practices in order to supply it to a growing world market.

This has meant that for decades, palm oil has held negative connotations and has been associated with deforestation, environmental damage and the destruction of natural habitats. Both the media and environmental activists have picked up on this, and for years have peddled news stories which push the agenda that all palm is bad.

This has created a very binary perception of the crop, which has led to boycotts and businesses actively removing palm oil from their products. To this date, the overriding view of palm is that it’s inherently bad - with organisations and consumers proudly declaring their palm-free stance.

However, whilst these businesses and individuals may mean well, it puts the focus on just palm and doesn’t examine the realities or dangers of the alternatives. Although palm oil has been responsible for significant environmental damage, this can predominately be ascribed to unsustainable farming methods and the greed of organisations that have prioritised profit over the planet.


Changing Perspectives on Palm

When sourced sustainably, palm oil can actually be far more sustainable than other crops. In fact, it’s the most efficient vegetable crop, producing more oil per land than any of the alternatives. 

This highlights the hypocrisy of companies who although know palm is the best option, are all too ready to distance themselves from it simply to appease public opinion and maintain their reputation – despite causing more environmental damage in the process.

This means that rather than boycotting the crop entirely, it’s far more sensible – and practical – to find more sustainable ways to source and produce it. 

In practice, this could look like businesses purchasing RSPO-certified sustainable palm, supporting smallholder farms and examining their supply chains to identify and replace damaging practices.

A business which does this well includes DAABON, who focuses on bringing responsibly produced products to the UK market such as palm oil, bananas, avocados, coffee and limes. They place sustainability at the heart of their operations and ensure that all their responsibly sourced palm is deforestation-free. Accredited by external bodies which include NEODA, The Soil Association and Rainforest Alliance, they have successfully shown how palm, when sourced in the right way, is the most sustainable way of using this particular commodity. 

Silicone – A Sustainable Solution

Another example of something seemingly bad actually being the best solution includes silicone. 

Silicone is known for not being the most environmentally product, as producing silicone uses hydrocarbons derived from petroleum, which is not sustainable. This is exacerbated by the fact that it’s difficult to recycle and most facilities won’t accept it. Whilst it’s still better than other alternatives, it is a material which is frequently used in disposable products – which further solidifies the notion in peoples mind of it being an inherently bad material.

However, it’s important to remember that silicone, although it is not the perfect solution - is still better for the environment than alternatives such as plastic. Unlike the manufacturing process for most plastics, making silicone does not involve mining crude oil and is made from silica, which is derived from sand. 

As it is more durable than plastic, it also lasts longer. This makes it a great material for a wide range of industries that need to create products that deliver long-term benefits, or need to be able to withstand challenging environments. Another bonus of silicone is that whilst it not biodegradable, it doesn’t deteriorate in the same way that plastic does, which breaks down into micro-plastics which are extremely damaging to the ocean. 

Silicone in Action

Silicone can therefore be a more sustainable solution in the long-term over alternative chemistries.

Silicones position as a more durable and therefore more sustainable option is especially apparent in the construction industry. Silicone construction sealants for building, for example,  have the capacity to effectively extend the life and enhance the performance of all kinds of buildings. 

Whether its Air and Water Resistive Barriers (AWB) or coatings and sealants – silicone based construction products are efficacious at withstanding extreme weather and temperatures. This makes them ideal for buildings, and an increasingly popular choice of product when compared to alternative chemistries. 

Momentive Performance Materials ran a 30-year test in 1983 to evaluate the long-term durability of a variety of sealant types to ascertain which performs best. From this test they discovered that silicone demonstrated strong characteristics, ranking higher than the alternative chemistries on a range of criteria which included adhesion, flexibility, resilience and toughness.

This means that silicone based products can be great candidates for repair or refurbishment work. They can be used to extend the life of existing buildings or make new builds more sustainable and energy efficient – which from an environmental perspective, is preferable to tearing down structures and rebuilding new ones. 

Opting to repair, rather than completely renovate, removes the amount of waste that is sent to landfill and the resources involved with building new structures. 

Therefore, whilst silicone may be deemed “bad” on a surface level, it can be a much more sustainable option than other chemistries which deteriorate faster and may subsequently warrant more resources. 

The Fight Against Fertilizer 

As is evident, myopic viewpoints on sustainability have the potential to do more harm than good. 

Another example of this in action can be seen in the Sri Lankan fertilizer ban last year. In 2021, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa imposed a total ban on chemical fertilizers and pesticides overnight with no preparation – justifying it under the argument that chemical fertilizers and pesticides were leading to “adverse health and environmental impacts” and that industrial farming methods went against “sustainable food systems”.

Whilst this may have been admirable endeavour in theory, in reality it was a disaster causing a multitude of financial and social problems. The agrochemical ban caused rice production to drop 20 percent in the six months following its implementation, meaning that a country which has previous been self-sufficient in rice production then had to spend $450 million on rice imports. It also had severe consequences for the farmers themselves, who had to accept and adjust to drastically low yields.

The government has since had to spend hundreds of million on subsidies and compensation to farmers to reimburse for the loss of productivity and livelihood. 

Although agrochemicals aren’t good for the environment – they do enable farmers to use their land to its optimum by growing more food in less space. This is essential for small, developing countries that are dependent on agriculture both for food and export income.  

Therefore, whilst it would be ideal to move away from an agrochemical-heavy food system for the sake of the environment and public health – it’s not always the most sensible solution and can actually do more damage. This is a notion that can be applied to many sustainability initiatives and ideas more broadly, where what seems like a good idea in principle doesn’t always translate practically. 

Our Expertise

We have years of experience working in the sustainability sector, and are well versed in writing about highly controversial topics such as palm and silicone.

This has allowed us to thoroughly research the topics we explore to effectively challenge, debunk and critically examine pervading opinions and established mainstream narratives. 

When it comes to sustainability, we recognise that it’s a journey and that achieving total sustainability in every facet of business is unrealistic and that compromise is essential. This involves accepting the idea that options which may first appear as unsustainable, can actually provide real environmental benefits which in some instances is more important than ideology. 

Get in Touch

To find out more about who we are and what we do, please get in touch with our team at 01138 444 111 or email us at

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