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Palm Done Right allows farmers and workers to gain a higher income and improved working conditions, with Fairtrade premiums enabling them to invest in community projects.SUPPLIED

Over the past decade, demand for palm oil has steadily increased – and this growth has been accompanied by heightened attention on the adverse effects on the environment, biodiversity and local communities where it is conventionally produced. Yet instead of seeking out palm oil-free options, Monique van Wijnbergen suggests supporting a shift to sustainable practices.

“We’ve all heard about the negative impacts associated with palm oil, and we have a tendency to turn our back on something we perceive as ‘not right,’” says the director of sustainability and corporate communications at Natural Habitats, a company committed to the sustainable production of organic and fairly traded products. “That’s been the case with palm oil, but what about the millions of people who depend on this crop for their livelihood?”

In recognition that palm oil is an important ingredient – one that is versatile and adds to product quality and performance – Natural Habitats has the vision of redefining the palm oil industry, says Ms. van Wijnbergen.

The production of 100 per cent organic palm oil, which Natural Habitats started a little over 10 years ago in Ecuador, has shown that sustainable and just practices benefit farmers and workers as well as their communities and the environment, she notes. “Farmers and workers gain a higher income and improved working conditions. And Fairtrade premiums allow them to dedicate funds to community projects; for example, to advance education or access to clean water.”

After creating the first fully integrated organic supply chain, Natural Habitats identified the need to form more partnerships to affect positive change across multiple industries using palm oil. “Our approach has been resonating in the market, with brands as well as consumers, so we had to scale up,” says Ms. van Wijnbergen. “And since we are committed to truly sustainable products, we’re growing our farming network by supporting conventional palm farmers who want to transition to organic.”

With an initiative called Palm Done Right, Natural Habitats garners support for sustainably produced palm oil along the entire supply chain: from farmers, workers, retailers and manufacturers to consumers. “Nurturing animals, people, communities and the environment are the building blocks of this important program,” says Jill Baxter, commercial director of Natural and Organics at Cambrian Solutions, a distributor for organic palm oils in Canada. “We are proud to partner with Canadian brands and Canadian food processors incorporating the most sustainable palm oil in the world in their products.”

Consumers also play an important role, and Ms. van Wijnbergen urges people to “educate themselves and keep the pressure on brands and retailers to not only be open about their sources of palm oil but also explore sustainable alternatives.

“Our choices matter,” she adds.

Produced by Randall Anthony Communications. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved in its creation.