In the United Kingdom, Christmas ads are notorious for hyping up the most wonderful time of year. Brands have made significant efforts to create thought evoking, often controversial, and extremely memorable pieces of story telling that grapple with the hearts and psyches of consumers. Most recently, John Lewis & Partners (a high end department store in the UK) released their annual Christmas ad that featured a young, starry eyed Elton John receiving a piano for Christmas, a gift that would alter the very nature of his entire life. The ad ends with the poignant note, “some gifts are more than just a gift.” The culture of producing viral Christmas ads seems to be somewhat specific to Europeans as opposed to American brands that opt for a more rounded marketing approach, often creating ads that play year-round. Bar the Coca-Cola Christmas ad, of course. Last week however, one British Christmas ad in particular took the entire internet by storm, garnering more than 30 million views without even airing on television. Iceland’s “Rangtan in my bedroom” ad has amassed a large viewership, and an even more monumental emotional reaction from people all over the world. The ad was banned for being too political in nature.
Iceland, a large grocery store chain the UK, partnered with an environmental group named Greenpeace to push a powerful message about the role we all play in our environmental crises. Narrated by actress Emma Thompson, the beautifully hand-drawn story highlights the detrimental toll the palm oil industry is having on the world’s natural habitats and its native dweller, the orangutang. In an attempt to introduce the mass public to this issue, a young girl is describing the havoc a baby “rangtan” is creating in her bedroom. Upon asking the baby monkey why in fact, he is so distressed and why he is in her bedroom to begin with, the story takes a darker tone. The “rangtan” describes the humans in his hypothetical bedroom, being the forests that mass capitalism and consumerism are depleting. The young girl, so taken aback by this revelation, decides to take action and promises the baby “rangtan” that she will help spread the message and protect his home. The short ad ends by dedicating the story to “the 25 orangutans we lose every day” and maintains that Iceland will be removing palm oil from its label products.
According to Rainforest Rescue, a non-profit organization committed to protecting rainforests,
“Palm oil is literally everywhere – in our foods, cosmetics, cleaning products and fuels. It’s a source of huge profits for multinational corporations, while at the same time destroying the livelihoods of smallholders. Displacement of indigenous peoples, deforestation and loss of biodiversity are all consequences of our palm oil consumption. How could it come to this? And what can we do in everyday life to protect people and nature?
At 66 million tons annually, palm oil is the most commonly produced vegetable oil. Its low world market price and properties that lend themselves to processed foods have led the food industry to use it in half of all supermarket products. Palm oil can be found in frozen pizzas, biscuits and margarine, as well as body creams, soaps, makeup, candles and detergents.
Few people realize that almost half of the palm oil imported into the EU is used as biofuel. Since 2009, the mandatory blending of biofuels into motor vehicle fuels has been a major cause of deforestation.
Oil palm plantations currently cover more than 27 million hectares of the Earth’s surface. Forests and human settlements have been destroyed and replaced by “green deserts” containing virtually no biodiversity on an area the size of New Zealand.”
According to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund), there are only about 14,700 Bornean, 13,846 Sumatran and 800 Tapanuli orangutans left in the wild. WWF classifies the species as critically endangered. Because of the extremely broad usage of palm oil and the relative lack of education surrounding its production, most consumers never realized the catastrophic link it had with one of the world’s most gentle giants. As consumers, it’s important to know that palm oil not only catalyzes the deforestation linked with the endangerment of en entire species, but it also attributes to poor health in humans. According to rainforest rescue, “refined palm oil contains large amounts of harmful fatty acid esters that are known to damage DNA and cause cancer.” In recent years, a large body of consumers have realized this link and have began seeking healthier, natural, and raw alternatives. For example, one of the world’s most popular and beloved hazelnut spreads, Nutella, contains large amounts of palm oil, it’s what makes the nutty thing so easy to spread and creamy. People have called for boycotts of the brand and opt to either make their own spreads or go raw.
Change begins at home, and Rainforest Rescue suggests the following steps to reduce and eliminate palm oil from our pantries:
- Enjoy a home-cooked meal: Use your imagination: why not try almond-coconut-pear biscuits? Or pizza with potato and rosemary? A meal cooked from fresh ingredients beats processed foods containing palm oil every time. Oils such as sunflower, olive, rapeseed or flaxseed are ideal for cooking and baking.
- Read labels: As of December 2014, labeling regulations in the EU require food products to clearly indicate that they contain palm oil. However, in the case of non-food items such as cosmetics and cleaning products, a wide range of chemical names may still be used to hide the use of palm oil. A quick check of your favourite search engine will turn up palm oil-free alternatives, however.
- Remember that the customer is king: Ask your retailers for palm oil-free products. Write product manufacturers and ask them why they aren’t using domestic oils. Companies can be quite sensitive to issues that give their products a bad name, so inquiring with sales staff and contacting manufacturers can make a real difference. Public pressure and increased awareness of the problem have already prompted some producers to stop using palm oil.
- Sign petitions and write your elected representatives: Online campaigns put pressure on policymakers responsible for biofuels and palm oil imports. Have you already signed all of Rainforest Rescue’s petitions?
- Speak out: Protest marches and creative action on the street raise public and media awareness of the issue, which in turn steps up the pressure on policymakers.
- Leave your car at home: Whenever you can, walk, ride a bicycle or use public transport.
- Be informed and inform others: Big Business and governments would like us to believe that biofuels are good for the climate and that oil palm plantations are sustainable. Spread the word – share this information with your family and friends and encourage them to rethink their consumption habits. It’s in our hands!
Although the ad has been celebrated by environmentalists, the other side maintains that palm oil is just not that bad for you and are adamant that large corporations are in fact, responsibly producing palm oil. Whatever side of the page you may be on however, it’s important to realize that numbers don’t lie. There is a significant correlation between palm oil production and the endangerment of orangutans. A species that is “critically endangered” needs consumers to be aware of the impact of their decisions.