Climate

Why U.S. Donuts Just Got More Environmentally Friendly

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As of Wednesday, your corner donut shop could be significantly more sustainable and forest-friendly.

After months of urging, Krispy Kreme, the American global donut and coffee chain, committed to frying its donuts in palm oil from distributors who aren’t contributing to deforestation. They followed right on the heels of Dunkin’ Donuts, who made a similar commitment on Tuesday.

Palm oil lacks trans fats, so it’s popular for cooking. And beyond that its uses are almost ubiquitous — from baking to lipstick, soaps, and cleaning products. As a result, producing palm oil has grown to become a $44 billion global industry, and the plantations that grow palm oil trees now account for nearly 10 percent of the world’s permanent cropland.

That also makes demand for palm oil a major driver of deforestation, as farmers clear cut ecosystems to make room for the plantations. That threatens the survival of multiple species like orangutans and tigers, as well as the long term health of the climate. Palm oil trees grow in the tropics, so the spread of the industry often results in tropical forests and carbon-rich swamps being drained and dug up, releasing the carbon they’ve sequestered and stored back into the atmosphere.

All told, deforestation around the world accounts for 10 percent of the planet’s annual carbon emissions.

According to the Forest Heroes campaign, Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts committed to ensuring that their palm oil suppliers protect forests, the habitats of endangered species, and preserve lands with high carbon stock. They’ve also committed to ensuring they plantations they contract with respect worker and human rights, and that systems are in place to reliably trace the sources of the palm oil they use. Dunkin’ Donuts specifically said its plan for ensuring traceability by 2015 will be published in the next six months.

“Sourcing even limited amounts of palm oil irresponsibly can contribute to deforestation, loss of natural habitats and other environmental and human rights concerns,” Christine Riley Miller, Dunkin’ Donuts’ senior director of corporate social responsibility, said in a statement. “Therefore, Dunkin’ Brands has created clear guidelines for our suppliers, and to ensure independent verification that our principles are being met, so that by 2016 we can meet our targets of sourcing only responsibly-produced palm oil.”

Krispy Kreme and Dunkin’ Donuts are also just the latest in a growing list of companies who have committed to making sure they only buy their palm oil from distributors who can prove they use sustainable practices that avoid furthering deforestation. The Michigan-based food giant Kellog Co., Hershey Company, NestlĂ©, and the VBelgium-based international food retailer Delhaize group have made similar commitments. And in December of 2013, Wilmar — the world’s largest palm oil trader with control over 45 percent of the global supply — also made a commitment to go deforestation-free.

Unfortunately, the Union of Concerned Scientists also pointed out that Dunkin’ Donuts’ new commitment only applies to its operations within the United States. The company also operates in 59 other countries.

About 90 percent of all palm oil is grown in the tropical areas of Indonesia and Malaysia, where the current plantations account for around 16 million acres — which may spread to 44 million acres if government plans are implemented. And a 2012 study by Stanford suggested that palm oil plantation expansion will add over 558 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2020 — around 1.5 percent of global emissions.