CSPO Explained

For those new to the topic, Sustainable Palm Oil is often a confusing field loaded with jargon and acronyms. In this section we attempt to simplify this rather large topic into something everyone can understand.


The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was founded in 2004 to develop standards for the production and distribution of sustainable palm oil. The RSPO now has over 2000 members from every aspect of the industry including not for profits, growers, manufacturers and retailers.

How do we define Sustainable Palm Oil? The RSPO Principles and Criteria

The RSPO sets rules that producers must abide by in order to be certified as ‘sustainable’. The rules cover a wide range of issues but most importantly they prevent the clearing of virgin rainforest from 2005 onwards. They also set a maximum peat depth of 3 m which ensures plantations are not contributing to climate change. While we believe these rules could be stricter, they are a strong internationally recognised base for ensuring an end to deforestation for the sake of palm oil.

The three systems of Sustainable Palm Oil

While plantations are all certified according to the same rules there are actually three different systems of delivering the palm oil from the certified plantation to the products we buy. The three different systems are vastly different so it is important to know the key differences.

Segregated Supply

Key points:
  • The most rigorous and reliable certification
  • Sustainable palm oil is kept separate right through to the end product
  • Full traceability through the supply chain
  • The palm oil in the end product is 100 percent certified sustainable palm oil
  • More costly to run because it requires a separate supply chain. Not always possible in some areas.
How it works:

Segregated Supply ensures full traceability of the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. At no point is it in contact with conventional palm oil so it is the most rigorous and reliable form of CSPO.

What to look for:

Companies using segregated supply can use the RSPO logo and can claim that ‘this product contains certified sustainable palm oil’

Mass Balance

Key points:
  • A reliable stepping stone on the way to Segregated Supply. Very useful for complex supply chains of palm oil derivatives.
  • Sustainable palm oil is mixed with conventional palm oil and then sold in original proportions
  • Traceability through the supply chain
  • The palm oil in the end product is a mixture of conventional and sustainable palm oil
  • Cheaper than Segregated Supply to implement as it doesn’t require physical separation of conventional and sustainable palm oil.
How it works:

Mass Balance is a traceable form of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil. In this supply chain Sustainable Palm Oil and Conventional Palm Oil are mixed for the purposes of manufacturing and transport but the original proportions are maintained. For example: if 200 tonnes of conventional palm oil and 100 tonnes of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil enters the mill then at the end of the supply chain 200 tonnes is sold as conventional palm oil and 100 tonnes is sold as Certified Sustainable even though the oils have mixed in the process.

What to look for:

Producers who use Mass Balance can use the RSPO logo and can claim that the palm oil “Contributes to the production of Sustainable Palm Oil.” Unlike Segregated Supply they cannot claim that it is Certified Sustainable Palm Oil.

Greenpalm (Book and Claim)

Key points:
  • The absolute bare minimum that a company should be doing. We believe that Greenpalm is no longer an acceptable form of sustainable palm oil except in very specific circumstances
  • Involves the trading of certificates in a similar way to a carbon offset scheme
  • No traceability
  • The palm oil in the end product is conventional palm oil
  • Cheap system to run
How it works:

Certified plantations sell their palm oil on the international market as conventional palm oil. The RSPO issues certificates for the amount of palm oil produced sustainably which is then purchased by companies to offset the palm oil they are using in their products. A portion of the money goes to the producer. The actual palm oil in the product is no better than any other product.

This system was designed as an interim measure while more traceable supply chains could be established. Now that Mass Blalance and Segregated Supply are working we believe companies should have already moved on to Mass Balance or Segregated Supply.

What to look for:

Producers who use Greenpalm are not allowed to use the RSPO logo so can only use the Greenpalm logo. They can only claim that the palm oil “Contributes to the production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil”