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Who’s the underdog?

8 Aug 2017

There’s no denying Australians love an underdog.  As a nation we’re really good at getting behind a cause.  The recent Golden North versus the Zoo is no exception.  But let’s take a step back for a moment, pause and draw breath.  Have the public forgotten that the Zoo is a charity not for profit,  who are responsible for  feeding the mouths of hundreds of its residents daily.  The Zoo is not Coles or Woolworths.  Its vision is to lead and achieve long-term conservation change through its internationally renowned sites, programs and people.  Its number one goal is to save species from extinction, work in an ethical and sustainable manner and apply innovation to its business approach.   So what’s the Zoo done wrong?  I stand here proudly defending the Zoo whose only crime, I can see, is to source much needed sustainable funds for its long-term survival.  OK so its partnered with Unilever who I admit, haven’t got the squeaky clean report card that we like, but they’ve learnt from their misgivings and like it or not big business needs to be part of this global environmental dilemma.  Unilever will provide the Zoo with much needed sponsorship funds and is committed to standing behind its pledge to deliver certified sustainable palm oil.

Two years ago Golden North was using unsustainable non-certified palm oil and through its partnership with Zoos SA began reviewing its supply chain.  So in August 2012 they could publicly declare they were 100% palm oil free.  Funny – I never heard of the palm oil free product until the whole fiasco hit social media over the weekend.  So in the last two years what has Golden North done to market its 100% palm oil free ice creams? Was it placed loudly and proudly on its packaging? Did they roll out a considered thought provoking communication strategy? Did they engage any mainstream media? While the initiative is admirable they haven’t done much with it. And just maybe that’s why we haven’t embraced Golden North’s ‘100% palm oil free ice creams’ – we simply didn’t know. So I can’t help but feel this whole debacle (while it may not be intentional) smells of green wash, a form of spin where green PR or green marketing is deceptively used to promote the perception of an organization’s product.  I’m not sure what Golden North’s wider environmentally sound practices are but I for one would like to know. Are their products sustainably packaged, what are their value chain practices, do they support lowering green house gas emission, what is their policy on sustainable dairy farming? 

These things I do not know.

What I do know is the outcome for Golden North will be positive – with great public support they will see an increase in sales and most likely greater distribution opportunities.  Unfortunately Zoos SA will be the casualty.

What is so incredulous is this scenario is completely opposite to the recent Spring Gully issue where an ailing South Australian food manufacturer hit the skids and through people power the company turned around. The difference – there were no casualties. A public poll conducted on Adelaide Now showed that 80% of consumers intend to boycott the Zoo. This is where a little bit of knowledge and the power of Social Media can have devastating affects.

Zoo SA’s partnership with Unilever offers a global solution to a global problem and provides Zoos SA with an opportunity to help drive positive change globally.  Like it or not it is one of the world’s largest food companies but this partnership will dramatically increase the scale of their conservation efforts and impact.  Like them or hate them Unilever’s global commitment that by the end of 2014 all palm oil will be traceable to known sources and by 2020 all of the palm oil they buy globally will come from certified sustainable sources as per the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil criteria. The World Wildlife Fund for Nature is monitoring Unilever’s progress who incidentally most recently scored top in relation to commitment and action on sustainable palm oil.

And as Zoos SA have cited on their Facebook page – Encouraging a complete shift away from palm oil may push manufacturers to source alternative oils like soy or rapeseed which can require six to ten times more land than is needed for palm oil. The production of Certified Sustainable Palm Oil aims to foster sustainable livelihoods for the millions of people who rely on this industry and alleviate the conflicts commonly associated with the development of new plantations.

The palm oil issue needs to be approached globally and as a collective group Australian Zoos have immense buying power and are well placed to support positive social advocacy in regards to the use of sustainable palm oil.  They just haven’t got the message through successfully this time.

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