PKG Social Impact Internships: Aviva Intveld (’23)
World Wildlife Fund: Moore Grant Food Commodities GHG Project
The work I am currently doing at World Wildlife Fund (WWF) revolves around the palm oil supply chain: documenting the greenhouse gasses associated with each step of the supply chain (primarily Scope 3 Carbon, which occurs prior to buyer-side transportation and manufacturing for products), comparing the carbon emissions from smallholder production vs. industrial farms/mills, analyzing differences in emissions and the supply chain between countries, and evaluating the efficacy and impact of current certification standards. I have been collaborating with several experts within WWF’s market team who have years of experience in the palm oil sector, but I have also been introduced to professionals from independent NGOs, such as the Good Growth Partnership, which works with the UN to offer resources to buyers for sustainable practices.
I have learned a huge amount not only about palm oil and all the players and people involved in the supply chain but also about corporate social responsibility and the role of NGOs in shifting corporation priorities. For example, this morning I had a conversation with the Good Growth Partnership about consumer pressure and whether the palm oil industry was ready to change due to consumer habits and demand. We discussed that due to the general misinformation surrounding palm oil (i.e. that it is an inherently unhealthy or unsustainable crop rather than that the current farming practices are unsustainable), instead of investing in sustainably-sourced palm oil, eco-conscious consumers are simply attempting to limit their palm oil use, which is near impossible because of how prevalent palm oil is in the majority of products. Instead of consumer pressure, companies are seeking sustainable certification and sourcing due to peer pressure, regulatory pressure and reputation risk.
I’ve never had the opportunity to think about these types of questions and systems before, and looking at the agriculture and economic world in this way has been fulfilling. As we discussed consumer misconceptions I was brainstorming ways that we can work on educating the general public and stimulating consumer demand. Additionally, in light of our new president and exciting new federal commitments to sustainability, I was also thinking about ways that we can incentivize the government to take action. While corporations are inherently profit motivated and we can hope that the government is not, these same questions regarding motivations and demands remain relevant.
Lastly, I’ve been thinking a lot these past three weeks about the individual palm oil farmers, especially smallholders in Central and Western Africa, South America and Southeast Asia. For many of them, palm has become a way out of poverty. It’s a high yield and high demand crop. But it has also dramatically worsened air quality for many of these communities, especially when peatlands and forests are burned and the fires get out of control. I think it’s important to be thoughtful in our language and approach so as to not to demonize smallholders for their farm management practices, even if they are not sustainable, and instead recognize that they are some of the individuals who are most affected by deforestation and air pollution. That’s why it’s been so rewarding to read the National Interpretations of certification standards and to see the community-based work that WWF supports. I have spent days reading documents only available in Spanish to synthesize information, which excites me because it means that a lot of this work is by and for the people it impacts.
I admit I was slightly wary of working for a sustainability non-profit, especially one that collaborates with companies like PepsiCo or Unilever, because I had an image of them in my head as appeasing and greenwashing. I even brought up these concerns to Emily my first day of work, and she was fantastic in addressing them and explaining why she believed working alongside corporations is important. Maybe, then, the best part of this job is that I have regained a sense of optimism in non-profits and checks on corporations and I believe that organizations like WWF are truly doing great work. I am newly motivated to put effort into environmental consulting and research and recognize the value of teams like these.
Want to learn more about the PKG Social Impact Internships Program? Visit our webpage to learn about ELO opportunities for Spring 2021, and stay tuned for information for summer 2021 postings!