Young Activists See Results From Social-Media Campaign to Make Girl Scout Cookies Palm-Oil-Free

September 27, 2011; Source: Wall Street JournalThis is a follow-up to a story we covered back in May. For the past five years Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen have waged a campaign to try to get the Girl Scouts to change their cookie recipes to exclude the use of palm oil. After doing a joint project focused on the fact that palm oil production leads to the deforestation of the rainforest, which is the habitat of the orangutan, the two girls realized that the cookies they had been selling as scouts contained palm oil. After they tried to no avail to appeal to decision makers in the Girl Scout hierarchy, the girls started a campaign that included appealing to other scout troops to refuse to sell the cookies and communicate via Twitter and Facebook their displeasure with the lack of consideration of Vorva and Tomtishen’s concerns.

This last Wednesday the Girl Scouts finally capitulated to some extent, agreeing to switch to sustainable palm oil by 2015 “if supplies are available.” They will also purchase GreenPalm certificates which provide a premium price to palm oil producers which observe the environmental and social guidelines set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil.

Now 15, Tomitshen comments, “It’s definitely a step in the right direction, however, the steps don’t go far enough. It doesn’t ensure that the cookies will be completely deforestation-free and environmentally friendly.”

“Madison and Rhiannon have done exactly what Girl Scouts teaches girls: Find a cause you care about, connect with others, and take action to change the world,” Amanda Hamaker, the Girl Scouts’ manager of product sales said in a statement. “They are shining examples of leadership in persuading a 99-year-old American icon to take on a serious global issue.”

But the girls obviously do not think the concessions are a slam-dunk win. “We hope that today’s announcement shows that Girl Scouts USA is serious about ensuring that their cookies don’t destroy forests or endanger orangutans and other wildlife,” says Vorva, “and that they’ll strongly urge their bakers to find an alternative oil that is both rainforest-safe and socially responsible. As a nonprofit organization, not a food company, there should be no question that Girl Scout Cookies contain ingredients that live up to the values described in the Girl Scout Law. We look forward to continuing to work with Girl Scouts USA to become a real leader in protecting forests and wildlife.”

Sarah Roquemore of the Union of Concerned Scientists says, “We’re happy to see the Girl Scouts USA acknowledging the seriousness of palm oil’s effect on deforestation. While we applaud this initial announcement, they are still many steps away from ensuring that their cookies are not driving deforestation. The Union of Concerned Scientists welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Girl Scouts USA and work with a coalition of respected environmental organizations to improve the sustainability standards for palm oil.”—Ruth McCambridge