Rubicon Bakery: Doing Good and Actively Trying to Get to Sustainable Palm Oil

Rubicon

My girlfriend purchased a Rubicon bar the other day.  She noticed there was palm oil in it after buying it and I told her I would fire off one of my “No Conflict Palm Oil” emails to them.

Here’s their response:

Thanks so much for taking the time to write.

I agree with you and would prefer not to use commodity palm oil.  We are working to find a replacement for commodity palm oil, but we are not there yet.  The supply of sustainable palm oil is not reliable in the volume which we use and it also costs multiples of commodity palm oil.  Our customers have not been willing to pay the premium even if we could find a sufficient supply.

Our guiding mission as a business is to help people in our local community turn their lives around after being released from incarceration or graduation from drug treatment programs.  In order to do this we need to grow as a business.  In the past five years we’ve grown from 14 employees to over 100.  That’s a lot of people that we have been able to help through our growth.

If we were to focus on using only sustainable palm oil we would have to limit our growth and our ability to help those in need in our local community.  We do our best to juggle many competing interests when making business decisions.  Chocolate, coffee, sugar, vegetable oil, our water usage, packaging requirements – they all have costs and related environmental impacts and we struggle every day to find the right balance.

I am sorry that we came down on the wrong side of the decision for you and I hope that we can remedy that issue in the future.

Thanks again for your thoughtful email.

This was way disappointing to me on the palm oil front.  So without knowing a thing about this company I fired back impulsively:

Thanks for the very disappointing news.  Wow.

Two things:

1.  You say:  “If we were to focus on using only sustainable palm oil we would have to limit our growth and our ability to help those in need in our local community.”  Do you mean to tell me that the environment of YOUR children and their children is LESS important than short term business growth?  The environment and jobs are not mutually exclusive.

2.  You say:  “Our customers have not been willing to pay the premium even if we could find a sufficient supply.”  Give me a break.  I’m a customer (well, I WAS a customer) and I was never notified or asked whether I’d pay a “premium” to find a sufficient supply of sustainable palm oil (what, pay a few cents more?).  I would venture to say that your customers would NEVER buy a product if they knew it was causing deforestation and the death of critically endangered species, like the beloved orangutan, simply to make a snack food.  Rather, I would venture to say that they simply do NOT know of the environmental costs of their purchase.

I will post your thoughtful response on my no conflict palm oil blog.

Then I decided to do a little research on this company.  They have been profiled in many major papers and in northern California publications for their progressive hiring practices (as detailed above).

See:  http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Making-a-difference/2014/0314/Andrew-Stoloff-s-Rubicon-Bakery-gives-a-second-chance-to-ex-cons

http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Trust-proves-profitable-for-Rubicon-Bakery-owner-4617849.php

So obviously, they do care about the world and are really trying to do right by palm oil at some point soon.   Feeling a bit guilty that I called them out so tersely, I quickly wrote them back, trying to make amends:

Despite my disappointment on the current status of the palm oil in your products, I applaud your company’s progressive employment policies and “second chance” hiring.  It’s great.  You’re doing good.  Now if we can just get certified, traceable, sustainable palm oil into the supply chain soon so that we can save the world’s last rainforests — and not contribute to global warming, displacement, destruction and death of orangutans, etc.

I’m a fan and supporter….

They responded with an email that made both of our days:

We are both trying to do better for the world and I am glad you are working hard to help resolve this problem.  I meant it when I said that we are trying to find a solution to the palm oil issue.

Thanks for your email – it made my day.

 

Clearly my passion for the palm oil issue sometimes gets the better of me.  What’s most important is the last line above:

I meant it when I said that we are trying to find a solution to the palm oil issue.  (Emphasis added.)

We’re new fans and supporters.  Rubicon Bakery:  Doing good!

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