Q&A with Sharon Redrobe

Team Little Soap are super excited to bring you another Q&A blog post, this time from the CEO of Twycross Zoo, Sharon Redrobe. With World Wildlife Day fast approaching (3rd March), we wanted to celebrate not only the amazing work that the zoo does as an award winning conservation charity- but also the vital steps that need to be taken in order to protect and develop wildlife across the globe. Sharon tell us what steps we, as customers, can take and how the zoo is contributing to the wider cause too. To find out more about Sharon’s reasons behind her passion for animals, you can catch her TEDx talk on why she runs a zoo here.

Q: In your talk, you mention zoos being arks that are keeping species going until we can restore them to the wild.  How can the wildlife loving public best support this work – besides obviously buying a zoo ticket?

Q&A with Sharon Redrobe_LittleSoapCompany.co.ukA: Well really as my argument is that zoos are acting as arks – so it really is to ‘get to know your local zoo’ and if they are part of this conservation network (most are, some aren’t) then support via donations and spreading the word to support the mission is the best thing we can do to save species. There are many projects, run by zoos or independent other charities, that are also supporting wild populations.

Q: What are the most effective things you think concerned consumers can do to support positive changes in healing our injured planet?

A: Some of it is as simple as making careful choices in your weekly shop such as buying sustainably sourced palm oil only (like EcoWarrior!!), holding on to your mobile phone a bit longer or recycling it, eating more locally grown veggies, using metal straws rather than plastic throw-away ones (our son has one – they are quite trendy too!), taking the train instead of driving. Little things do make a difference when there are so many of us humans now – as I say in my TEDx talk – ‘oh its only one more mobile phone…. says 7 billion people’!

Q: It’s clear you and Emma share a passion about the potential of sustainable palm oil to be part of helping address the deforestation crisis.  If you could describe a future where people have undone the damage caused by mass palm oil monoculture, what does that look like? In the near future, and the far future?

A: In the near future, more palm oil plantations will gain sustainable palm oil certification, meaning the palm oil is produced in a way where there are minimal impacts upon primary forests, local communities and the animals which inhabit surrounding areas.

In the far future, all palm oil plantations will be certified sustainable, no new palm oil plantations will be created, which will have eliminated the “slash and burn” technique which causes forest fragmentation and forest fires consequently affecting all fauna and flora which inhabit the areas. Areas where previous palm oil plantations would be replanted, taking approximately 200-400 years for sufficient forest biodiversity to re-establish. Animals and plants will be thriving in areas where they are not under threat and able to reproduce and increase in numbers.

Q: Palm oil production generates so much negative attention – understandably.  Sustainable palm also struggles to get a positive press too, thought this is changing now.  Why do you think that is?  

A: Consumers are becoming more aware of the complexity of the issues of palm oil plantations and most known is the effect on orang utans in Indonesia, mainly due to conservation and ethical organisations as well as broadcast media such as David Attenborough’s well known documentaries. The media has a big part to play in getting more organisations to talk about the positive solutions, and more people are starting to understand the answers aren’t just black and white.

If we boycott palm oil this will impact local communities who rely on palm oil for their livelihoods, it will also put pressure on other alternative oils to be produced which are not as efficient – all these factors need to be considered. Many companies are moving towards sustainable palm oil which helps promote the positive press surrounding sustainable palm oil. If consumers see their favourite brands are now using sustainable palm oil, it ignites a thought and potential for behaviour change.

Q: If someone were to say that sustainable palm is just “greenwashing” and it doesn’t make any difference, what’s your reply to this?

A: People like to hear black or white solutions, but that’s not the case with palm oil. The best solution in the case of palm oil – is sustainable.

The term “greenwashing” could be attributed to numerous things, including “boycotting palm oil”. We encourage all consumers to try to do their own research, or take an interest in conservation charities and the messages they are sharing.

Q: Can you give us a bit of insight into how the sustainable palm industry and reforestation efforts work together on the ground?

A: Certified sustainable plantations commit to the protection of forests and wildlife and enforce best practices to increase yield without expanding to new areas. In Indonesia, forest loss has fallen to its lowest since 2003 (correct of 2018) because of increased sustainable plantations.

Reforestation can take between 200-400 years for forests to be able to support animals such as the orang-utans, so again, this isn’t a quick fixable solution. Many organisations are working together to reforest areas impacted by derelict palm oil plantations, but this will take time.

Q: Any other thoughts you’d like to share with us on this complex topic?

A: Again, understanding that palm oil is not a black or white issue and we all need to play our part and make our mark on conservation to protect our rainforests. We are now in the 6th extinction crisis and if nothing changes endangered species will go extinct in the wild. Sustainable palm oil is a key, big step in reducing deforestation.