Certification standards for sustainable palm oil

Certification standards

Below you will find an overview of those certification systems FONAP accepts. 

RSPO Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO), which was set up in 2004 on the initiative of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF), Malaysian Palm Oil Association (MPOA), Unilever, Migros and AAK.The RSPO is an international not-for-profit membership organisation that aims are to unite the various stakeholders of the palm oil industry to promote the growth and use of sustainable palm oil through a credible global  standard. The stakeholders come from seven sectors of the palm oil industry: palm oil producers, processors and traders, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, banks/investors, and environmental and social non-governmental organisations.

The first shipments of certified palm oil and palm kernel oil became commercially available in 2008. In 2020, around 3.1 million hectares of palm oil plantations were certified by RSPO. This is almost 15 percent of the global land under cultivation for oil palms.[1]  No other certification scheme is as extensive. The RSPO has more than 5000 members globally of whom nearly 500 are in Germany. Germany is thus one of the strongest supporters of the RSPO.

In 2007, RSPO developed the first set of Principles and Criteria (P&C) which are reviewed every five years. The 2018 RSPO P&C consists of seven principles that define sustainable palm oil production. These global guidelines are intended to ensure that the basic rights of indigenous landowners, local communities, plantation workers and smallholders and their families are respected and fully considered. Members of RSPO also promise to ensure that no further areas of rainforest or areas of high conservation value will be cleared for palm oil production. The principles and criteria also specify that mills and farms must keep their environmental impacts to a minimum.

RSPO Principles 


The following seven principles must be observed by RSPO members: 

  1. Behave ethically and transparently
  2. Operate legally and respect rights
  3. Optimise productivity, efficiency, positive impacts and resilience
  4. Respect community and human rights and deliver benefits
  5. Support smallholder inclusion 
  6. Respect workers' rights and conditions 
  7. Protect, conserve and enhance ecosystems and the environment 

ISCC International Sustainability and Carbon Certification

The International Sustainability and Carbon Certification (ISCC) standard was developed in 2006 in a multi-stakeholder process involving growers, processors, traders and representatives of environmental and social organisations. The standard aims to establish environmental and social sustainability criteria for all types of farmed biomass.

It verifies compliance with the requirements of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (EU RED) and Germany’s sustainability ordinances on the use of biofuel and bioelectricity (Biokraft-NachV) as they relate to biomass. ISCC Plus can be used to certify sustainable palm oil and palm kernel oil.

The ISCC standard has been recognised in Germany since July 2010 (the ISCC DE standard). In July 2011 the European Commission recognised the ISCC EU standard for all types of biomass and biofuels. The new ISCC PLUS system was launched in 2012, enabling users who are already certified under ISCC DE and ISCC EU to extend their sustainability certification to other sectors such as food and feed. ISCC is now one of the most successful certification schemes in the world. More than 21,000 certificates have been issued to over 3,300 users of the system in 100 countries. Thirty-two independent certification bodies monitor the criteria of the ISCC standard. The interests of the different stakeholders are represented by the non-profit association ISCC e.V., which currently has 138 members (July 2020).

Applicants for ISCC PLUS certification must abide by the following six principles:

  1. Biomass must not be produced on land with high biodiversity value or high carbon stock.
  2. Agricultural production must comply with good agricultural practices. This includes protection of soil fertility, water quality and water quantity, reduction of emissions and minimal use of pesticides.
  3. Safe working conditions must be promoted through training and education, use of protective clothing and proper and timely assistance in the event of accidents.
  4. Biomass production must not violate human rights, labour rights or land rights. It must promote responsible labour conditions and workers' health, safety and welfare and be based on responsible community relations.
  5. Biomass production must comply with all applicable regional and national laws and relevant international treaties.
  6. Good management practices must be implemented.

Further information on ISCC PLUS certification can be found in our factsheet.

RSB Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials

The Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials (RSB) is an international initiative that brings together producers, companies, non-governmental organisations, experts, governments and inter-governmental organisations with the aim of promoting the sustainable production and processing of biomaterials. It currently has about 100 members.

The RSB was established in 2007 as the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels, which set out to promote sustainable bioenergy. In response to the growing demand for biomaterials, it was renamed the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials in March 2013. Biomaterials are products produced from biomass. They include bioenergy products such as liquid biofuels, as well as biomass and biogas for the generation of heat and electricity. Bioplastics and biocosmetics, bio food additives, bio-based chemicals and biofuels are also classed as biomaterials.

In 2011 the Roundtable on Sustainable Biomaterials established a standard for sustainably produced biomaterials that is based on 12 principles and 39 criteria.

RSB members must abide by 12 principles that cover the following areas:

  1. Legality
  2. Planning, monitoring and continuous improvement
  3. Greenhouse gas emissions
  4. Human and labour rights
  5. Rural and social development
  6. Local food security
  7. Conservation
  8. Soil
  9. Water
  10. Air quality
  11. Technology, inputs and waste
  12. Land rights

Further information on the work of the RSB and its criteria and principles can be found here: http://rsb.org/ 


The Rainforest Alliance (RA) developed its standard in the 1990s in cooperation with the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN). The Rainforest Alliance was actively involved in the development of the RSPO standard and has also aligned its standard with ISCC in order to ensure that the various standards for sustainable oil palm cultivation are harmonised as far as possible.

SAN is a coalition of non-profit, independent conservation groups which seek to promote environmentally and socially sustainable agriculture. It encourages producers to switch from conventional farming to good agricultural practices that are more sustainable. Certification covers measures such as regular training of tropical farmers in rural areas and ongoing technical support. The standard is based on the three pillars of ‘healthy environment’, ‘social equity’ and ‘economic viability’, and it comprises ten principles and 99 criteria.

Since 1992, around 2 million farms in 42 countries have been awarded Rainforest Alliance certification. These farms, which include both family-run smallholdings and plantations, cover in total 3.5 million hectares and cultivate more than 100 crops – mainly coffee, cocoa, bananas and tea, but also oil palms (as at May 2020).

In July 2020, the Rainforest Alliance introduced a new certification program that combines various requirements for sustainable agriculture and responsible practices along the supply chain. The focus is on the following key elements:

  • Introduction to the standard
  • Climate-smart agriculture
  • Deforestation
  • Conserving biodiversity
  • Human rights
  • Shared responsibility
  • Living wage
  • Continuous improvement
  • Living income
  • Risk-based assurance
  • Gender equality

The Rainforest Alliance decided in 2021 to phase out palm oil certification and will stop its activities in this area at the end of 2022. The validity of the last palm oil certificates will expire in June 2023.