The cosmetic industry could stand to learn a thing or two from Forestwise’s mission and transparency. Their Virgin Coconut Oil is the perfect model for the kind of sustainable alternatives consumers need to be more in tune to. The company’s mission to protect the rainforests of Borneo gives it a focal purpose and makes their products like this virgin coconut oil stand out as an impact-driven product you can feel extra good about buying—not just because of the great quality at a price that’s comparable or cheaper than most other coconut oil brands on the market, but also because of the farmers, wildlife, and rainforests you help support. Their transparency is also impressive, given that fact that this product is directly traceable to the farmer that harvested the coconuts, not to mention the video they provide to give you an inside look into the production process. Currently Forestwise has partnered with the major cosmetic brand Lush, and hopefully these partnerships and exposure to consumers will continue to grow because it’s about time that transparent businesses putting people and the planet first became the mainstream. Yes they are a for-profit business, but the the point of Forestwise is not money-centric, it’s Earth and people-centric, and those are the kinds of businesses that are truly sustainable.
It was refreshing to see how straightforward a product this coconut oil is, leaving little to the imagination in terms of what it’s made of and where the ingredients came from. The ingredient list for this coconut oil is pretty simple, made from the Coco Nucifera species of coconuts which are harvested directly from the tree before they have time to age in order to achieve the best quality. It’s 100% natural and non-toxic and, like all Forestwise products, the ingredients are sustainably collected from the rainforest on the island of Borneo (located in Indonesia). Sustainably collecting the coconuts from Borneo is especially important because over 50% of the rainforest there has been lost in the past 50 years, harming both the people and wildlife living in and near the rainforest. Sourcing from this rainforest creates economic value out of protecting it and effectively spreads awareness against deforestation. Because the coconuts are directly harvested from the trees in their natural environment rather than in a monoculture (the agricultural practice of producing one crop at a time in a farming system), there’s no need for environmentally harmful pesticides, fertilizer, or other chemicals. This innovative method begs the question of whether it’s scalable and can stand the test of time and increasing demand for coconut oil. The fact that Forestwise notes they wild-harvest without damaging the rainforest and in fact protect hectares of forest land with this method seems like a good sign that over time the economic value of harvesting the products will be continued to be balanced with preserving rather than exploiting the environment.The product you receive is also directly traceable to the farmer who the coconuts were bought from, so there’s no complicated supply chain or middle men afffecting the fairness of the price or quality of the product. While many of the Forestwise products are organic certified, the virgin coconut oil is not yet listed as certified—however, certification is underway. As for the packaging, the coconut oil is mostly sold in bulk in large drums that are either plastic or metal, both of which are recyclable.
I didn’t have to go farther than the virgin coconut oil’s product page to find an actual header titled “how it’s made” offering an inside look into the process that went into making it and the implications for the environment. The processing facility for the virgin coconut oil is in the center of the Bitung area in North Sulawesi, started as part of a 2015 project initiated by the local Indonesian government of Bitung in order to help support the livelihoods of local small-scale farmers. Forestwise guarantees those farmers a fair price all year round for the coconuts they sell to the processing factory where the coconut oil is produced. This is a notable guarantee for farmers, as companies often in a solely profit-maximizing mindset tend to take advantage of farmers and workers in general with low prices and compensation. These local farmers have few income opportunities, but many of them do have small forest gardens with coconut palms that have been in their family for generations. Because Forestwise sources the coconuts from them, these farmers now have a source of income and motivation to protect their forests. In addition to supporting the small scale farmers, the production of the virgin coconut oil provides jobs to the eighty people working in the production facility. After the initiative’s trial period of just two years, over 250 small farmer families were employed and 275 hectares of natural forest protected (the size of over 500 football fields to help put it in perspective).
The social and environmental impact of production is not only impressive, it’s also traceable. Full traceability of the virgin coconut oil is offered so you can learn the very location of the forest garden, which farmers supplied the coconuts, and even what payments they received for their coconuts. That kind of traceability is not something you see companies offering every day, which goes to show how sustainable they are, because a lot of companies would want to keep things like how much they pay farmers under wraps, indicating that they’re not paying them fairly. A fact sheet provided on the site also explains the coconut oil’s production process which seems fairly simple—the only machines used are shredding/pressing machines for milk extraction and a centrifuge machine for oil separation. Efficient processing technology is something Forestwise prides itself on, setting up sustainable supply chains running from the fresh coconuts provided by local farmers to the end consumer product of the coconut oil. What really helped me understand how the virgin coconut oil is made is a Youtube video I found by Forestwise that took me through the whole process in three minutes. I’d never seen a video like that where a company actually walks you through the production process of a product. I got to see everything from the farmer climbing the tree to cut down the coconuts to the factory worker pouring the final product into its packaging--it doesn’t get much more transparent than that. The one thing I did wonder after learning about the production process was whether Forestwise implements sustainable efforts to combat carbon emissions, particularly concerning any emissions from overseas shipping.
Forestwise’s branding does a great job of making sure you know they are all about saving the rainforests. Just from looking at the packaging your attention is brought to their dedication to creating #RainforestValue and #Stop Deforestation. The company has a very focused impact, sustaining the rainforests of Borneo with their products, protecting the endangered forests and along with it protecting the wildlife, fresh water, air, and soil, as well as the livelihoods of local inhabitants. The protection of the rainforests does rely on restoring its economic value with the products created, but the sourcing and production are done consciously and sustainably with the best interests of the environment and farmers in mind. The sustainability practices implemented are extra impressive considering Forestwise has only been around for two years, founded in 2018 by Theo Smits and Dirk-Jan Oudshoorn. Having witnessed firsthand the destruction caused by massive deforestation in Borneo, they combined their production technology knowledge and passion for sustainability to create Forestwise. It’s clear that at their core, Forestwise stands out from the typical mass-producing, solely profit-driven companies by putting the rainforests and the people who depend on it first. This is evident from their three-fold approach to creating #rainforestvalue. At number one is “conserving the rainforest” with Forestwise’s efforts to advise farmers on how to farm and make products in a way that both provides them a livelihood and conserves the the forests they live by. The other two, “providing efficient processing technology” and “sales distribution,” both have to do with supporting number one, creating a sustainable supply chain and sharing the products with consumers as an eco alternative to effectively raise awareness and work against deforestation.
The support of both people and the planet made me think of how Forestwise’s mission correlates to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Decent Work and Economic Growth (SDG#8) and Life on Land (SDG #15). Forwestwise offering guidance to the farmers and a source of income with a fair price guaranteed for their coconuts provides them a stable livelihood and stimulates the Indonesian economy as well--it’d be great if Forestwise shared some personal stories from the coconut farmers to show more behind the scenes and the tangible impact Forestwise has had on their lives. The support of local farmers then allows for protection of life on land with the intent of creating rainforest value, as the farmers are inspired to protect the environment and therefore all the wildlife that depends on it.