Environmental Impact of Coconut Oil

Answered on April 05, 2016
Created April 15, 2012 at 9:09 AM

I use coconut oil (extra virgin) for everything. Hair, skin, teeth, and cooking. I think it's a wonderful, amazing gift. But, I wonder how environmentally friendly it is, as it's still harvested in tropical or warm regions. Whether the coconut crop has environmental impact (I heard that palm kernel has environmental impact though), and whether the coconut oil has a lot of exploitation of human labor behind it. I do wonder about these, but I am having a hard time researching. Does anyone know, or can show links? If there is exploitation behind the coconut oil, what brands should I look out for?


on August 27, 2014
at 01:24 PM

Oil from algae has better character and quality, is environmently save as well as sustainabile.  Oil from algae last longer for deep frying, can be made into fuel for cars, boats and planes, is use for skin products, stabalize chocolate, lubricate cutting tools such as drills and metal working, oil well drilling.  Flour made from algae has been around since before Christ and is healthier than other flours.



on April 15, 2012
at 03:48 PM

so I wonder if I could grow a coconut tree in my backyard...



on April 15, 2012
at 12:37 PM

@Ralph...so true:/



on April 15, 2012
at 12:18 PM

Humans, especially modern humans, generally don't have a positive impact on the environment. Ever. We also generally don't treat other people fairly if we can get away with it. I applaud your concern though.

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8 Answers


on April 15, 2012
at 12:33 PM

I tried to find some better unbiased, science-based links, but this was all I could find. Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. You asked about brands and such, so I found a little bit on that.

                                 ***Human Labor***

1) It seems pretty labor intensive according to how Jamaican Gold gets their raw virgin organic coconut oil through labor intensive methods. You can see their "step-by-step illustration" here


2) Coconut picking can be a risky job often left for the poor

As he approaches his first tree of the day, S. Mohan presses his calloused palms together and bows his head???Oh God, I am climbing the coconut tree,??? he whispers. ???Protect me from harm.??? With no safety gear beyond a strap of palm frond tied around his ankles, he launches himself onto the tree???s arcing trunk, which rises dozens of feet into the air. With a swift series of spider-like maneuvers, he is at the top of the tree within seconds, slicing the nuts from their stems with a heavy blade he carries tucked into his loincloth.One misstep and he would surely fall, as much as 100 feet to the ground.


3) Child labor is used to gather coconuts in the Philippines


4) On human labor from Pure & Green Organics brand coconut oil

We choose to source fair trade certified organic ingredients wherever possible as part of our internal social justice policy to ensure there is no child labour used, above average wages paid, and education and health care benefits provided to farmers.

                        ***Sustainability/Environmental Impact*** 

1) Harvesting of coconut oil more earth-friendly than palm oil

As I suspected, coconut oil is a vastly more sustainable product than icky old palm oil, primarily because palm oil production entails razing entire fields and forests of trees???sadly, it is akin to slash-and-burn deforesting tactics used to clear-cut land to graze animals, which is one reason many of us became vegetarian in the first place. This process obviously destroys entire ecosystems, but it seems to have a particularly devastating effect on endangered orangutans. Coconut oil production, on the other hand, entails harvesting the fruits of the tree and letting the tree live so it can continue to produce more coconuts.


2) Earth Friendly Products claims to be sustainable

When coconuts are used, it is considerably easy to replace them. Coconut trees can grow in almost any kind of soil even in sandy soils in seashores. More so, they live and bear fruit for up to more than sixty years. It is considered a "three-generation tree" which can support a farmer, his children and his grandchildren. Coconut oil is regarded as renewable resource which can be grown again in contrast to fossil and mineral raw materials such as crude oil, coals, ores, etc. whose occurrence is limited and finite..Earth Friendly Products uses coconut oil based surfactants as oppose to the palm oil to prevent the environmental and socio-economic impacts of palm oil that have caused substantial and irreversible damage to the natural environment. In addition to that we are aiming to establish a system to promote environmental sustainability in our contracts and purchasing by including environmental sustainability as a criterion for the point evaluation of vendors and contractors doing business with Earth Friendly Products. Earth Friendly Products is working with the stakeholders to evolve the industry to a more sustainable model.


Kelapo claims to be sustainable and use fair trade when it comes to harvesting for their coconut oil.

The factory also showcases virtually complete recycling of all process by-products and waste: husks are sold for fiber and coco peat, coconut shells generate steam in our boiler and are sold for charcoal and activated carbon, the seed cake is sold for animal feed, and the wastewater is treated and used for irrigation and groundwater recharge.

Even in transport, we employ practices that are supporting the sustainability of our environment. Our shipments are packaged in special totes that can store as much as two to six steel drums in 20% less space. Plus, the totes contain no metal and are completely recyclable and biodegradable.

Additionally, the ???Fair for Life??? premium we pay on all coconut oil purchased from Sri Lanka, supports a wide range of community development projects, including worker???s welfare, education, and health care



on April 15, 2012
at 03:48 PM

so I wonder if I could grow a coconut tree in my backyard...



on April 15, 2012
at 11:44 AM

The environmental impact of palm oil (since you mentioned it) is due to deforestation and tendency to grow it monoculture. This also happens primarily in SE Asia. Palm oil from Africa is considered sustainable (and delicious!)

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_palm_oil

For coconut oil, I don't know.


on April 05, 2016
at 02:20 PM

Enjoy your coconut oil, but you're delusional if you think it isn't produced via the destruction of rainforests and mangrove forests - two of the most productive ecosystems on the planet.

Do a bit of Googling, and you'll find plenty of sources confirming this.


on January 19, 2016
at 05:07 AM

Good on you Paleomofo for thinking about where your oil comes from, you're obviously switched on.

Don't be fooled by marketing and trending of coconut products on social media etc. it may have a few health benefits that perhaps some other oils don't, but coconut farming for the export industry is not sustainable (Plus some other oils have health benefits that coconut oil doesn't). 

Environmental impact of coconut farming is quite locally severe, much like any intensive form of agriculture. Native areas of forest, swamp, and other vegetation are clearfelled and replaced with coconut palm plantations. Although coconut palm plantations swaying in the breeze are considered quite scenic on a postcard from the Phillipines, the monoculture of coconut farming on a large scale is causing a lot of environmental damage. 

The main difference between the palm oil industry and the coconut oil industry is that there is currently a much greater demand for palm oil globally, therefore the rate of deforestation and replacement with palm oil plantations is way higher. 

However, the process of both farming for cononut oil and for palm oil is almost exactly the same: 
1. Harvest oil 2. Clearfell native vegetation 3. Replace with monoculture plantation of desired oil to increase market supply 4. Continue harvesting until market demand grows beyond your plantations supply 5. Clearfell more native vegetation 4. Replace with monoculture plantation of desired oil to increase market supply 5. Continue harvesting until market demand grows beyond your plantations supply 6. Clearfell more native vegetation.. etc. the cycle continues.

There are so many different ways to tackle all the issues associated with such a high demand of a natural resource, that I'm not going to go into all of them. But unfortunately this environmentally destructive cycle will continue as long as the demand for palm oil and coconut oil remain at such high levels and are being sourced in such simplified ways.

The best thing you can do is research the product you're getting beyond reading the brands label or website statement. Find out how and where they are sourcing their product. Sadly in most cases, this information will be difficult to find, incredibly vague, or non existant as our suppliers themselves might not be too sure of where it has all come from originally in the supply chain.

Purchasing palm sugar can actually be an effective way to work against the deforestation caused by palm oil production. This is because palm sugar producers require other native plants to grow in symbiotic relationships with their palms as it improves palm sugar production. So palm sugar producers often reforest land to selectively tap into the palm sugar production more effectively. The palm sugar industry is often actually reforesting land that was previously deforested by palm oil, but the demand for palm sugar is not as high, so the rate of deforestation from palm oil is continuing to worsen.


Hopefully some of that information has been useful. It's one big web of complexity filled with economical, environmental, and moral dilemmas. I'm stoked you've taken an interest in it, as we all should take an interest in all the different products we use in our lives.



on November 12, 2015
at 05:57 PM

@Paleomofo, yes unfortunately there are tons of environmental and ethical problems with coconuts. Even major USDA certified organic brands (won't name but... TT and others) and so on, have been fined numerous times by the Phillipine Coconut Oil Authority, as the industry and trade is SO MASSIVE over there they actually have a government branch to oversee it. Fines for even organic brands range from illegal home kitchen cooks in poor conditions using sub par coconuts, to bleaching (to whiten). The reason this happens, even with certified organic is partly because this industry operates exclusively via brokers. Supply chains are so unclear and it's like gold over there and they try to keep a steady supply flow coming here. We don't ever see much fluctuation. They get coconuts from anywhere and anyone they can. And everything I've looked into on the market has ALWAYS been dry milled, which means you're wasting a lot of money, as many of the nutrients are lost. There are also no surprise audits by certification bodies, so really people are just on good behavior once a year to get certified, but it doesn't mean they use a particular farm all year. And there is nothing to stop a broker or organization who deals in certified organic, to go anywhere they can to meet a demand. And because of the way we purchase here, we just don't understand what the coconut industry is like over there. I've researched this to death, and I've only personally been able to find one brand who wet mills their OWN family farm coconuts, which they get from home, and they make it by hand in Batavia Illinois. Took me forever to find this company. It's run by two sisters who own the company and it's an incredibly rare instance in the industry where the same people who make the fresh coconut oil get the coconuts from their own family farm. So no brokers involved which is unheard of. I won't state their name, but the coconut oil that they make they can issue tons of paperwork about it, and their process, and testing, and their source, if you call or email. Also, if you like the brand you use, they can email you a list of questions that your coconut oil company should be able to answer and verify. But I've never heard of anyone else who wet mills, and also doesn't go through a broker. Made fresh from their own family farm (single source) is next to unheard of in the industry. They sell online, and wholesale if you call, and though the product is more geared towards pets, as they have a passion for dogs, it's still just organic coconut oil, non-gmo cert and it truly is amazing stuff. I've even snacked on the macaroons they make which are pretty tasty. I order my oil in 12 case bulk and I noticed the difference immediately on first purchase. Great for food, and I use it in all my coconut soap. It's good for everything. I didn't realize what true fresh milled coconut oil was like. The company is in Batavia IL and one of the sisters I've dealt with is Charisa, who is a wealth of information. I don't want to name any names but just Google "Batavia IL, Coconut Oil, Charisa". You'll notice the oil and snacks are geared towards pets. Thanks for caring about sustainability and ethical products, I truly hope I helped.


on June 02, 2013
at 12:58 AM

If there is enough demand for coconut oil, they will slash and burn vast acreage to grow it, too. Palm oil is just used in more things, so it needs more land. There is no truly sustainable anything when we demand more and more.


on November 14, 2012
at 04:27 PM

I can't answer all of your questions, but I know Kelapo coconut oil, www.kelapo.com, is a fair trade brand and you can read all about their practcies on their website.



on April 15, 2012
at 04:30 PM

Coconut flour may be considered more environmental friendly than coconut oil. I say this because the major commercial products of coconut are copra, coconut oil (derived from copra), and desiccated coconut, while domestic uses are predominantly coconut milk with the residue being discarded. Coconut residue can be milled into flour which can be used in cooking and is a good source of fiber.

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