Every year, large areas of forest are cleared to make way for soy and palm oil plantations, which largely supply the Western, as well as the Chinese market. Significant amounts of valuable grasslands and other ecosystems are lost too. The consequences of irresponsible expansion for biodiversity, human rights and the climate are devastating. Mining, including for the energy transition, is also taking its toll. IUCN NL focuses on several levels to make the commercial chains of these products greener and more sustainable.

Reducing the footprint of the Dutch economy

Dutch companies and financial institutes are major players in the commercial chains of soy, palm oil and minerals for the energy transition. These markets have boomed in recent years. Soy, for example, is used in cattle feed for Dutch farming, and palm oil in biodiesel (for non-Dutch applications), food and all kinds of consumer products. Minerals for metals such as lithium, copper, nickel and cobalt are extracted for applications including batteries, electric engines and electrical networks. By engaging in dialogue with important players in the chain, IUCN NL aims to reduce the harmful effects and thus decrease the ecological footprint of the Dutch economy.

Making value chains ecological and more socially sustainable

The role of IUCN NL is to serve as a bridge that facilitates joint steps towards increased sustainability based on knowledge and vision. This enables us to bring together NGOs, companies and the authorities for each commercial chain, applying the basic principle that the chains continue to exist but are made ecological as well as more socially sustainable. With regard to soy, IUCN NL set up the multi-stakeholder platform for soy (Dutch Soy Platform), in which the authorities, large companies and social organisations make agreements on sustainable soy. In addition, for palm oil and raw materials for the energy transition, IUCN NL is bringing parties together to encourage better commercial practices.


Mine in the Philippines
(c) Erwin Mascarinas
Soy beans
(c) Shutterstock (ID: 1467898517)
Oil palm trees
Oil palm in Malaysia

Voluntary and mandatory sustainability standards

One of the most effective tools for making a value chain more sustainable is the broad and voluntary application of strict sustainability standards. In 2019, we carried out a benchmark study of six standards for palm oil. It was used to advise the government, companies and asset managers to adopt the best standard, that of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm oil (RSPO), but also to improve monitoring of the standard. However, it is important that sustainability is not voluntary and that it is made a requirement, also in the European context.

Influence at the European level

Standards and rules work best if there is a level playing field for businesses, which means if the agreed sustainability requirements apply to the sector as a whole. This is why IUCN NL applies its knowledge at the EU level, including in relation to the Deforestation Law, which aims to put an end to deforestation worldwide. We provided five criteria for European companies and financial institutes to determine the enterprises with which they can do business.

The big picture

For IUCN NL the ultimate goal is for all raw materials worldwide to be produced in a socially responsible manner with the conservation of biodiversity. It not only concerns soy, palm oil and minerals for the energy transition. The consumer, being the final link in the value chain, also plays a role, with regard to, for example, protein consumption. IUCN NL’s vision is that consumers will have to move away from animal to more plant-based protein in order to conserve biodiversity on earth. IUCN NL, in association with other parties, is working on this protein transition by urging governments and the business community to intensify efforts to encourage plant-based consumption.

Sustainable finance

A major shift is under way in the financial world. A growing number of banks and other financial institutes recognise the value of biodiversity because the risks involved in the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems to their investments are becoming increasingly clear to them. For example, disappearing species of bees pose a threat to the pollination of agricultural crops. Flooding, caused by deforestation, constitutes a risk to man and the economy.

This shift in the financial world offers opportunities for IUCN NL’s efforts in, for example, agreeing standards and green labels to make global commercial chains more sustainable. Nowadays, a growing number of insurance firms, asset managers and pension funds only invest in companies that commit to such standards.

Want to know more about responsible value chains?

Mark van der Wal
Senior Expert Ecosystems & Extractives