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Better Cookies for a Better World

June 15th, 2011

photo credit: Leisa Thompson/Ann Arbor News

Better Cookies for a Better World

June 15, 2011 — Would you have ever thought that eating a cookie could endanger the lives of orangutans in Indonesia? It’s hard to imagine, but it some instances, it does. And two Girl Scouts from Michigan are on a mission to do something about it.

Four years ago, scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen were working toward earning girl scouting’s highest award given for leading a project that makes the world better. The girls, then 11 and 12 years old, wanted to raise awareness about orangutans in Indonesia.

Orangutans are endangered largely because their rainforest habitat is cut down to plant palm trees instead. The palm trees are harvested for their oil, which is added as an ingredient to almost half of all products at the supermarket (according to the World Wildlife Fund)!

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest palm oil producers. Meanwhile, the orangutans need their dwindling rainforest habitat to survive and, sadly, they’re also sometimes killed in the process of deforestation .

But what Madison and Rhiannon never expected to learn was that palm oil is an ingredient in the Girl Scout cookies they’d been selling, along with over 2 million girl scout members. Almost 200 million boxes worth over $700 million are sold each year!

The girls realized that while the Girl Scouts organization’s “law” is to “use resources wisely” and “make the world a better place” — it looks like selling Girl Scout cookies is actually damaging it.

What they were even more surprised to learn was that when they took their discovery to the Girl Scouts of the USA headquarters, its leaders seemed to have no plans to do anything about it. Girl Scout Cookies Sales Manger, Amanda Hamaker, was quoted as saying, “Our bakers don’t believe there is a viable alternative to produce the taste, the quality, all of our attributes which our consumers and our members require and expect of out of our cookies.” Even though it’s been four years, Madison and Rhiannon never gave up …

The Girl Scouts of the USA leadership is beginning to listen.

After Madison and Rhiannon recently met with them in New York, Girl Scouts of the USA has reportedly agreed to research either an alternative or a more environmentally friendly source of palm oil. It’s not quite that easy. Only 6% of the world’s palm oil is grown sustainably, though one major girl scout cookie baking company did say that they’re switching to more responsible palm oil producers.

Madison and Rhiannon say, “It’s a start.”

If after reading this and doing a bit of research you would like to sign Madison and Rhiannon’s petition to have the Girl Scouts of the USA ensure they use responsbile ingredients, click here .

Author and freelance writer, Kimberly Meisner, contributed to this piece. Thanks!

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