February 24, 2012

Girl Scouts Discover Link Between Cookies and Deforestation

This time of year, as spring nears, I always look forward to two things:  the first robin, and Girl Scout Cookies.  Since I was a girl selling the cookies door to door (hard to believe parents used to let their kids do this!), the Thin Mints and Trefoils and Samoas were an integral part of a celebration of spring.  Seeing the little girls in their sashes of green and brown cheerfully selling boxes at tables set up outside grocery stores brings a smile to the face of even the most winter-hardened grouch.  As an adult I always looked forward to GS Cookie time, for if the goodies purchased benefit such a worthy charity, they are a guilt-free, once-a-year indulgence.  Well, scratch the guilt-free part. . .

It turns out Girl Scout Cookies are made using palm oil, obtained from companies which deforest giant swaths of Indonesian and Malaysian rain forest in order to produce the vast amounts utilized.  These palm rain forests are home to a dwindling number of orangutaun, and the deforestation caused by the palm oil producers is rapidly destroying what habitat remains.


Photo: An orangutan is seen with an tranquilizer dart in his side - to make him sleep before rangers relocate him , away from this palm oil plantation.

The plight of the orangutan, and the Girl Scout Cookies' ironic link to same, was discovered by two Girl Scout Seniors,  Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen.  Inspired by the work of Dr. Jane Goodall with chimps, the two teenagers sought to educate youth groups within their community about the plight of the orangutan and their rain forest home.  After researching the harmful impacts palm oil plantations have on the people, animals and environment of Indonesia, they began to investigate products used every day, from cosmetics to corn flakes, to see which contained palm oil. While in the midst of Girl Scout Cookie season, the girls flipped over a box of cookies and discovered that palm oil was an ingredient.

Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen
Founders of Project ORANGS
The girls contacted Girl Scouts of USA (GSUSA) to voice their concerns, and at first they were ignored.  Madison and Rhiannon are Girl Scouts, however, and didn't let initial discouragement deter them from passionate advocacy of the orangutan and the rain forests of Asia.  By working with a variety of non-profit organizations , the girls persuaded the GSUSA the importance of acting on this issue.  Their online campaign with the Rainforest Action Network generated nearly 70,000 emails sent to the CEO of GSUSA.   The Girl Scout Rainforest Heroes badge, also designed through the Rainforest Action Network, has allowed girls of all ages to show their support and take action on this issue in a positive manner.   Madison and Rhiannion also created an iniative to raise awareness palm oil plantation deforestation and its effect on the great apes, Project ORANGS (Orangutans Really Appreciate and Need Girl Scouts).

While some steps have been made to help ameliorate the use of palm oil in Girl Scout Cookies, Madison and Rhiannon call upon those who care about the environment, the orangutan, or even just like to eat their Thin Mints without feeling guilty, to sign their petition entitled "Girl Scouts: Make Your Cookies Rainforest Safe." At time of writing this, they are about 14,000 signatures short of their 75,000 signature.  Such an outpouring of support and concern will go a long way toward showing the GSUSA that Girl Scouts aren't the only ones who care about the environment, and, that one needn't be a Girl Scout to follow the Girl Scout pledge:  to use resources wisely, and make the world a better place.

Written by Linda Schwefel