Drinking out of a coconut on a sustainable cacao farm in Puerto Jimenez.

Drinking out of a coconut on a sustainable cacao farm.

This post is sponsored by Kapuluan Coconut Oil. As always, EcoCult only partners with brands who are doing good things. Support EcoCult by supporting them!

Coconut oil is touted as a healthy alternative to toxic lotions and skincare products. But is it healthy for the environment, too?

The good news is that in general, the environmental impact of coconut oil is very low. Growing coconuts doesn’t require pesticides or herbicides, and coconuts are harvested by hand, instead of by a giant tractor. So far so good.

But, it’s not perfect. As demand for coconut oil and coconut water has skyrocketed, coastal mangroves, which are essential ecosystems for animals and provide natural storm protection, are being cleared for coconut monocrops, which are low in biodiversity, deplete the soil, and require intensive input of fertilizer. (Not as much as palm oil, but still.) Normally, conventional coconut farming would be more expensive than the alternative, organic, traditional process. But the Sri Lankan government, for one, subsidizes chemical fertilizers, which makes it cheaper to farm in-organically.

And there is also processing to think about. Many conventional coconut oil brands are refined using industrialized equipment. The coconuts are dried (cooked) into coconut pieces called copra, which are then shipped again to a plant to make the oil. The resulting oil is brown and contaminated, so they refine it, bleach it and deodorize it, often using chemicals like hexane, which is classified as a neurotoxin by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and as a hazardous air pollutant by the Environmental Protection Agency.

That doesn’t sound sustainable at all, does it?

How to Choose Eco-Friendly Coconut Oil

But there are things to look for when choosing more eco-friendly coconut oil:

  1. Coconuts picked from biodiverse, organic, rural coconut farms.
  2. Shipped a short ways to a facility, where they are processed from beginning to end, to save on carbon emissions that come from shipping multiple times.
  3. Facility is a healthy and safe work environment, and workers are treated with respect.
  4. Hand-processed (husked, chopped with a machete, and pressed) in small batches without the use of large industrialized equipment.
  5. Kept raw instead of cooked, so that the oil does not need to be bleached or deodorized after pressing. Filtered using a cheesecloth.
  6. Any processes that use electricity, like electric graters for shredding, get their energy from solar panels.

In short, if you choose coconut oil that is made locally using more traditional methods, you’ll get a higher quality, more sustainable coconut oil that is both nourishing to your skin, and the planet.