top of page

Navigating Stability: Key Lessons Learned from RSPO & how the Hemp & Cannabis Industries can Benefit

Updated: Apr 5

In recent decades, the palm oil industry has faced significant concerns about deforestation, biodiversity loss, and social issues such as land conflicts and exploitation of workers. To address these issues, certification programs like the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) were developed to establish standards for sustainable palm oil production and promote better practices throughout the supply chain.

The palm oil industry's reputation was able to improve by adopting sustainable practices and promoting environmental and social responsibility through the RSPO certification scheme. This has led to an increase in demand for certified sustainable palm oil and commitments from major companies to source 100% sustainable palm oil. In addition, the RSPO has empowered farmers who were being taken advantage of by unscrupulous businesses to demand pricing premiums for their commitment to best practices. We can learn from the success of RSPO and apply similar principles to the cannabis and hemp industry to build a sustainable and responsible industry for the future.

The current cannabis and hemp industries are facing similarities to what happened in palm oil, ranging from concerns about farmers and plantations being taken advantage of by brokers offering prices below fair market value, to environmental and social impacts concerns around worker safety. Both industries can be resource-intensive, and cutting corners to reduce production costs has created negative perceptions regarding health and safety. The industry leaders must distance themselves from these bad actors and strive to achieve voluntary agricultural certifications to promote sustainable practices and ensure fair labor practices. The lack of regulatory framework and oversight in the cannabis and hemp industries has created additional concerns about worker safety and fair labor practices, which have not received adequate attention.

To address these concerns, a certification scheme could be developed to promote more sustainable and socially responsible practices among cannabis/hemp producers. By setting standards for sustainability and social responsibility, a certification scheme would help to create a more level playing field for producers, promoting better practices and ensuring that companies compete on the basis of product quality and sustainability rather than just price.

The benefits of a certification scheme for the cannabis/hemp industry are similar to those seen in the palm oil industry. By setting standards for sustainability, building trust and transparency, raising awareness, and fostering collaboration, a certification scheme can help to create a more sustainable and responsible industry.


While cannabis and hemp are often touted as unique, they share many similarities with other high-risk crops. One example is palm oil, which was once the talk of the town, replacing numerous oils in the food markets, boasting impressive financial projections, and generating conflicts. However, palm oil also posed significant environmental and social challenges, displacing indigenous peoples from their lands, causing mass deforestation, and receiving negative global perception.

To address these issues, the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) was formed, setting standards for sustainable palm oil production. Producers must meet strict criteria for environmental and social responsibility, including protecting primary forests, respecting land and labor rights, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Adherence to these standards allows certified palm oil producers to demonstrate that their products are sustainably produced, mitigating the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production.


With the 2018 Farm Bill legalizing hemp, the industry has rapidly grown, but its lack of regulation has led to many tarnished claims. To establish uniform standards for sustainable production practices, a certification scheme for the cannabis/hemp industry is crucial. For instance, the Responsible Hemp Standard produced by Control Union for INCCert outlines specific requirements for reducing water usage, minimizing pesticide and chemical use, and implementing environmentally friendly growing practices. By adopting these standards, RHS certification holders demonstrate their commitment to best practices and promote sustainable and responsible practices to meet consumer demand for high-quality hemp products.

The certification process requires regular audits to ensure compliance with sustainability standards, much like the RSPO certification scheme for palm oil. This builds trust and transparency in the cannabis/hemp supply chain, providing assurance to consumers and other stakeholders that certified products are produced in a sustainable and socially responsible manner. It's time for the cannabis/hemp industry to prioritize sustainability and gain the trust of consumers through a credible certification scheme.


The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) has set a positive example for how certification can help stabilize industries, promote sustainable practices, and meet consumer demands for ethical and environmentally responsible products. The success of RSPO's certification scheme in establishing standards for sustainable palm oil production has raised awareness about the environmental and social impacts of palm oil production and created a price premium for certified sustainable palm oil.

In a similar vein, a certification program for the cannabis/hemp industry can establish standardized sustainable production practices, promote transparency and trust in the supply chain, and raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of cannabis/hemp production. As consumers become more conscious of sustainable and ethical practices, businesses in all industries are seeking ways to differentiate themselves and meet these growing demands. Voluntary certification can be an effective way for cannabis/hemp farmers to demonstrate their commitment to sustainable and socially responsible practices, differentiate themselves from competitors, and meet the growing demand for ethical and sustainable products. By focusing on quality, differentiation, emotional connection, customer service, and exclusivity, cannabis/hemp farmers can position their offering as the premium choice in the market and increase their profitability.

Rather than insisting that cannabis is unique, the industry should learn from other high-risk agricultural sectors that have stabilized their industry. If we don't learn from our past, we are doomed to repeat it. The cannabis and hemp industries have been promoting that they should not be regulated, while simultaneously complaining about over-regulation. In truth, the ambiguity in federal law regarding hemp and the differing state approaches to cannabis are creating too many gray areas that discredit these industries as a whole. It's time for the industry to shift its approach and work towards voluntary certification programs that can strengthen these sectors for those willing to commit to the tradeoff.

If you're passionate about building a sustainable and responsible cannabis/hemp industry, consider reaching out to the FSO team for guidance and support in achieving voluntary certification.

By working together to establish standards for sustainable production practices, we can build trust and transparency in the global cannabis supply chain, raise awareness about the environmental and social impacts of cannabis/hemp production, and create a more stable and successful industry by validating the claims that have continued to plague both industries over the last two decades.

We have an opportunity to create a brighter future for cannabis and hemp by learning from past mistakes and taking proactive steps towards sustainability and credibility. It's crucial to hold those who spread misinformation and fear accountable for their actions, and allow global teams to bring their expertise to these industries. Cannabis and hemp must evolve, mature, and establish credibility with the brands, retailers, and customers they seek to attract.

If you're looking to stabilize and grow your cannabis or hemp business, reach out to our FSO team for help. Let's work together to build a more responsible and sustainable industry.

3 views0 comments
bottom of page