Scott Poynton – Crises drive change: stories from within the transformation of Nestlé’s palm oil value chain

A conversation with Scott Poynton, founder of the Forest Trust, now known as Earthworm Foundation, about supply chains, environmental regeneration and addressing environmental scandals from the forests of rural Australia to his groundbreaking work with major corporations like Nestlé on no-deforestation commitments. Scott’s experiences in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, Tasmania, and reforestation projects reveal the intricate balance between economic growth and environmental conservation.

Do you remember a few years ago Greenpeace released a video with a kitkat chocolate with an orangutan’ finger in it, which very clearly made the statement that much of the palm oil the Nestlé owned company were coming from deforested plots in Indonesia which were home to the orangutans? And before that, the scandal on teak garden furniture, which in the nineties suddenly a lot of European household had teak garden furniture on their balconies or on their terraces? A lot of that wood came from illegal logging in Cambodja smuggled over the borders by members of the Red Khmer and sold to furniture companies in Vietnam.

What do you do as a company when you are hit by a supply chain scandal like this? In both of these cases, the companies called Scott to help fix it. Not their public image, but the actual supply chain. Get traceability in, no deforestation rules and monitoring, social programmes, etc. Learn from the fascinating journey of this forester born in Australia who founded the Forest Trust. It’s regeneration, both socially, economically, and environmentally at scale, and learn why he is so excited about biochar.



Scott’s realisation that goat herders play a crucial role in the success of reforestation efforts led to a lifelong journey of engaging with disruptors and pivotal individuals.

”Who’s talking to the goat herder? Someone needs to have a chat with the goat herder because if the goat herd keeps the goats away, we’re going to have a plantation of nice, new forest. If the goat herder lets the goats get in there, all the effort is wasted. So, it started a lifelong journey of talking to goat herders. Not literally goat herders, of course, but people who were pivotal in making things work.” Scott Poynton


Scott describes his journey into forestry, from discovering the subject in university to studying it in Nepal through a community forestry project.

”At that stage, I didn’t even know forestry was a subject that you could do at university. So, I learned that there were two universities in Australia that offered forestry: one in Melbourne and one in Canberra. […] What I didn’t realise in choosing Canberra over Melbourne was that they had a community forestry project in Nepal. And so, I went there to study forestry, and when I got there, I learned that they had this amazing community forestry project.” Scott Poynton


Scott considers applying the company’s traceability model to other products, including palm oil and soy, to address social and environmental concerns.

”We weren’t only interested in the environmental; we were interested in the social as well. It’s not good having beautifully sourced raw materials if the workers in the factories were slave labour or child labour. So, we looked at both. And that was how we ended up moving into palm oil.”

Scott Poynton

”And then, of course, what happened again was another campaign, the Nestlé Greenpeace KitKat campaign, with the fingers of the orangutan on March 17th, 2010. The video went global at 12 o’clock and while the office worker shredding the paper opened the KitKat, there was the orangutan finger. Nestlé handled it very badly, threatened legal action, which only made the video go more viral.” Scott Poynton

”When someone was getting beaten up by the NGOs, we didn’t ring them up and say, we can help you. We didn’t do that. But in the case of Nestlé, because I live 45 minutes from Nestlé’s headquarters, I know a lot of people who work there, and some senior people, and I said to them “Listen, you are handling this so badly. If someone there wanted to have a chat, I’d be happy to go and do that”. They said, okay, we’ll check. And they checked, and about 30 seconds later, the phone rang and said, could you come over? They were in trouble. And it was great. And they were good people, and I went over there, and we spoke to the people there, and they were like, okay, what do we need to do? I said, okay, well, let’s set up. You’re getting beaten up for being linked to deforestation. Let’s have a no deforestation commitment.” Scott Poynton


Scott explains the concept of high-carbon stock forests, which was introduced to Nestlé during a meeting.

”Everyone’s like, what does that mean? We don’t know yet. But, basically, what we were trying to do was try to find a threshold by which, if you have an untouched forest, down to grassland, there’s a gradient of how much the forest is degraded. And the concept of high carbon stock became, whether we draw the line in the sand as it were and say, beyond that, you can clear because it’s really not functioning as a forest anymore. But on the right side of that, it’s still functioning as a forest. Let’s protect it, and it’ll come back. So that was the concept of a high carbon stock for us.” Scott Poynton


Scott discusses biochar’s potential to increase crop yields and reduce fertiliser use in developing countries.

”I had someone contacting me who was making biochar in Cambodia, and they said we want to talk about… I don’t know what they wanted to talk about, quite honestly, they contacted me, and I knew about biochar. But I saw what they were doing with their project in Cambodia. And I’m like, oh, my God, you know, this is amazing. Not only are you helping farmers increase yields, you’re really reducing the amount of fertiliser that they’re using, which has all sorts of benefits to the soil and aquatic ecology around these farms. By the way, you’re putting carbon back into the ground. This is extraordinary. How do we take this to scale?” Scott Poynton

”We did a little corn trial with biochar corn and chicken manure. And, on these desperately impoverished soils, we saw, what was it now? I think it was a 20% increase in the corn yield, it was just biochar and a 98% increase with biochar and manure, just on a little corn plot. I mean, this is extraordinary. There were no other regenerative agricultural practices. I mean, they didn’t spray any fertilisers, no chemicals, no weeding, no herbicides. 98% yield increase. Talking about feeding the population is an incredible achievement.” Scott Poynton


Koen and Scott also talked about:

  • Supply chain complexity and traceability in various industries
  • Palm oil has been an economic miracle for many people
  • From the bush to the boardroom
  • We don’t change unless we are faced with a crisis




Feedback, comments, suggestions? Reach me via Twitter @KoenvanSeijen, in the comments below or through Get in Touch on this website.

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The above references an opinion and is for information and educational purposes only. It is not intended to be investment advice. Seek a duly licensed professional for investment advice.

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