Project O.R.A.N.G.S.

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Project O.R.A.N.G.S. (Orangutans Really Appreciate And Need Girl Scouts) began when two 11-year-old Girl Scouts from Michigan, Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen, began a project about saving the orangutan to earn their Bronze Awards and learned about the habitat loss orangutans suffer due to palm oil plantations.[1] The girls then realized that palm oil was an ingredient in Girl Scout Cookies, and began a campaign to convince Girl Scouts USA (GSUSA) to remove palm oil from the cookies. The girls partnered with Rainforest Action Network and the Union of Concerned Scientists. They even got their hero, Jane Goodall, to sign onto their efforts. Their work was featured on several major TV networks, on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, and in Time magazine.

Partial Victory

After five years of campaigning, the girls achieved a statement from the Girl Scouts, promising:[2]

"The Girl Scouts said it has directed its bakers to use as little palm oil as possible, and only in recipes where there is no alternative. It wants its bakers to move to a segregated, certified sustainable palm oil source by 2015.
"The Scouts will buy GreenPalm certificates to support the sustainable production of palm oil. The certificates offer a premium price to palm oil producers who are operating within best-practices guidelines set by the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil, an organization of palm oil producers, consumer goods manufacturers, retailers, environmentalists and others."

The Girl Scouts failure to immediately remove palm oil - or even just palm oil from unsustainable sources - from their cookies rings of hypocrisy, given the organizations' 2012 theme, "Forever Green."[3] Following this partial victory, Madi and Rhiannon issued a joint statement with Rainforest Action Network, expressing cautious optimism but continued concern about the impact of palm oil on the environment:[4]


"We hope that today's announcement shows that Girl Scouts USA is serious about ensuring that their cookies don't destroy forests or endanger orangutans and other wildlife, and that they'll strongly urge their bakers to find an alternative oil that is both rainforest-safe and socially responsible. As a non-profit organization, not a food company, there should be no question that Girl Scout Cookies contain ingredients that live up to the values described in the Girl Scout Law. We look forward to continuing to work with Girl Scouts USA to become a real leader in protecting forests and wildlife."


"Girl Scouts USA deserves credit for recognizing the role the palm oil in their cookies plays in driving deforestation, and for taking initial action to address it. Purchasing GreenPalm certificates and working towards segregated, certified sustainable palm oil by 2015 are steps in the right direction. However, the most important part of their policy is the commitment to use palm oil only if there is no alternative. We hope to work closely with the Girl Scouts and experts to find such an alternative. Despite the small amount of palm oil used for Girl Scout Cookies, Girl Scouts USA has the opportunity to use their presence to educate consumers and youth about this issue, as well as to encourage other companies to move towards deforestation free products."

Lindsey Allen, Forest Campaign Director, Rainforest Action Network:

"The production of palm oil is causing some of the world's most precious rainforests to disappear faster than a box of Thin Mints. Today's announcement by Girl Scouts USA is a testament to the years of amazing activism by Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen. Unfortunately, nothing in today's statement ensures that palm oil connected to rainforest destruction will no longer be found in Girl Scout cookies. Rainforest Action Network calls on Girl Scouts USA to demand that their suppliers, like Cargill, institute basic safeguards that guarantee species extinction and human rights abuses will no longer be tolerated as byproducts of palm oil production."

Sarah Roquemore, Union of Concerned Scientists:

"We’re happy to see the Girl Scouts USA acknowledging the seriousness of palm oil’s effect on deforestation. While we applaud this initial announcement, they are still many steps away from ensuring that their cookies are not driving deforestation. The Union of Concerned Scientists welcomes the opportunity to engage with the Girl Scouts USA and work with a coalition of respected environmental organizations to improve the sustainability standards for palm oil."

On their blog, Rainforest Action Network added: "The bottom line remains: Girl Scouts USA cannot guarantee that the box of Thin Mints you buy doesn’t contain palm oil from rainforest destruction."[5]


The girls' actions earned them the 2011 Brower Youth Award from the Earth Island Institute.[6]

Contact Information

Resources and Articles

Related SourceWatch Articles


  1. "Are Girl Scout cookies bad for the environment?," CBS News, May 24, 2011, Accessed October 12, 2011.
  2. James Eng, "Girl Scouts pledge to limit palm-oil use in cookies," MSNBC, September 29, 2011, Accessed October 12, 2011.
  3. Forever Green, Accessed October 17, 2011.
  4. Laurel Sutherlin, "Girl Scouts Activists, Rainforest Action Network and Union of Concerned Scientists Respond to Palm Oil Cookie Announcement by Girl Scouts USA, Rainforest Action Network, September 28, 2011.
  5. Ashley Schaeffer, "Girl Scouts USA Announces Palm Oil Plan for Thin Mints: Greenwash or Game-Changer?," Rainforest Action Network, September 29, 2011, Accessed October 12, 2011.
  6. Madi & Rhiannon Win 2011 Brower Youth Award, Accessed October 12, 2011.

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