When Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen of Ann Arbor, Michigan were in the sixth grade, they decided that for their Bronze Award Girl Scout community service project, they would raise public awareness about the plight of endangered orangutans.
With a little research, the girls soon discovered that orangutans’ fragile rainforest habitat in Indonesia is directly threatened by unsustainable industrial farming of palm oil. Demand for palm oil — a trans-fat free alternative to unhealthy partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening — has risen drastically over the past decade.
In response, industrial farm operations seeking to cash in on rising palm oil prices have been all too quick to slash and burn acres of rainforest in Indonesia to make room for unsustainable palm oil plantations, seriously threatening already endangered populations of these highly intelligent great apes.
Unsustainably harvested palm oil, Rhiannon and Madison discovered, is a major ingredient in Girl Scout cookies baked in the United States. In fact, it can be found in every flavor.
The girls decided they could not in good conscience continue to participate in the traditional Girl Scout cookie sale fundraiser while working to save the endangered orangutan. So they boycotted their organization’s famous Samoas and Thin Mints, and opted to sell magazines to raise funds for their troop instead.
But Madison and Rhiannon didn’t stop with a personal cookie sale boycott. These intrepid young women, both just eleven at the time, launched a public campaign to convince the Girl Scouts of the USA to take unsustainably farmed palm oil out of their cookies.
That was four years ago. So far, Rhiannon and Madison, now high schoolers, have traveled to speak with Girl Scout executives, scored famed primatologist and animal rights activist Jane Goodall’s signature on one of their petitions, had their activism featured in The Frisky, The Seattle Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, and Grist, and have been interviewed by Public Radio International.
Most recently, the girls have forged a partnership with Rainforest Action Network and successfully convinced corporate food giant Kelloggs, which owns one of the bakers of Girl Scout cookies, to announce that it will both move toward using sustainably-produced palm oil and donate to rainforest preservation efforts to mitigate the environmental damage caused by palm oil currently used in the Girl Scout cookies made in its factories.
But what Madison and Rhiannon haven’t yet managed to do is convince the Girl Scouts of the USA to ban unsustainably-farmed palm oil from its cookies. So they haven’t given up the fight to protect endangered wildlife by changing the Girl Scout organization from within. Watch the girls make their case in this Rainforest Action Network video:
Help Rhiannon and Madison get environmentally damaging palm oil out of Girl Scout cookies! Sign our Care2 petition to the Girl Scouts of the USA.
Detail of Girl Scout Thin Mint Cookies photo by Carol, from Wikimedia Commons. Used under Creative Commons license.