In order to answer this loaded question, we need to first understand a little more about the common cooking oils you probably have in your pantry right now.  Do you think you use are using environmentally friendly cooking oil? Let’s find out.

First things first.

Is cooking oil bad for the environment?

To say that ALL cooking oil is bad for the environment would be a stretch. However, there are a few big offenders in the cooking oil game that are just plain bad for the environment. Here is some food for thought to keep in mind next time you’re in the oil section of your local grocery store.

 palm trees

Palm Oil

Ok, so you may not be purchasing large bottles of palm oil (or maybe you are) but palm oil is an ingredient in a ton of processed foods. I’m talking like almost all of them (not exaggerating).

Keep these not-so-fun facts in mind when pondering a food item with palm oil on the label:

  • millions of acres of rain forest in Borneo and Sumatra are cut down every year to make room for more palm plantations
    • causing destruction to vital habitat for orangutans and other species
    • Indigenous peoples are losing their villages and livelihoods to the severe deforestation

The good news is that in 2004, environmental groups and corporations formed the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). The RSPO introduced a logo in 2011 with the words “Certified Sustainable Palm Oil,” which appears on the labels of approved products.  For a list of other environmentally friendly labels, check out this article.

So if you can’t get enough palm oil, look for the Certified Sustainable Palm Oil logo on the label. 

Try your best to avoid any other palm oil, even though it might be next to impossible.


Canola, Soy, Corn or Cottonseed oils

I lumped these three oils together because of the simple fact that if you are not buying organic, they are genetically modified.

To avoid GM oils….wait for it…..BUY ORGANIC!

As far as environmental concerns go, non-organic canola, soy, corn, and cottonseed plants get sprayed with pesticides, which could contaminate soil and water.

Again, to avoid these, BUY ORGANIC!

Another disconcerting fact I came across was that since palm oil agriculture is causing major deforestation, some countries are trying to rectify the situation by growing vegetable oil crops instead. 

According to an IUCN report Palm Oil and Biodiversity:

But existing vegetable oils that could theoretically replace palm oil would be far more damaging to the environment because they would need more land.

Does this make sense to you? Let’s replace one crop with a different crop that takes up more space and causes even more environmental destruction. Ya, that makes sense.

I guess the theory is if they stop growing palm oil, manufacturers will have to replace it with vegetable oil in their processed foods. 

Smack My Head. 

To sum up, try your best not to buy canola or vegetable oil so as to not give the idea to manufactures they need to make more by clear cutting trees in order to make room for vegetable oil crops. Heaven knows we don’t need any more canola oil deforestation to go along with all of our other oil deforestations.

environmentally friendly olive oil

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a staple oil in most households, I know it is in mine.  However, I came across some interesting facts that will change how I buy olive oil going forward.

  • Environmental groups warn that large-scale olive oil plantations in Italy, Greece, Spain, and Portugal are using so much water they’re turning regions into deserts
  • There are also concerns about herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers entering into the water table due to surface water runoff

An alternative to the mass produced olive oil brands contributing to these environmental concerns is to buy organic fair-trade olive oil whenever possible.


Is Avocado Oil eco-friendly?

Because avocados are so popular now, there are some environmental issues arising as a result of mass production. These include:

  • Deforestation
  • Increased gas production

To be honest, it is almost impossible to avoid these concerns with any large scale monocrop oil, so again, do your best to buy organic avocado oils where ever possible as organic farms are generally smaller and are likely not cutting down trees to start a plantation.

most ethical cooking oil

The most ethical cooking oil is one that:

  • Is organic
  • Fair trade
  • Unrefined
  • Cold pressed

So, if your cooking oil meets all of these criteria you, my friend, are awesome! For the rest of us mere mortals, do the best you can to meet these criteria (or at least one or two) with each purchase of cooking oil. 

sustainable oils

The criteria for ethical cooking oils can be applied to sustainable oils as well.

Look for oils that are at a minimum:

  • Organic
  • Fair trade

Hitting those criteria is your best bet to finding sustainable cooking oils.

Bottom Line

Unless you are buying organic, fair trade, unrefined, cold-pressed oils, then your cooking oil is not environmentally friendly. It is a harsh but true reality. 

The cooking oil business is booming and the more demand there is for a product, the more they will make to meet the demand. If you’re buying cheap grocery store cooking oil, it is not ecofriendly and leading to more forest and land destruction, pesticide use and soil contamination. That sounds really doomsday and harsh, but unfortunately it’s the reality today.

You’re going to have to pay up for the good stuff in order to ensure you are using environmentally friendly cooking oil. 

I hope this was helpful to you. I know I am going to change how I purchase cooking oil. I might just go without!

Cheers, and have an awesome day!



  1. Aimee

    I loved this article. Thank you so much for sharing. I just read about palm oil in the book Green Gone Wrong and learned so much. Looking for the most sustainable ways to cook at home.

    • Kathy

      Thank-you for your comment! Glad you liked the article! If there is any way I can help you cook sustainably at home, please let me know. Good Luck!

      • Tr icia

        Thank you, I do not use much oil mainly olive oil and a very little sunflower oil however I will also try to improve having read this.

  2. EChemkids

    Love your work Kath, absolute UNIT of a blog. Very helpful. Would be cool if you provided better sourcing information for academic documents. <3

    • Kathy

      Good idea! I will provide better resources moving forward.

      • Africassky

        I use hemp oil which is produced in my country and is good in high temperature cooking

    • Kathy

      Good idea! I will provide better resources moving forward. Thanks for your comment!

  3. T

    This post makes a bunch of claims that are dubious at best. The first being that organic oils are not genetically modified and don’t use pesticides. These are both simply untrue. Every piece of food grown in the world today has been genetically modified somehow. Carrots aren’t naturally orange, they come in a range of colors from yellow to brownish purple, but the orange variant was isolated and bred to become the dominant crop strain a couple hundred years ago. Also, the claim that GM foods are somehow evil is a pure scare tactic that doesn’t have any real basis in science.

    Organic foods also absolutely use pesticides, if they didn’t there would be nothing to stop plagues of insects from eating them. Organic grown foods use organic pesticides, many of which will also leech into groundwater and soil. This may seem fine since the pesticides are also organic, but there isn’t actually a government standard for what the term organic actually means. No one is regulating its use and thus it can mean whatever the marketing team wants it to mean.

    Eating sustainably and with regard for how the food is produced is incredibly important, but this kind of post really muddies the waters when it comes to the actual science of food production and perpetuates stereotypes that were originally pushed by companies to shape consumer behavior.

    If we’re going to be making ethical decisions in our shopping, we need solid and repeatable experiments with valuable data that is understandable to consumers. We need to know about carbon production, land and water usage, and runoff. This post cites nothing of the sort.

    This kind of writing really only hurts the sustainable food movement. It exists to make people feel good, but doesn’t actually trend people towards good behavior.

  4. Samantha

    Exactly what I was thinking. I personally don’t care about what foods I put in my body as long as I don’t die. I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t supporting child labor or whatever, but all that comes up when I search “is corn oil sustainable” is this nonsense. Lol.


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