Girl Scouts Win U.N. Award For Efforts To Save Orangutans By Eliminating Palm Oil From Cookies

A pair of renegade girl scouts accepted a prestigious U.N. award in New York Thursday for their work bringing attention to the threat palm oil production poses to orangutans and the rainforest in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Nominated for the award by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the U.N. Forest Heroes Award the scouts received is the first of its kind.

"It is exceptional to be considered and we're both delighted, thrilled and humbled to win the award," Girl Scout Madison Vorva said in an interview with the Huffington Post.

Back in 2007, Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen started a five-year campaign to get Girl Scouts USA to ditch Southeast Asian palm oil from its girl scout cookie recipe. The ingredient is said to fuel deforestation as trees are clear cut for palm oil production, leaving orangutans with no forest to inhabit.

The girls' slick lobbying efforts and social media campaign persuaded Girl Scouts USA and Kellogg to commit to introducing sustainable palm oil by 2015, a policy they announced last fall.

The organization also pledged to purchase certificates from the GreenPalm program, which directs funds to palm oil producers who are working sustainably under guidelines outlined by the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil.

While the pair agree the policies are a step in the right direction, they said more still needs to be done for Girl Scouts USA to make truly sustainable girl scout cookies.

"We are trying to keep the pressure up to ensure the Girl Scouts find an environmentally and socially responsible palm oil to be used in these in the cookies," Vorva told HuffPost.

That's why Vorva and Tomtishen recently launched an online petition with Change.org to call on the organization to completely eliminate unsustainable palm oil from their cookies.

Over the past two weeks, more than 57,000 people have signed the petition supporting Project ORANGS.

"Essentially we are asking Girl Scouts [USA] to live up to the Girl Scout values. We are trying to make a positive change and take a holistic approach. So it is little steps with some pressure," Tomtishen said.

So far, they've partnered with a number of organizations, including UCS and Roots And Shoots. They've even gained the support of Jane Goodall, someone they say has been an inspiration.

As for what's next for the duo? Turning Project Orang into a registered non-profit is on the horizon so they can begin urging other companies to switch from palm oil to a more sustainable ingredient.

"Every individual has a role. If you have a passion, you can change anything," Tomtishen said.

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