Palm oil and its environmental impacts: a big data analytics study

Shasha Teng, Kok Wei Khong, Norbani Che Ha

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

31 Citations (Scopus)


Expansion of oil palm plantations is under intense public scrutiny as it causes tropical deforestation and biodiversity loss in Southeast Asia. Despite the fact that extensive studies exploring topics related to palm oil land use, climate change, and deforestation, little is known regarding the international public's perceptions of palm oil's impacts on environmental issues. The objective of this study is to identify trends and patterns and categorize relevant themes of public opinions in this regard. With a large dataset of 4260 online posts gleaned from YouTube and Reddit, we apply the Institutional theory and social movements to analyze palm oil discussions in the social media context. Our major findings are: (1) the public has negative views on palm oil. Several drivers of environmental destruction are greed, corruption, profit, and capitalism; (2) social media campaigns against palm oil are highly successful. However, negative sentiments from consumers reveal ongoing institutional failures; (3) public opinion is polarized in terms of viewpoints on socioeconomics and the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil; (4) global consumers’ response to boycott palm oil products and seek for other solutions are driven by corporations’ profit-driven malpractice and weak governmental legislation and governance. This study is the first attempt to apply big data of social media accounts to analyze consumers’ perceptions of palm oil and its environmental impacts. It also proposes a predictive model for understanding factors and mechanisms of how social media applications can potentially stimulate and influence an international sustainability debate over palm oil.

Original languageEnglish
Article number122901
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Deforestation
  • Palm oil
  • Predictive modeling
  • Public perceptions
  • Sustainability
  • Text analytics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering


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