Although we are developing a healthy distaste for it, petrol remains a necessity for most of us. This is unlikely to change until technologies like the GM-Volt become more available. Anyone trying to minimise their negative global impact must therefore seek the most socially responsible petrol from a set of fairly unpleasant options. I posed the question to myself this way: “how can I buy the least evil petrol?”
In (mostly) free market economies we have a lot of power as consumers, as suppliers will follow demand. By carefully selecting the goods and services that we consume, we can exercise our power of demand and literally alter the behaviour of much larger entities such as multi-national corporations. This is why it is important to seek socially responsible petrol.
It turns out to be rather difficult to determine which petrol is the least evil. This difficulty is largely due to the historically anti-social behaviour of oil companies and the current pressure to publicise environmental concern. Some oil companies trade under different names in different countries, which doesn’t help.
The Better World Handbook ranks Sunoco first and BP second in social responsibility, and the Sierra Club likewise recommend Sunoco and BP. Sunoco operates in North American, and so is not an option here in Australia; BP, as the third largest global energy company, certainly is. Each of these rankings were determined by examining quite a broad range of positive and negative factors. For instance, BP looses credit for
- an Alaskan oil pipeline spill,
- South American human rights violations,
- having supported the apartheid state in South Africa,
- and “greenwashing” (publicity to look greener than it is).
On the other hand, BP gains points for
- solar powered petrol stations,
- plans to invest $8 billion over 2005-2015 in alternative energy from sun, wind, natural gas and hydrogen,
- self-imposed emissions caps,
- Malaysian global warming education programme,
- being in a list of 100 best companies for working mothers.
And these are only a sample of the factors considered. It would be difficult to perform a more thorough ranking of petrol options than these lists provide, and their broad agreement suggests reliability.
Other companies do not fare so well. Shell (“Royal Dutch Shell”, based in the Netherlands) seems to have a very poor historical record, but must be working to improve as it ranks near the middle. Caltex is an Australian trading name of Chevron, which ranks just below the middle. Mobil (ExxonMobil since 1999) is at the bottom of both lists!
United Petroleum is one that I can’t find much information about. Perhaps as an “independent and successful Australian owned oil company” it does not feature in the big international discussions. United was the first independent oil company in Australia to introduce bio-ethanol enhanced fuel, and is beginning to offer E85. It certainly sounds like it is competing with industry best-practise social responsibility, but I can’t find this verified anywhere but their own trumpet.
So for now, I will go out of my way to buy petrol from BP. I will strongly avoid Mobil, and consider Shell and Caltex (in that order) when BP is unavailable. I like to give custom to Australian companies, and so will continue to support United while I try to learn more about its operations. If it turns out to have betrayed my trust, I will certainly let both it and you know.