I started week one of my ethical shopping challenge rearing and ready to go! However, on day four I faced a road block, and the ethical shopping challenge started to become much more difficult than I had anticipated, for the simple fact that I need to drive to work. And in order to drive, my car requires the age old evil... petroleum.
Now let me begin by explaining that I am well aware that it is more environmentally to take public transport or ride a bike to work. However, I live 55.5 km away from the office in which I work. It would literally take me a number of days to ride to work, and I doubt I would even make it without passing out! I have extensively researched the public transport route, which unfortunately would involve two trains and a bus, totalling three hours in travel one way. Maybe it is selfish, but I just can’t afford to spend six hours a day travelling to and from work!
In order to mitigate my impact on the environment, I have been carpooling to work for over three years which is saving at least one other car per day from being on the road, and in addition, I have an arrangement in which I work three days in the office and two days from home. However, these actions do not entirely solve my problem- I still require petrol in my tank to get to where I need to be at least three days of the week!
We all know the environmental impacts of using petrol in our vehicles, and we have seen the social and environmental impacts of oil spills on television, but further research has lead me to some disturbing facts about the petroleum industry;
- Shell has been condemned by many organizations, including the Sierra Club, for its support of the military government in Nigeria. In 1995, nine Ogoni activists were killed for protesting against the company's Nigerian operations (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
- Exxon Mobil's pipeline project from Chad in West Africa to the coast of Cameroon cuts through indigenous communities' rainforest homes. Last January, the project generated new controversy when Chad's government diverted money generated from petroleum revenue away from poverty-relief and social programs (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
- BP heads a coalition of oil and gas companies throughout Europe and are building a pipeline across Azerbaijan, the Republic of Georgia, and Turkey. The project has led to widespread dislocation of local residents. Watchdog groups are concerned about complaints of contaminated water supplies and landslides triggered by pipeline construction (Ives & Boyd, 2007).
“Biofuel policies are actually helping to accelerate climate change and deepen poverty and hunger. Rich countries’ demands for more biofuels in their transport fuels are causing spiralling production and food inflation”- Oxfam’s biofuel policy adviser Rob Bailey
(Oxfam International, 2008)
But the fact still remains- I need to drive my car to keep my job and my social life going, so is there any ethical choice when it comes to fuel?
According to a well researched review of oil companies in the USA, called ‘Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline’ (Ives & Boyd, 2007), oil companies can be rated in the following order:Top of the Barrel
Middle of the Barrel
Royal Dutch Shell
Valero Energy Corporation
Bottom of the Barrel
ExxonMobil (Mobil, Fuel Zone)ConocoPhillips
Furthermore, another consumer watchdog source, The Ethical Consumer's Ethiscore has ranked oil companies in the UK from best (#1) to worst ( #9)
(Petrol & Diesel, Ethical Consumer,2011)
According to the above reviews, in the Australia market, Shell would be classified as the most ethical, followed by Caltex, who are owned by Chevron, then BP and lastly Mobil.
So while I am not going to advocate for Shell by any means, when I need to buy fuel for my car I will purchase from Shell. In the mean time, I will continue to car pool, try to use public transport or walk when possible and when the time comes for me to purchase a new car, I will purchase a more sustainable option such as a car that runs on biodiesel, which is produced using waste cooking oil.
According to Biodiesel Producers, replacing petroleum derived diesel fuel with biodiesel offers these advantages:
· It can be used in most diesel equipment with no modifications or, in some instances, only minor modifications.
· It reduces global warming gas emissions.
· It reduces tailpipe emissions, particularly the toxic components.
· It is essentially free of sulphur, so the emissions do not contribute to acid rain.
· It is non-toxic, biodegradable, and suitable for sensitive environments.
· It has a higher flashpoint, so it is safer to store and transport.
So in conclusion, in order for me to be ethical in my fuel choice, I will need to purchase a new car that can run off biodiesel, which I currently cannot afford. In the mean time I will ‘pick my poison’ and relunctantly purchase from Shell.
Ethical Consumer. (2011). Petrol & Diesel. Retrieved 11 January 2011 from http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/FreeBuyersGuides/traveltransport.aspx
Ives, S. & Boyd, R. (2007). Pick Your Poison : An updated environmentalist's guide to gasoline. Retrieved 8 January 2011 from http://www.sierraclub.org/sierra/pickyourpoison/