Posted by: jmtoriel | February 12, 2010

Whole Foods & Bed, Bath & Beyond Reject Tar Sands Oil

Major US grocery chain Whole Foods Market today announced that it will no longer buy transportation fuel linked to Canada’s Tar Sands and has already switched suppliers in favour of a less dirty fuel source. Bed Bath & Beyond, a home accessories retailer, also released a new policy encouraging transportation providers to avoid high impact fuels such as those from refineries using Tar Sands.

These are the first corporate responses to ForestEthics United States-based Tar Sands campaign, which launched six months ago with a letter to Fortune 500 companies warning that continued use of transportation fuels from Canada’s Tar Sands puts their brands at risk. (Source: ForestEthics Media Release, Feb. 10, 2010)

It’s quite simple. “Green” consumers (and “green” investors) are very demanding of their brands and very knowledgeable about the issues. They are, “ahead of the curve” (so to speak) which is why they shop where they do and source out the products right to the source. Management of these companies realize this and get pressure on the front lines. Strategic ENGOs, like ForestEthics, which spearheaded this campaign, also realize this and apply pressure to the most vulnerable companies that are most likely willing and able to shift their policies to comply. When these companies begin to buckle to consumer demands and public pressure and the oil companies continue to go the opposite direction, kicking and screaming, backed by a government more than willing to support them, and a massive lobby and PR that refute science, regulation demands from environmental groups and citizens, media and opposition at every corner, there will be economic repercussions and backlash from shareholders who see diminishing returns and, finally, voters who see the underlying story and are increasingly frustrated by lack of leadership and inaction.

Alberta, the Canadian gov’t and the oil and gas industry have their heads in the tar sands and always do what they think is best for them.

Most notable is Environ. Minister Prentice’s criticism of Quebec (lashing out at Premier Charest last week) for doing too much too reduce emissions that were not in line with the laggard federal position. No wonder 77 dignitaries walked out on Canada during the latest Commonwealth conference!!

What’s so bad about the Tar Sands? Whichever way you look at it, the Tar Sands is the largest single contributer of  CO2 emissions (as well as most other GHGs) in Canada, sucks a tremendous amount of energy to produce, and is extremely wasteful of fresh water. How much energy? Alberta has approved nearly 100 mining and situ projects in an area the size of Florida producing 1 million barrels a day making it the largest energy project in the world. The natural gas needed to separate the bitumen from the sand requires enough to warm 6 million Canadian homes every day. How much fresh water? 2.3 billion barrels a year or enough to supply 2 Calgarys. There is no balance to this project. (source: Tar Sands by Andrew Nikiforuk)

The argument from the federal government and the oil and gas industry in Canada is always that we need a proper balance in introducing environmental measures would harm business and jobs. This event and Canada’s position at the latest COP 15 Copenhagen fiasco proves that our reputation is tarnished and we are now losing business. Shell is getting a major backlash from investors. Alberta is running a record deficit despite astronomical growth in the last decades. Our dollar is firmly attached to the CDN dollar (which has been terrible for the domestic market). So, if its so profitable, why are we losing money??

An environmental strategy creates a competitive advantage that can improve more than just image and good PR. Those that properly manage using an environmental lens and strategy will safe-guard against losses due to unforeseen backlashes from the public-at-large and build a more robust and profitable position (which is also better for our health and planet).

Heaven forbid complying to any form of regulation or globally binding agreement to reduce reductions that would get in the way of “progress”! Too much is riding on this export (that is becoming increasingly less exportable). Yet, avoiding to legislate positively to the realities of climate change, blindly backing a horrendously dirty oil source and not seizing opportunities to go a less impactful route is finally catching up to them and, unfortunately, the rest of us as well.

I think it’s time companies, citizens, investors and politicians took a bold stance in denouncing what is bad for our health (and of all the critters and fish that call the northern Boreal forest home), our pocket books, our reputation, our security — not to mention, the planet.
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  1. I don’t think a preference for ‘less polluting’ fossil fuels addresses the core issue. Boycotts make us feel good about doing the right thing, but the scale of these victories are dwarfed by the magnitude of the problem. Even a full switch to better petro-providers doesn’t address the issue of what happens when those superior sources run dry: if we don’t cut the crack, we enable the pushers.

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