Not-so-secret ingredient: sugar; secret ingredient: tar sands.

How companies can clean up their acts

Kicking the tar sands habit

High-carbon fuels undermine other pollution-reduction investments companies are making.

U.S. companies must reject the most dangerous sources of oil, starting with the worst of the worst — tar sands. While companies ultimately need to move beyond oil altogether, they urgently need to start by eliminating the worst sources of oil from their supply chains.

Companies with large fleets have sophisticated fueling operations, and most of them buy in bulk orders that allow them to make specific demands of suppliers. Although it is difficult for an individual to know the source of oil at a gas station, a company can adjust contracts with fuel and transportation providers to require that its fuel come from refineries that do not process tar sands. ForestEthics has identified which North American oil refineries process tar sands. The Sierra Club and ForestEthics' Future Fleet campaign is working with companies to source fuel from refineries that do not process tar sands. ForestEthics already has secured commitments from 19 companies, including Walgreens, Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Columbia Sportswear, to reduce the environmental and social impacts that come from fossil-fueled transportation. We know companies can make this change.

In some parts of the country where most refineries process tar sands, this is difficult or impossible. However, in many areas of the country, it is quite feasible to switch to fuel that comes from refineries that don't use oil from tar sands. Just as some companies require that all or most of their contract shippers use EPA SmartWay-certified vehicles, companies can similarly require that contract or internal shippers and fuel suppliers source from tar sands-free refineries whenever possible.

The greater the number of companies that commit to move away from tar sands, the stronger will be the market signal to refineries, fuel suppliers, transportation providers, oil companies, and even policymakers that tar sands are an extreme and unacceptable fuel source. Will we immediately halt the tar sands industry? No. But can we slow its rapid and frightening expansion? Yes. And this corporate approach is one important part of that effort, since corporate U.S. vehicle fleets consume a vast amount of oil.

Vehicle fleet fuel efficiency

Oil use accounts for more than 40 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. Though corporate and government vehicle fleets make up only about 7 percent of the vehicles on U.S. roads, they consume up to 35 percent of the transportation-related fuel. This relatively small segment of American cars and trucks causes an outsized amount of climate pollution.

Many leading companies are taking steps to reduce their oil consumption as a way to reduce both costs and carbon pollution. Additional gains are possible using existing technology and strategies, such as plug-in and hybrid vehicles, more-efficient diesel vehicles, aerodynamics, advanced tires, anti-idling programs, driver training, and telematics. Shifting freight transport to rail, reducing packaging, right-sizing, and reducing empty loads will also slash oil use. And while many companies are using hybrid or plug-in trucks in trials or limited tests, these and other efficiency advances can and should be aggressively scaled up.

As well-known worldwide brands, corporations with large vehicle fleets and/or shipping operations can make decisions about what vehicles they drive and how they drive them that will influence what vehicles auto and truck manufacturers build and offer to all consumers. Efficiency gains in thousands of corporate fleet vehicles will have an outsized effect on the amount of carbon pollution we produce as a nation.

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Learn more about how companies can ditch tar sands

Companies successfully pursuing sustainability are necessarily reducing their reliance on the highest-carbon fuels as well as their overall oil consumption. Refineries throughout the U.S. use tar sands feedstock, and unless a company has explicit programs in place, tar sands products are almost certainly in its vehicles' tanks.

Download the report: "Avoiding Tar Sands Fuel in Corporate Vehicle Fleets" »

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