Environment Forum

Retailers reject oil sands — a good move?

February 12, 2010

CANADA BOOMTOWN

Two big U.S. retail chains have turned their back on Canada’s oil sands, a move that was both hailed and derided, split as you might expect along environmental lines.

Whole Foods and Bed Bath and Beyond this week said they were boycotting the Canadian oil sands and they would actively seek alternatives to oil sands fuel for their delivery trucks to reduce their carbon footprints.

The oil sands are the largest source of oil outside of Saudi Arabia, and most of the 1.2 million barrels a day of oil sands-derived crude gets shipped to the United States.

Unlike conventional oil and gas, production of oil sands is more carbon intensive because it requires the use of hot water and chemicals to glean the the sticky black bitumen from the frozen sands. The used water then collects in toxic ponds.

“We have an entire team dedicated to environmental responsibility and we are always looking for a better option,” Whole Foods spokesperson Libba Letton told the Toronto Star newspaper.

The industry counters that it is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in land reclamation and such new technologies as carbon capture and storage. The American Petroleum Institute says on its Energy Now website that “on a life cycle (or well-to-wheels) GHG emission basis, oil derived from Canadian oil sands is comparable with other crudes refined in the United States.”

Critics of the boycott, organized by ForestEthics, say the move is misguided, pointing out that it would be too difficult to determine the crude source of the diesel that fuels their trucks.

Refiners mix their feedstocks and swap product with competitors for efficiency reasons, Alan Knight, a U.K.-based sustainable development consultant explains in the Globe and Mail newspaper.

“It’s difficult to see the boycott as much more than a publicity stunt,” Knight adds.

He suggested companies like Whole Foods instead prod the oil industry to accelerate investment in clean new technology, and refuse to buy from those companies that are laggards among their peers.

National Post writer Don Martin acknowledges it may be “a hollow victory for some environmentalists” but says the boycott serves a purpose.  In his column U.S. firms stick it to oil sands, Martin points out “these are the first major American corporations to demonize oil sands use in their business plan.”

Whole Foods Market, a natural and organic foods supermarket chain, employs more than 50,000 staff in over 270 stores  in North America and the UK, according to its website. Retail chain Bed Bath and Beyond operates over 1,000 stores and is a Fortune 500 company, also according to its website.

Image shows heavy equipment mining the oil sands at Syncrude’s Aurora mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta in this May 23, 2006 file photo.  REUTERS/Todd Korol/Files

Comments
2 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

” “It’s difficult to see the boycott as much more than a publicity stunt,” Knight adds.”

Not if you take your head out of your butt… I think this is an excellent move for Whole Foods and BB&B. While the tar sands are being touted by politicians as “international security” from foreign oil, they’re really damaging to the region– it’s being polluted on at all levels: air, water, trees are being ripped up, and the PEOPLE living there are suffering the health defects of all that industrial waste in their water system (which is being quickly soaked up for oil refinement). This isn’t a tug of war between tree hugging hippies and industrial progress, it’s companies taking responsibility for their footprints and giving a damn for a change. KEEP IT UP, GUYS!

Posted by hubera06 | Report as abusive
 

Boycotts allow us to protest and through our free speech we can attempt to affect change. As a habitat steward, I have had to go to the lengths of creating visitor boycott of my community because of enviromental wrong doings. Visit: http://www.nanaimo-visitor-boycott.com

Posted by RoryRickwood | Report as abusive
 

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