Whole Foods, Bed Bath & Beyond to Cut Suppliers Sourcing Fuel from Oil Sands

by | Feb 17, 2010

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AlbertaOilSandsTo cut their carbon footprints, retailers Whole Foods Market and Bed Bath & Beyond are dropping suppliers that source fuel from Canada’s oil sands (also known as the Alberta Tar Sands), reports the Financial Times. While Whole Foods Market has switched to suppliers sourcing U.S. crude oil, Bed Bath & Beyond instituted a new policy that encourages its transportation providers to avoid high impact fuels including those from refineries using Tar Sands.

The decisions are not expected to impede the flow of Alberta oil to the U.S., which represents a fifth of all U.S. energy imports, but it does send a signal against synthetic crude oil from Alberta, reports the Toronto Star.

Both companies are responding to ForestEthics’ campaign launched last year to urge U.S. corporate companies away from oil sands fuel, which has a higher carbon content than conventional crude oil, reports the Financial Times. ForestEthics is negotiating with more than 30 companies to adopt similar policies, according to the article.

The oil sands represent the largest oil reserve outside Saudi Arabia and reduce Washington’s dependence on Middle Eastern fuel, reports the Financial Times.

The Obama administration approved a pipeline in August to carry oil sands fuel into the U.S., reports Financial Times. In addition, a low-carbon fuel standard (LCFS) provision was removed from the House climate bill passed in June last year.

Whole Foods replaced supplier Marathon Oil, which sources fuel from the oil sands, with CountryMark, which uses only American crude, reports Financial Times.

However, Whole Foods officials told the Toronto Star the company will continue to use fuels derived from Alberta tar sands in the Rocky Mountain region because there is no alternative source. The company could reverse the policy if Alberta succeeds in the testing of carbon capture and storage technology to reduce carbon emissions in its tar sands production, according to the article.

Last May, Canada slated about approximately $132.0 million under its Clean Energy Fund for research initiatives, which include new technologies to address environmental challenges in the oil sands.

Whole Foods says only fuels derived from U.S.-based crude oil are being use in the supply chains at 10 of the food retailer’s 11 North American distribution centers, reports CBC News.

Bed Bath & Beyond says it is using Tar Sands as an issue in its bidding process for selecting transportation providers, according to a press release. This is expected to give providers an edge that can demonstrate their commitment to fuels with lower carbon emissions and lower environmental and social impacts.

Critics are suggesting that the move by the companies is “greenwashing,” reports The Globe and Mail. According to the article, Whole Foods, even with its new policy, may still use more of the Alberta oil, percentage wise, than the rest of the U.S. economy, according to the article.

Alan Knight, a U.K.-based sustainable development consultant who worked with Virgin Airlines when it considered dropping the use oil-sands-derived jet fuel, told The Globe and Mail “it’s difficult to see the boycott as much more than a publicity stunt.”

Knight also said in the article that boycotting is easier, cheaper and good PR but it won’t solve the problem.

On the investor side, British investor activist group FairPensions filed a resolution with BP PLC demanding more information about the risks associated with the company’s oil sands activities, reports CBC News. Investors say they are concerned about the cost of carbon capture and storage and the cost of expected emissions, according to the article.

CBC News also reports that Shell has shelved plans to expand its $14-billion Athabasca Oilsands Project from 255,000 to 700,000 barrels per day next year.

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