The Chiquita banana company has positioned itself as a sustainability leader since the 1990s, and now it is stepping up its game with a promise to work with trucking companies to eliminate the use of petroleum fuel from Canada's tar sands oil fields. While the move may expose Chiquita to some political flak - just this week Republicans in Congress won a hard-fought battle to keep the controversial Keystone tar sands pipeline alive - it also enables the company to close ranks with other US companies that have pledged to avoid using petroleum products derived from tar sands operations.
Tar Sands Oil is Already in the US
While opposition to the Keystone tar sands pipeline has been rising, the nonprofit group ForestEthics has been drawing attention to the fact that synthetic oil from the tar sands is already being processed into diesel fuel by almost 50 refineries in the US. This summer the organization posted full page ads in USA Today that challenged Chiquita and Dole to reduce their use of tar sands oil. Now that Chiquita is on board, ForestEthics is using social media to shine a positive light on the company and to leverage action by Dole.
Fruit and Tar Sands Oil
The focus on agriculture has a purpose. Aside from their cultural status as mainstream household brands, agribusiness companies like Chiquita do a tremendous amount of trucking, not only in terms of the rolling stock itself, but in their use of refrigeration equipment that also consumes an enormous amount of diesel fuel. By working with these corporate leaders, tar sands foes can ignite a supply chain ripple effect that could have a significant impact on the market for tar sands-derived diesel in the US.
Walking the Sustainability Walk
Chiquita's willingness to step onto a political minefield over the tar sands issue is one indication of the maturation of corporate social responsibility. It wasn't too long ago that establishing an image as a good corporate citizen was a noncontroversial matter of sponsoring local civic groups, charities and scholarships. Now it seems that in order to do the right thing, companies like Chiquita are going to have to step on a few toes. Oh well, at least it's in good company: the US Navy is also in the process of organizing its fuel supply chain around more sustainable sources along with the rest of the armed services.
Image: Chiquita bananas, some rights reserved by Dawn Huczek.
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Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.