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New Report Analyzes Sustainability Impacts of Transportation Fuels

October 12, 2012

Business for Social Responsibility’s (BSR) new report assesses the total sustainability impacts of commercial transportation fuels as well as the market outlook for a complete range of fuel types. The report will help large-scale fuel purchasers make viable decisions that lessen impacts to the environment and society and enhance economic growth and development.

The report—the first in BSR’s Future of Fuels initiative—synthesizes information that is currently available and offers new research that, for the first time, provides a comprehensive view of the sustainability impacts generated through the life cycle of six fuel types: gas/diesel, natural gas, biofuel, hydrogen, electric power (battery-powered vehicles), as well as the “fuel” represented by greater efficiency.

With world energy consumption set to rise by nearly 40 percent by 2030, the sources and structures of our transportation fuel systems will radically change—in potentially contradictory ways: Even though the production of renewable and hyper-efficient energy is on the rise, the rapid growth in developing economies is driving a quest to uncover the cheapest energy wherever it is found—often without full consideration of sustainability impacts.

BSR’s report outlines key findings related to the sustainability impacts of fuels, the market outlook of fuels, and solutions that will promote long-term sustainability.

Key findings related to the sustainability impacts of fuels:

  1. Our collective knowledge of the total sustainability impacts of fuels has numerous gaps. In particular, our understanding of sustainability impacts related to social and economic issues is less precise than our understanding of fuels’ environmental impacts.
  2. In order to avoid unintended consequences and promote solutions that will have large-scale impact, we need to manage the many sustainability issues associated with fuels more holistically.
  3. Addressing systemic issues requires a long-term perspective that is often at odds with the short-term requirements of business and politics.

Key findings related to the market outlook of fuels:

  1. Advanced technologies for renewable and clean energy will require major investments and policy support to become commercially significant.
  2. Oil will remain a driving force for decades to come but will cede its share to many other technologies. In particular, the economic viability—and secure supply—of unconventional fossil fuels may slow the transition to lower-carbon fuel sources.
  3. The greatest certainty in the future of fuels is the growing diversification of fuels in the marketplace, with oil ceding part of its share to all other fuel types.

Key findings related to sustainability solutions:

  1. Although fuel issues have proven to be controversial, companies and their stakeholders, such as government, NGOs, scientists, and consumers, have a common cause in scaling up efficiency and best practices in production and fuel and vehicle management—and there remains much to do.
  2. Value chain transparency and engagement presents an opportunity for innovation. Companies need to find more advanced ways to process, share, and make decisions based on the fair analysis of all relevant issues, including information about fuel sustainability.
  3. Long-term energy policy is lacking, and there is potential for business and government to work together more creatively to develop strategies enabling fuel production and use that is both sustainable and commercially viable.

For this research, BSR consulted leading companies and purchasers of fuel, including Coca-Cola, JP Morgan Chase, Nike, Shell, Suncor, UPS, the U.S. Department of Defense, and Walmart; as well as NGOs, academic, and research institutions such as Forest Ethics, the International Labor Organization, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Nature Conservancy, the Rocky Mountain Institute, Stanford University, the University of California, Berkeley, and the World Resources Institute.

The full report is available at www.bsr.org/en/our-insights/report-view/the-sustainability-impacts-of-fuel.

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