Tarring Our Reputation? | Seventh Generation
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Tarring Our Reputation?

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Author: John Replogle

Here's something you don't see every day: a group of University of Vermont students protesting Seventh Generation. Their mock funeral, which was staged yesterday outside our offices in Burlington symbolized the death of their future due to the use of oil from Canada's tar sands, in this case by OHL, one of our transportation partners.

Having been party to conversations inside the company on the subject, I can safely say we totally agree. Tar sands oil is a terrible thing. From the environmental toll caused by its extraction to the ill-conceived pipeline that would carry the toxic results to the Gulf Coast, there's nothing here to recommend and plenty to shrink from in abject horror.

The UVM students wonder why would anyone in their right mind even consider tar sands oil, and they've got a point. But we think that's ultimately too limited a question. As I see it, the bigger question should be: why is anyone still considering petroleum at all?

To us, oil is oil, and it's all bad. Sure, some sources are uglier than others, but at the end of day does it really matter where the petroleum we use comes from? Whether it was drilled in Texas, pumped in the Persian Gulf, or melted out of Canadian sand, obtaining it is ruining our land and water, and burning it is destroying our atmosphere. In the face of universal devastation like that, arguing the merits (or lack thereof) of this source versus that source is like debating whether or not corn syrup or cane sugar is worse for your health. Fill your diet with either and you're toast.

The real issue here is humanity's oil addiction and the urgent need to create a sustainably renewable energy-based economy. That's always been our belief, and we've just never made much of a distinction between types of fossil fuels except to say that anything that promotes further use of any of them (like, say, a tar sands pipeline) is a bad idea.

Instead, we've devoted our resources to establishing energy and production models others can follow. Ironically, OHL (our third party logistics partner) has been a big help in this regard. Working together, we've built a new regionally-based distribution system network that has cut the miles-per-delivery our products travel by 48% and lowered our overall carbon emissions per ton shipped by 35% in the last three years alone. That's huge progress toward reducing our petroleum dependencies of all kinds. And we're continuing to work with OHL to make their operations and ours even more sustainable down the road.

In a landmark achievement this past spring, we debuted innovative new packaging featuring 96% post-consumer recycled (PCR) content. Developed by Seventh Generation in collaboration with its packaging partner, Consolidated Container Company, the new packaging is constructed of resin derived from recycled milk jugs and other plastic bottles and represents a quantum leap over the 25% recycled content typically found in plastic packaging.  We've been massaging the production side, too. Soon, for example, our Laundry Liquids will contain an innovative new 100% vegetable-based surfactant (replacing a petroleum based surfactant). The result is the first nearly 100% renewable petroleum-free, bio-based cleaning product in the world.

Again the issue isn't where the oil we use comes from but the simple fact that we're all using too much of it. That's what we want to stop. When you consider the fact that America's gasoline and petrochemical supplies come from constantly revolving sources that make it a real challenge to ascertain whether what's in your tank came from Canada or Kuwait, and that in some parts of North America it's now virtually impossible to fuel up without tar sands oil involved, an ultimate zero-petroleum goal is the one that makes the most sense to us. Rather than work on trying to clear our product life cycles of a particular type of oil, we just think it's better to clear them of petroleum period, and so we've chosen to devote our resources and our voice to that idea.

On reflection, it's clear from talking to people around here that we appreciate the dialogue that protests like the one yesterday contribute. They help keep us on our toes and that helps keep us moving forward.  I'm pleased to say that yesterday's protesters accepted our offer of an ongoing conversation and supported our position statement.  It's an ongoing dialogue to affect change that we look forward to building on in coming weeks!

photo: @PhilipTortora

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