09/11/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Nov 11, 2014

Tar Sands out of Our Food and Drink


PepsiCo is America's largest food and beverage company. While most people associate the global corporate giant with its flagship brand Pepsi, it also owns a diverse array of major brands consumed in millions of households including Quaker Oats, Tropicana, Aquafina, Naked Juice, Frito-Lay, Gatorade and more. And it ships those products to market all around America with a massive truck fleet fueled by the world's dirtiest oil---tar sands.

Oil derived from tar sands is the most carbon polluting oil in the world. Extracting and refining a barrel of oil from tar sands produces up to three times more carbon pollution than producing a barrel of conventional oil.

There are two ways to get tar sands oil: strip-mining and drilling. The tar sands fueling PepsiCo's fleet come from the northern boreal forest, a carbon sink that captures and stores twice as much carbon as tropical forests. According to the Sierra Club and ForestEthics, the tar sands industry plans to strip-mine and drill an area of wetlands and forests the size of Florida. In addition to the lethal spike in carbon emission that would result, another risk is massive water pollution -- as arsenic, cyanide, ammonia and other chemicals are the byproducts of tars sands extraction.

Tens of thousands of trucks are required to transport PepsiCo's products. Companies that purchase such high volumes of oil have the power to shape market forces by using their economic leverage to insist on cleaner fuels. Nineteen major companies, including Walgreens, Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, have committed to not use tar sands oil to fuel their fleets, and PepsiCo should do the same.

While trucks make up only 7 percent of the vehicles on the road, they consume 25 percent of the nation's fuel. If the nation's largest truck fleets refrain from using tar sands oil, it will help reduce the demand for it. Companies like PepsiCo should be leading the way in utilizing alternative fuel and electric vehicle technology, not creating economic incentives for the extraction of tar sands.

Renowned climate scientist James Hansen has said that extracting the reserves of Canadian tar sands oil would be nothing short of disastrous for the climate. Companies like PepsiCo need to be held accountable for choosing to transport their products, which are consumed by kids and families every day, with such dangerous and carbon polluting fuel.

In a statement from PepsiCo's website, its CEO, Indra Nooyi states: "If our history and trajectory have taught us one thing, it's that we have to think in terms of both quarters and generations. Business does not operate in a vacuum-it operates under a license from society."

Ms. Nooyi is absolutely right that business operates under a license from society. And yet, whom she perceives as granting that license is a critical variable. The current Congress, for example, is a proponent of extracting and burning as much tar sands oil as possible. PepsiCo should seek license from the kids and communities suffering from the impacts of carbon pollution, from respiratory diseases to increasingly severe climate impacts, including floods, drought, wildfires and super storms.

Climate change, more than any other issue, poses a threat to current and future generations. If PepsiCo is truly thinking "in terms of both quarters and generations," it needs to align its practices with its vision and commit to stop fueling its fleet with the world's dirtiest oil.