Fuels Forward Blog: Carbon-Neutral Gasoline?

GreenPrint program designed to offset emissions

By 
Samantha Oller, Senior Editor/Fuels, CSP

Fuels Forward Blog Samantha Oller (CSP Daily News / Convenience Stores / Gas Stations)

OAKBROOK TERRACE, Ill. -- One motivation for consumers to switch from gasoline to an alternative fuel is to lessen their carbon footprint. Well what if you could offset the carbon footprint of gasoline?

A new company, GreenPrint LLC, aims to do just that. Founded by Peter Davis, who made his name in the loyalty space, GreenPrint offers retailers a way to sell carbon-neutral gasoline through its Retail Petroleum ZERO program. Here's how it works: For every gallon of gasoline sold at a participating retailer, GreenPrint invests in offsets to cancel out the fuel's carbon emissions. The offset can be offered for all grades of gasoline, or just midgrade and/or premium, as a way of shifting customers to a more profitable grade.

The retailer inputs its monthly volume figures through an online portal, and then GreenPrint calculates the carbon emissions for these gallons based on averages from the EPA. From here, it invests a corresponding amount in a certified carbon-offset project. GreenPrint also donates money to local greenscaping and tree-planting programs, so the impact may ultimately be positive instead of just neutral. Also consider the local appeal: if you buy ZERO gasoline in Chicago, you are also supporting the planting of a tree somewhere in Chicago.

There is no software for the retailer to install, only point-of-purchase collateral for the pump—a pump topper, nozzle tag, etc. This could even include a live, potted tree placed near the pumps and supported by a local tree organization. Finally, the local groups benefiting from the retailer's participation can market the offer through their own membership newsletters.

As Davis told me recently, he came to believe in the potential of carbon-neutral gasoline after witnessing consumers' willingness to pay a premium for environmentally friendly and humane versions of commoditized products such as milk, eggs and bananas.

"Consumers now, for what used to be a commoditized product, are paying significantly more—50% to 100% more—because they're getting a green, eco-friendly value add," said Davis. "We feel like that's what we have the ability to do here in the fuel industry, especially with awareness growing. Only the future holds … whatever the future alternative fuel will be. But as awareness builds, this product will provide a fantastic bridge to that future solution."

To participate in the program, there is small cost per gallon, which Davis says is "pennies per gallon," amounting to less than the average credit-card fee per gallon. The retailer could choose to pass this cost on; indeed, GreenPrint's own research found that 80% of people would be willing to pay more for carbon-neutral gasoline, and 57% would upgrade to midgrade or premium to purchase it. But the retailer may just as likely absorb it.

"They're hoping to get incremental market share and grade shift," Davis explained. "The forecast model shows profitability there if they're willing to incur the additional cost to attract consumers and shift them up a grade."

The key, said Davis, is to make it easy for consumers. He uses recycling as an example. It used to be incredibly complicated to recycle things like glass and aluminum cans, requiring people to sort their household waste and make a special trip to a recycling center. Now most municipalities have convenient curb-side recycling programs, where all different types of materials can be deposited together.

"If the program is easy, which ours is, it's relevant for everyone," he said.

As of press time, GreenPrint is in talks with two retail chains, and it hopes to announce its first participants this fall.