I take my role as a consumer very seriously. I like (ideally...in reality doesn't always work) to KNOW where my dollars are going, KNOW what my choices are, and then balance convenience, cost and my liberal values when I make a deliberate choice what company I patronize. I consider this to be as important as voting when it comes to my impact on the future.
Sometimes I take shortcuts. My family joined the Park Slope Food Co-op, the largest food Co-op in America, and we kind of assume they make many of the choices for us, so we assume their products are at the high end of both quality and positive social impact. And generally they are. I encourage such short cuts because bottom line is you are supporting a company that incorporates your values into their values and stocks accordingly. And, at least in the case of the Park Slope Food Co-op, they do it at cheaper prices than mainstream stores and they are more successful as a business than mainstream stores. You can try to find a food co-op near you here.
But that wasn't my point here. My point is when you can't find a short cut but still want to balance cost, convenience and your liberal values. Let's take gasoline, possibly the hardest place you can find this balance.
My wife and I live in NYC so we don't need and so don't own a car. I love that. I am not a huge fan of NYC, but that is a fabulous aspect of the city. I may complain about the subway, but it is basically a fabulous system.
So gas stations don't usually figure into our day to day choices when it comes to choosing where we spend our dollars. Of course it takes gasoline to get lots of our daily requirements to our door, but we have no real say over that. The only time we have any say over where our gasoline comes from is when we visit California and rent a car.
We have gone out of our way to be environmentally conscious when we rent cars. We have rented an all-electric RAV4 (LOVED it), a biodiesel VW (loved it), hybrids (not as good as they once were...you used to really get 50 mpg, now they aren't nearly as fuel efficient as they were), and most recently a FlexFuel car. Currently all electric and hybrids are too expensive compared with standard rentals for us to afford in our current economic climate so we tend to rent regular cars and try for best fuel efficiency, though we also like FlexFuel because it gives us the opportunity to use E85 fuel. Although it is not clear it is a better option than regular gas (due to lower fuel efficiency despite lower cost) we still like the option.
All of this begs one question (except in the case of an all electric): where to fuel up?
Gas companies (like tobacco companies) are pretty much all horrible companies when it comes to liberal values. This can perhaps best be seen by looking at Green America's Responsible Shopper website's coverage of Gas/Oil companies. Now they don't cover all companies (Citgo, ConservFuel, Valero...) but they cover the biggest, and they are ALL bad. Red on their site means bad and ALL gas companies they cover are red. The best (relatively speaking) are Sunoco, Citgo and Hess. The most disgusting bottom feeders are Shell, Exxon/Mobil, BP and Chevron/Texico.
When we plan our trips to California we like to spend some real time thinking about what we are going to do and where we are going to eat. This time around we are thinking of traveling up to the Bay Area from Los Angeles because we have a friend newly settled up there and my step-daughter might want to check out Stanford (last year she checked out CalTech and loved it...if they offered her a good deal I bet she'd go to CalTech in a heartbeat). I spend some time looking for great restaurants and great things to do. Some of our finds I have listed here. Though I admit some of our old favorites have started to fail us (e.g. the Cuban Restaurant called Versailles used to be reliably magnificent, but sucked the last time we were there).
So when it comes to fueling up, I like to KNOW what companies are available that best (or as best as possible) balance cost, convenience, and our liberal values.
If we stick to the Los Angeles/Santa Barbara area we have discovered ConservFuel. For regular gasoline they tend to be near the cheaper end. So they are good cost-wise. They are not always convenient since we aren't always near either their Brentwood (Los Angeles) or Santa Barbara locations, but we are willing to go out of our way a tad to fuel up there. Also they are independent of all the big oil companies and usually offer alternative fuels (e.g. biodiesel, E85...) so they fit our liberal values. So ConservFuel is our station of choice in Los Angeles and in Santa Barbara. They are without a doubt the best balance of cost (generally cheaper than anywhere else), convenience (well sort of), and liberal values (they rock!).
But if we are planning a trip further afield, what do we do.
Well, looking at responsible shopper, Sunoco, Citgo and Hess may be our best options. However, from what I can find there are no Sunoco, Citgo or Hess stations in California. Which kind of sucks. If there are any, I can't find them.
I really don't want to depend on the worst companies in the world (Shell, Exxon/Mobil, BP and Chevron/Texico) when we travel in California. So what are we to do?
Adding on that we prefer to have an option for E85, partly because we prefer companies that favor alternative fuels, I find two options, though they cluster at either end of a trip between Southern California (San Diego-Santa Barbara) and the Bay Area (including San Jose up to Berkeley). They are Conserv Fuel and Propel Fuel.
Conserv Fuel I already mentioned and will always be top of our list when appropriate. Propel Fuel seems to be piggybacking on either Chevron (who I won't patronize) or 76 Stations (who is not rated on Responsible Shopper). So for now I add the Propel Fuel stations associated with 76 stations to my list. But it still leaves gaps. Here are the stations I find running from San Diego to Berkeley that fit our current criteria:
COSERV FUEL: (Best choices)
Conserv Fuel Los Angeles:
11699 San Vicente Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90049
Conserv Fuel Santa Barbara:
150 S La Cumbre Rd
La Cumbre Ln
Santa Barbara, CA 93105
Phone: (805) 964-0938
PROPEL FUEL: (Unless otherwise noted, seem to be 76 Station affiliated...Chevron affiliated stations left out)
Chula Vista, H Street
1495 East H St
Chula Vista, CA 91910
Wilmington, Pacific Coast Hwy
1401 W Pacific Coast Hwy
Wilmington, CA 90744
Fullerton, E Chapman Ave (INDEPENDENT station???)
1124 E Chapman Ave
Fullerton, CA 92831
Norwalk, Firestone Blvd
12042 Firestone Blvd
Norwalk, CA 90650
San Jose, 1st Street
1002 N. 1st Street
San Jose, CA 95112
Redwood City, Whipple Ave (VALERO affiliated)
503 Whipple Ave
Redwood City, CA 94063
Berkeley, University Ave
849 University Ave
Berkeley, CA 94710
So I am hoping we can fuel up almost exclusively at these kinds of stations. But maybe folks out there can make recommendations? Am I missing some options? Are there some Sunoco, Hess or Citgo stations as back ups? Are there E85 stations or independent gas stations I am missing?
Even more than our voting choices, we can express our opinions through the companies we patronize. How can we best do this when buying gasoline in California (a particularly difficult version of this question!).