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Oil Standard: A Fair-Trade Tiger in Your Tank

Gaia Certification aims to build a network of progressive fuel centers selling fair-trade gasoline.

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David Poritz spends a lot of time thinking about the fuel station of the future. Imagine it: a service station that aligns with your values. Biofuels, electric charging stations, solar power. More Whole Foods than Circle K. He sees a network of progressive fuel centers stretching from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Portland, Oregon, all built around an unlikely commodity: fair-trade gasoline.

“Whether we like it or not,” says Poritz, “we’re going to be using fossil fuels well into the future. As we transition away from that dependence, we need equitable production practices and equitable supply chains. Here’s the most ubiquitous product on the planet—something we engage with on a daily basis—
yet we don’t have the ability to support companies’ best practices.”

The forestry, cacao, and coffee industries have all seen clear, measurable improvements in their production processes since the introduction of voluntary certification systems. So, asks the 22-year-old Poritz, why not energy-resource extraction?

Poritz and his Gaia Certification aim to create a new status quo in the powering of our internal combustion engines by asking companies to engage in a bit of radical corporate transparency. Piloting its approach in Ecuador, Gaia has gathered stakeholders from industry, government, and indigenous communities, all of whom will help rate companies on their practices. This February, Gaia will release its first set of standards, ensuring the best social and environmental practices through the full life cycle of petroleum extraction and production, from initial land contracts to what happens when the oil stops flowing. Once companies begin to be certified, the consumer can decide whether to buy gas that doesn’t have the Gaia seal of approval.

It’s an ambitious plan, admits Poritz, who is still an undergraduate student at Brown University. But he has worked as an intermediary between the NGO community and oil companies in Ecuador since the seventh grade, and has assembled an impressive multinational team of scientists, environmentalists, and MBAs to head up the fledgling Gaia.

“There’s real market value here for energy producers,” says Poritz. “It takes time to move to all renewables. We’re in transition, and that transition has to feel good.”

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