Synthetic Oils, the Environment
by Ed Newman
and Your Quick Lube Operation
Marketing & Advertising Manager, AMSOIL INC.
Are synthetic motor oils safer
for the environment than conventional petroleum motor oils?
Environmental issues are far more complex than any brief overview
can present. We can begin, however, by recognizing that the Green
Movement is not a fad. Environment has grown in importance as
a contemporary business issue and will continue growing for a
Jacquelyn Ottman, in her book Green Marketing, states that used
motor oil is the largest single source of pollution in our nation's
A website for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
notes that Pennsylvania Do-It-Yourselfers dispose of 11 million
gallons of used oil a year. The authors of this website state
that only 14 percent is re-cycled and the rest, 9.5 million gallons,
is dumped, either into sewers, on the ground or into the trash.
Extrapolate this out and you are looking at some awesomly large
This is all the more startling when you consider that one quart
of oil can create a two-acre sized oil slick, and a gallon of
oil can foul a million gallons of freshwater, a year's supply
for fifty people.
I'll be the first to admit that I don't always trust statistics.
Unless they make sense to me somehow, I tend to be a skeptic.
Even so, it is not likely that the figures are arbitrarily pulled
from thin air. Yet even if nationally less than half of all D-I-Yers
improperly dispose, that is still a huge volume of used motor
oil being slopped around.
Let's combine these two ideas. Premise one: Quick lubes handle
used motor oil more responsibly than D-I-Yers. Premise two: The
general public is increasingly concerned about environmental issues.
From where I sit, the logical combination of these two premises
is this: Quick lube operators are in a position to market themselves
as heroes in the battle to preserve our environment. As re-cyclers
of used motor oil, we are part of the solution rather than the
In point of fact, Green Consumers may well be your best customers.
They are educated, affluent and influential.... and devoted, once
they know you are committed to their values.
A recent Gallup survey discovered that 94 percent of all consumers
prefer to do business with companies that demonstrate that they
care about the environment. Almost 80 percent said they would
pay more for environmentally friendly products. In other words
it would appear that going Green, and promoting this commitment,
can be a profitable marketing strategy.
From an environmental point of view, quick lubes have a PR problem.
Quick lubes are part of the oil industry, which has a negative
perception in many people's minds. The oil and gas industries
are perceived by 70 percent of all consumers as environmentally
careless. Only the chemical industry has a worse rating, by one
For this reason, it is imperative that we develop an environmental
perspective and make a commitment in the direction of Green. The
perception is wrong, but we need to find ways to let our local
public know it.
Environmental marketing is a market segment poised for growth,
says Dave Newport, publisher of Environment 21, a small business
marketing magazine. "In a good economy, consumers are making
more values-based buying decisions."
ARE SYNLUBES GREENER?
Well, no and yes. It depends.
There are really two ways to reduce pollution. One is called recycling.
A second means is source reduction.
When it comes to recycling, synthetics are pretty much the same
as petroleum. You can't dump used synthetic motor oil in the ground
any more than you can petroleum. About a year ago I read an article
that indicated synthetics are less polluting than petroleum by
a small degree, but it was marginal. Both classes of used motor
oil must be taken to re-cycle centers for re-processing.
Source reduction is where synthetics demonstrate their clearest
advantage... if you believe in extended drain intervals. If you
do not accept the notion of extended drain intervals, then source
reduction is likewise a non-issue.
Companies promoting extended drain intervals are quick to point
out that the amount of used motor oil can be reduced significantly.
There is also an immense reduction in the amount of discarded
There is another environmentally friendly feature offered by synthetics.
Due to their lower volatility, synthetics do not boil off or vaporize
as much as petroleum motor oils, which can lose up to 20 percent
of their mass in the high heat conditions of the internal combustion
engine. Synthetics lose from four to ten percent. The benefit
is clear in the reduction of make-up oil required because vehicles
use less oil, however, the emissions factor may be marginal due
to the nature of catalytic converters and other components in
the dispersion of these vapors.
MISCELLANEOUS ACTION ITEMS
Due to space considerations I'll close with a number of miscellaneous
actions for your consideration.
1. Use your local library to find good books on environmental
marketing. Jacquelyn Ottman's Green Marketing is one of many excellent
volumes on this topic.
2. Make signage that says, "We Re-Cycle 100% of our Oil and
Filters." or a sign that says "Bring Your Used Oil and
Filters Here." When D-I-Yers bring their used oil and filters,
ask, "Have you greased your fittings lately?" or "Would
you like a free 10-point check-up?"
3. Consider carrying an extended drain synthetic motor oil for
that niche consumer who is wholly dedicated to environmentally
friendly lifestyle choices.
4. Use propylene glycol based antifreeze instead of the ethylene
glycol antifreeze. Highly toxic, less than one-half cup of ethylene
glycol antifreeze is a lethal dose for the average-sized human.
Lesser amounts can cause serious kidney damage and central nervous
system depression. What's worse, when spilled on driveways and
roadsides its sweet smell and taste attracts wildlife and makes
it more likely to be consumed.
5. Perform an Enviro-Audit. Examine every facet of your operation
for ways to improve the environmental impact of your business.
Government regulations and rising consumer awareness continue
to drive the push for environmental improvements in the auto industry.
Quick lube operators do not need to wait for government intervention
in order to perform earth friendly car care.
To quote Dave Newport again, "In most sectors of the economy,
there are market opportunities for smart businesses that seek
to make a good living in a better world."
While the environmental issue is not a hot button motivator for
many Americans, there is a growing percentage of consumers who
make Green a pre-eminent factor in their decision making. Some
are so Green, in fact, that they won't use cars at all because
they pollute. Most own vehicles and show favor to businesses that
share their values. These may well become your most loyal customers.
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