Filipino/a drivers on motorcycles and in cars on a wet, congested road in what is ostensibly the Philippines.
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Revealing the Invisible: How oil money started an air quality revolution

Global air pollution has become a major problem. It’s bigger than any one person, government, or organization can tackle alone. That’s why citizen scientists around the world are taking air quality matters into their own hands.

Global air pollution has become a major problem. It’s bigger than any one person, government, or organization can tackle alone.

That’s why citizen scientists around the world are taking air quality matters into their own hands. And this story centers around one unexpected act of citizen science that brings a timely new meaning to the old saying “with great power comes great responsibility” – with a twist that’s almost unheard of.

Unioil: With great pollution comes great responsibility

A massive oil corporation probably doesn’t seem a likely candidate for leadership and innovation in air quality citizen science. But Unioil, a Philippines-based petroleum company, is doing just that.

An oil corporation doesn’t seem a likely candidate for leadership and innovation in air quality citizen science. But Unioil is doing just that.

Founded in 1966 as a modest engine lubricants company, Unioil has become a regional powerhouse in the Philippines’ enormous oil market. And after a string of lucrative business moves in the 1990s, Unioil began opening retail gas stations throughout the Philippines, positioning themselves as the public face of high-quality fuels and lubricants.

You may think you know the rest of this story: oil company gets huge, sits on billions of dollars, and contributes to global pollution while ignoring the massive impact that its product has on the environment.

Think again.

Unioil is also behind the largest air quality monitoring network in the Philippines. Their unique position as an expert in vehicle fuel and as one of the region’s most influential corporations is allowing them to promote a cleaner Air Quality Index (AQI) and changes in consumer behavior across the country by tackling one of its primary sources of air pollution: vehicle emissions.

Powered by AirVisual Pro by IQAir, Unioil is behind the largest air quality monitoring network in the Philippines.

And Unionoil’s weapon of choice in battling air pollution and a poor AQI? The AirVisual Pro air quality monitor by IQAir.

Is air quality in the Philippines really that bad?

Internationally known for its gorgeous landscapes, the Philippines, and its capital Manila in particular, have broken records for overcrowded roads, rated the worst in the world.1

Limited public transportation has forced many of the archipelago’s 103 million residents to commute by gas-powered vehicles, resulting in jammed highways that generate (literal) tons of polluted air.

Manila, a huge urban area of 24 million residents, is extremely dense. Just to put this in perspective, Manila has 4 million more people than New York City, but squeezed into about 400 square miles less. So it’s not surprising that Metro Manila is saturated with vehicles.

And some, like the iconic Jeepney, are some of the worst contributors to the AQI still on the roads today. 

Walking through the streets of Manila, you can’t miss a “jeepney,” the decorative commuter buses that have long been symbols of Filipino culture. First introduced to the islands as U.S. military vehicles during the Second World War, today, their outdated motors and heavy metal frameworks are a recipe for poor energy efficiency and massive amounts of toxic emissions.2,3 

But while they’re the cheapest mode of transportation in the Philippines, costing about $0.15 per ride, the iconic Jeepneys cart millions of people each day at a cost of 22,000 metric tons of soot a year.

While they’re the cheapest mode of transportation in the Philippines, the iconic Jeepneys cart millions of people each day at a cost of 22,000 metric tons of soot a year.

Increasing public awareness has revealed just how little is known about just how bad the AQI is – many Filipinos are still unaware of the nature and scale of poor air quality in their country. 

Until now.

Enter Unioil: Setting the clean oil trend

In 2016, Unioil took a stand by developing a network of AirVisual Pro that now stretches across 18 cities in the Philippines. 

When you visit a Unioil gas station in the Philippines, you’ll probably notice a transparent box hanging over the entrance. Inside is an AirVisual Pro air quality monitor, measuring ambient air quality and broadcasting the current AQI to AirVisual’s public air pollution database.

But why does an oil company care about the air? Well, Unioil is no stranger to helping clean its region’s air. Unioil is known as a clean-air pioneer in the Philippines. Beginning in 2013, they introduced the environment-friendly Euro 4 standard fuels to the country, when required industry standards were still at Euro 2 and Euro 4 standards wouldn’t be legally required until 2016. And four years later, in September 2017, Unioil began distributing Euro 5 standard fuels at its stations when the industry requirement was still at Euro 4.4

With a maximum sulfur content of 10 parts per million, Unioil's Euro 5 fuels are five times cleaner than other conventional fuels sold in the country. Unioil believes that enabling Filipinos to access affordable and eco-friendly fuel is a step towards reducing humanity’s impact on climate change and promoting cleaner air, a mission that the company publicly endorses. 

Unioil believes that access to affordable and eco-friendly fuel is a step towards reducing humanity’s impact on climate change and promoting cleaner air, a mission that the company publicly endorses.

Now, with the AirVisual Pro, Unioil believes that the strategic placement of air quality monitors at gas stations puts them at the crossroads of many dimensions of the issue – and as one of the biggest benefactors of gasoline spending in the country, Unioil also views their position of power as one of great responsibility.

These live AQI readings constantly remind drivers of the impact of heavy vehicle emissions. Such reminders resonate deeply with a country that relies on millions of decades-old, fuel-inefficient cars, buses, and jeepneys to get around every day. Unioil hopes the visibility of the AirVisual Pro at high-traffic gas stations will encourage Filipinos to become aware of air pollution levels and air quality in the areas where they work and live.

But is the push toward clean fuel working?

The Filipino government first began legislating for cleaner air in 1999 with the Philippines Clean Air Act.5 But nearly two decades later, jeepneys and traffic congestion remain real challenges.

But thanks to Unioil’s push to supply the Philippines with the latest clean fuel, field tests conducted by Unioil with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show that vehicles using Euro 5 fuels result in 77% cleaner emissions compared to vehicles using Euro 4 standard fuels.6

Field tests conducted by Unioil with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources show that vehicles using Euro 5 fuels result in 77% cleaner emissions compared to vehicles using Euro 4 standard fuels.

And in line with their mission to safeguard the environment for future generations, Unioil has also partnered with the Philippines Department Of Environment & Natural Resources (DENR) and signed a Memorandum Of Agreement supporting the commitment to the expansion of an AirVisual monitoring network.7 

By partnering with the Philippine government, Unioil seeks to promote environmentally-friendly policy decisions and responsible consumer choices. And together, they aim to generate a national air quality status report that will form the basis of a nationwide air quality improvement framework.

What’s next?

Unioil's commitment to clean energy and air quality awareness illustrates how corporations and conscious consumer choices can align to change a city's landscape for the better while promoting a cleaner, healthier future. 

And IQAir is proud to have contributed a small piece to the puzzle of solving global air quality with AirVisual Pro. Our air quality monitor allows Unioil to take the small but crucial step of learning what’s in the air. 

And air quality knowledge is air quality power – anyone who looks at an AirVisual Pro is immediately armed with the awareness that we all breathe the same air and that we can all do something about it, from a single citizen scientist to an enormous corporation.

Get involved!

Unioil’s story is far from over. Having access to national air quality data will undoubtedly lead the country away from its status quo of dangerous yet ubiquitous vehicle emissions. 

But our story today extends far beyond this island nation: over 10,000 cities around the world use AirVisual Pro to provide live air quality data, and you can join them today.

Click here to learn how you can use your AirVisual Pro contribute to the world’s largest (and growing!) air quality monitoring database.

The world is ripe for an air quality revolution – and the revolutionary could be you!

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RESOURCES

[1] Tan L. (2015). Metro Manila has ‘worst traffic on Earth,’ longest commute - Waze.
http://cnnphilippines.com/metro/2015/10/01/Metro-Manila-Philippines-worst-traffic-longest-commute-Waze-survey.html 

[2] Meiners J. (2016). The history of the Jeepney, the Philippines' mass-transit solution.
https://www.caranddriver.com/news/the-history-of-the-jeepney-the-philippines-mass-transit-solution 

[3] Alternative technologies for the Philippine utility Jeepney. (2017).
http://cleanairasia.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Jeepney-CB-Study.pdf 

[4] Unioil offers complete line of Euro 5-compliant fuels in PH. (2017).
https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/lifestyle-features/2017/12/14/1769243/unioil-offers-complete-line-euro-5-compliant-fuels-ph 

[5] Philippine Clean Air Act of 1999 - Chan Robles virtual law library. (1999).
http://www.chanrobles.com/philippinecleanairact.htm#.W3rG0ehKiUk 

[6] Pabustan D. (2018). Unioil is ready for the EV takeover in the Philippines.
https://www.autodeal.com.ph/articles/car-news-philippines/unioil-ready-ev-takeover-in-philippines 

[7] Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2017).
https://www.denr.gov.ph/news-and-features/latest-news/3393-denr-unioil-to-install-more-air-quality-monitoring-stations-in-mm.html

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