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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. Because everyone suffers when air pollution becomes severe, countering the problem can sometimes involve unlikely but necessary partnerships.

An oil company accepts responsibility

Founded as an engine lubricants company in 1966, Unioil is a regional powerhouse in the Philippines’ oil market. Unioil operates retail gas stations throughout the nation, positioning themselves as the public face of high-quality fuels and lubricants.

But rather than focus solely on profits and growth, the company chose to invest in improving the air quality of the Philippines. With that goal in mind, Unioil established the largest network for air quality monitoring in the Philippines in 2016.

Unioil’s unique position as an influential regional vehicle fuel corporation helped them to promote better air quality. Air quality monitors also help encourage change in consumer behavior across the country by tackling one of its primary sources of air pollution: vehicle emissions.

Powered by AirVisual, Unioil is promoting the largest air quality monitoring network in the Philippines.

Founded 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, 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.

Unioil’s preferred tool for reducing air pollution and a poor air quality is the IQAir AirVisual air quality monitor.

What are the causes of air pollution in the Philippines?

Roads in The Philippines, in its capital Manila in particular, are overcrowded and tied with Bengaluru, India for the worst congestion in the world in 2019 at 71 percent congested.1 In 2020, Manila was in fourth place with 53 percent congestion, falling behind or tying with three other cities:

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 is a huge urban area of 24 million residents and extremely dense; Manila has 4 million more people than New York City, but squeezed into about 400 square miles less. With a growing population and terrain limitations, it’s not surprising that Metro Manila is oversaturated with vehicles.

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

The jeepney, a decorative commuter bus common to Manila’s streets, has long been a symbol of Filipino culture. First introduced to the islands as U.S. military vehicles during the Second World War, their outdated motors and heavy metal frameworks are significant contributors to poor energy efficiency and 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 air quality is. Many Filipinos were unaware of the nature and scale of poor air quality in their country.

Setting the clean oil standard

Unioil developed a network of AirVisual air quality sensors now stretches across metro Manila.

In every Unioil gas station in the Philippines, there is a transparent box hanging over the entrance. Inside is an AirVisual air quality monitor, measuring ambient air quality and broadcasting the current air quality to the IQAir public air pollution database.

Unioil pioneered environmentally friendly fuel standards in the Philippines. They introduced Euro 4 standard fuels to the country when required industry standards were still at Euro 2 and Euro 4 standards weren't yet legally required. Unioil also 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’s strategic placement of AirVisual air quality monitors at gas stations helps to give greater visibility to the nation’s air pollution.

Unioil’s strategic placement of AirVisual air quality monitors at gas stations helps to give greater visibility to the nation’s air pollution.

These live air quality 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. The visibility of the AirVisual at high-traffic gas stations are intended to raise awareness of air pollution levels and air quality in the areas where Filipinos work and live.

Is the push toward clean fuel working?

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

Field tests conducted by Unioil with the Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) show that vehicles using Euro 5 fuels result in 77 percent cleaner emissions compared to vehicles using Euro 4 standard fuels.6

Field tests show that vehicles using Euro 5 fuels result in 77 percent cleaner emissions compared to vehicles using Euro 4 standard fuels.

Unioil also partnered with the Philippines DENR and signed a Memorandum Of Agreement supporting an AirVisual monitoring network expansion.7

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

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

The takeaway

Air quality knowledge is air quality power. Anyone who looks at an AirVisual 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 in Nigeria to a national fuel corporation.

Having access to national air quality data could lead the Philippines away from its status quo of dangerous, far too commonvehicle emissions.

There are 80,000 air quality monitors in cities around the world providing live air quality data. You can join them today.

Learn how you can use your AirVisual to contribute to the world’s largest air quality monitoring database.

The number one air cleaning solution for your home.

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