NextGen Oil Sets the Stage for Valvoline's Sustainability Strategy

NextGen Oil Sets the Stage for Valvoline's Sustainability Strategy

Image courtesy of Valvoline

You may have noticed the bright green plastic bottles of motor oil that began hitting the shelves several weeks ago.

"Reduces Environmental Impact," the label reads. "50% Recycled Oil, 100% Valvoline Protection."

Valvoline recently unveiled its latest product NextGen -- an even split of virgin and used oil -- following years of research into making a recycled product as good as any other product it sells. Preliminary sales are brisk as retailers, which have worked aggressively to burnish their own green credentials in recent years, welcome the product with in-store promotions and prime shelf real estate.

"We know we are going to gain market share based on our consumer research," said Cheryl Zimbrick from Valvoline Marketing. "We got additional shelf space -- that automatically is additional market share."

In the last few years, re-refining processes have vastly improved, opening the door for a product like NextGen. It is made with equal parts virgin oil and refined recycled oil, plus proprietary additives. Cheryl Zimbrick

"The car would never know the difference between this product and a regular virgin oil product," she said.

It is possible, Zimbrick said, to increase the proportion of recycled oil. 

"We could make it up to 85 percent if we had enough base stock," she said, adding that 15 percent would be attributed to additives.

Valvoline estimates that Americans use some 3 billion quarts of motor oil annually. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency believes 800 million quarts, or 200 million gallons, are improperly disposed of each year. Valvoline thinks that figure is low, but is still trying to educate consumers about the virtues of recycling motor oil.

Motor oil gets dirty but doesn't wear out, Valvoline says. Re-refining it reduces the need for virgin oil and the associated energy use and emissions produced to extract and refine it. Valvoline has not conducted an LCA on NextGen, but an industry-conducted life cycle assessment of refined base oils found that they emit 40 percent less harmful and acidic emissions than virgin oil and eliminates fossil fuel use by 48 percent.

The company sources the used oil from the open market, as well as its own stable of 700 owned and franchised quick-service oil change facilities across the country.

"We're trying to help consumers understand that they can do this to close the loop," Zimbrick said.

Valvoline previously released products with enhanced environmental profiles, including additives that improve fuel efficiency and oil-in-a-box for Walmart service stations, which boasts less packaging. The company has also set internal goal to reduce impacts associated with waste and water use.

"We've been involved in different areas of sustainability, but we've never talked about it," Zimbrick said.

The company feels that its NextGen motor oil gives it both a platform to discuss sustainability and the nudge to develop its own comprehensive strategy that will be incorporated into its culture. Zimbrick is now collecting baseline information and creating a sustainability strategy that will serve as the foundation for an executive plan to be carried out internally, beginning around late summer.

"This was by request of the president," Zimbrick said. "This is my sole responsibility. He wants to now what the business case and strategies would look for Valvoline."

[Editor's note: This article was updated to reflect the fact that Valvoline has not conducted a life cycle analysis of its NextGen product.]