Friday, November 15, 2019

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Propane Goes Green


Heating oil isn’t alone in its efforts to rebrand as an environmentally responsible alternative to electrification. Propane is in the same boat, confronted with similar political pressures and criticisms. In response, the Propane Gas Association of New England (PGANE) recently introduced a new messaging campaign designed specifically to educate policymakers in the region. Spearheading the campaign is PGANE President & CEO Leslie Anderson, who developed it in coordination with New York-based public relations and marketing firm PriMedia, Inc.
 
While green marketing might be a new look for propane, it’s far from unfamiliar territory for Anderson. Before taking the association’s helm in January 2017, she spent 18 months working for the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Prior to this, Anderson worked for 14 years with the Dead River Company, including nine years as director of risk management and environmental compliance. She also holds a master’s degree in environmental management from University of Houston-Clear Lake and a JD from the South Texas College of Law.

Oil & Energy spoke with Leslie Anderson about PGANE’s new message as well as several other projects in the works and opportunities on the horizon. For more information, contact her directly at leslie@pgane.org.

It’s been a big year for PGANE on the communications side. The association has a new campaign focused on Green Sustainable Energy, as well as a new website. What can you tell us about these projects and how members will be using them?
We needed something to get our message across to legislators and legislative staff; something that was graphically easy to understand yet detailed in case policymakers wanted more information. We just introduced our Green Sustainable Energy campaign at four PGANE dinner meetings that were very well attended. The campaign materials are housed in our newly designed legislative folders. Each folder contains an infographic on propane’s economic contribution, a flyer on clean air, a handout titled “Renewable Secure Propane,” and instructions on showcasing your business to elected officials. The reception has been really great. Our members love the images, the layout — all of it. Because of the way these materials are laid out with bullet points and headlines, a busy manager or owner can just glance at them, and if they want more information it’s there.

The other thing we needed was really attention-grabbing graphics that illustrate propane’s environmental message. Our new logo — a globe wrapped around a propane cylinder with a green valve — has been very effective in this regard. One member said, “I want to put this on the back of my business card.”

As you mentioned, the PGANE website has also been updated. It’s now much faster, and we will soon be able to post more information to show our members what’s going on in the industry and within our association. One of the things I think we need to do as an industry is market our fuel as being more environmentally friendly. That’s something new homeowners are looking for. You see a lot of new construction where people are trying to put the greenest energy source into the home. Propane goes along with New England’s message to re-use resources and use as little as possible. Not only does it reduce carbon emissions, but also the more off-grid infrastructure we have, the more energy security we have in times of need. The website will be a great resource to deliver that message and share our new communications resources with the public and our members.

PGANE’s new Call to Action specifically encourages marketers to invite legislators to tour their facilities. Why the decision to focus on these kinds of tactics?
This tactic is really important in New England because over the last year, all six states’ legislative sessions included more environmental issues and legislation than we’ve ever seen in our region’s history. Moving forward, we need to reach out and educate legislators. The best way for them to learn whom their policies affect most directly is to come and see our local businesses. We are family businesses operating in local communities and providing good jobs for our neighbors. Once legislators get to know folks in our industry, it really makes them think differently about policy, especially if we can educate them about how propane is part of the solution to lower emissions.

Also, when propane-related bills come up, if you have a relationship with your local legislators, they may reach out and ask about it. Sometimes they even reach out in advance. It’s important to have those relationships now more than ever, given the political environment in New England. The facility tour guide has tons of information, which will give business leaders the confidence they need to run a tour if they’ve never done it before. We hope members begin scheduling site visits over the coming months.

Another point raised in PGANE’s new infographic, which you touched on earlier, is the increasingly popular new-construction market and the resulting gallon growth. How has this development impacted PGANE’s strategy in recent years?
I think that’s an area that we have huge potential to unlock as an industry. We’re starting to see PERC [the Propane Education Research Council] incorporate environmental messaging in their new-construction materials. PERC’s tagline is “Clean American Energy,” but talking about how important that clean component is in the context of climate-change discussions is something new. We are now seeing information on propane’s lower greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the fact that propane is non-toxic. It’s something PGANE certainly supports and would like to see more of. I think there’s huge potential there to educate new and first-time homebuyers and expose them to our green message. When I Google “green energy,” propane needs to be one of the first things that pops up.

What are some other new-market opportunities you see on the horizon for New England’s propane sellers?  
We should be switching out every electric hot water heater in our customers’ homes for propane on-demand hot water heaters. They are very simple to install, save money for consumers, are much more efficient and lower homes’ utility bills. Plus, we already know the people using electric water heaters — they’re our customers — so that’s low hanging fruit.

I see additional opportunity for propane in commercial mowing operations. Propane sellers have had a lot of success with that market in Ohio, the Dakotas, and Minnesota, and we haven’t looked at it seriously here. There has also been a boost in the popularity of pool heaters, especially in the southern New England states. I do think propane generators will remain a strong market and become even more necessary as we have more homes on electricity only. Then there’s autogas; we have an active group that is trying to push this through for fleet usage and transportation, especially in larger vehicles. Propane autogas vehicles can show up in the morning and run the whole day without having to be charged continually like electric vehicles.

This article will be distributed shortly after PGANE’s Annual Fall Meeting. For those who are unable to attend, what are some important topics of discussion on the agenda?
We have a presentation from Gray, Gray & Gray on their annual propane survey. Energy World Net (EWN) is doing a presentation on operator qualification for jurisdictional propane (JLP) accounts. Certain accounts fall under pipeline rules — traditionally public spaces that serve more than one customer, like strip malls. Serving these accounts requires additional training. This is intensely regulated and inspected, and PGANE now has online tracking and training capabilities that we didn’t have in the past. It’s a great benefit to members who are active in that area.

At the same time PGANE has been refining its messaging, PERC continues to roll out new communications. How do you see these messages complementing one another?
PERC is looking at regional messaging more than they have in past, which is fantastic. We are hopeful that there will be more environmental, green messaging coming from PERC. Of course, they serve the whole U.S., and going green isn’t as politically important in some of the southern states as it is in New England and on the West Coast. But I still think people living all over country would benefit from green marketing that enables them to look at propane in a different light.

PERC funds state-specific projects. For example, our marketing committee is reviewing a set of social media posts PERC put together for us. In providing direction for these, we shared a lot of the same information that is now illustrated in our new campaign. I’d like to see more of that, so “Green Sustainable Propane” becomes a recognizable brand. We’re trying to target each of the six states with a mix of 16 posts. We have one about keeping the lights on, with a lighthouse picture for Maine; one about keeping mountains green, with mountain ranges in Vermont; and one that talks about propane’s portability, for tailgating Boston sporting events.

It seems like propane is in a somewhat unique position, with allies in both the natural gas and heating oil industries. Can PGANE use this to its advantage?
In places where we align, it makes sense for us to get together for lobbying purposes. PGANE’s message is very much aligned with the heating oil industry and its biofuel story, and we can work together when talking to legislators in order to become part of the renewable-solution conversation.

On the natural gas side, when Obama took office natural gas was going to replace coal and solve all of our energy problems. We’re going to rely on it more than many legislators think, as it is such a critical part of our infrastructure. It powers millions of New England homes and businesses. As long as natural gas production exists, you will have propane left over, so, rather than waste it, let’s use it to offset emissions.

Additionally, when it comes to carbon tax legislation, we are closely aligned with associations representing heating oil dealers, gasoline retailers and conventional vehicle manufacturers. Not everybody can buy a Tesla.


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