Written on: March 3, 2022
For many retail propane marketers, engaging in environmental messaging has not been a significant role for the time they have run their businesses. With new challenges facing propane marketers from the “Electrify Everything” movement and the push for decarbonization, many industry leaders have been proactive in developing messaging demonstrating that propane has a very positive story to tell.
Recently, Chris Caywood, President of Caywood Propane Gas Inc., with offices in Albion, Coldwater and Hudson, Michigan, shared his thoughts on how environmental messaging is good for business. “What we’re doing about the environment really is a combination of both marketing and economics,” Caywood said. “On the marketing end in messaging, we’ve taken advantage of the materials made available to us by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) which has a number of learning materials and recorded sessions that you can take advantage of as a propane marketer.”
Caywood said that the first step in thinking about the environment was to learn more about the issue with the wealth of materials available. “The second thing we did was to use those materials to put together our own message and we have dedicated space on our website for customers who want to know more about propane’s role in the environment,” he said. “Our headline for any customer who is concerned about it is that propane is cleaner. Today, even if it’s conventionally derived from natural gas or oil, it’s cleaner than many other forms of energy, including electricity after one takes into account how electricity is generated. It’s also renewable, and that’s such a well-kept secret that a lot of propane marketers, in addition to the general public, mistakenly, believe that propane’s a fossil fuel and is nothing but a fossil fuel. While most propane refined conventionally today, there’s a near-term future with propane as a renewable resource.”
“From a messaging standpoint, and really important to the consuming public, propane is affordable,” Caywood said. “A lot of alternatives, whether it’s solar or wind, are going to involve heavy investments from the consuming public. And electric cars, in addition to being expensive, have a limited driving range between charges and may require battery replacement every 65,000 to 100,000 miles. They also use electricity generated at power plants, which means they aren’t even as clean as propane-powered vehicles when you consider how the electricity is currently generated. Getting those messages out there to the customer is vital.” Caywood said he likes the balance that comes with the message and that the balance makes common sense when all the electric movement talks about is the importance of net zero in all electricity. “They lose the sight of the time and investment required by the customer.”
“The all-electric movement also loses on speed to action,” continued Caywood. “Renewable propane may be distributed by both wholesale suppliers and propane marketers through existing channels, which requires very little capital investment or change in behavior. It’s similarly consumed by the customer using the tank, lines and appliances already in their back yard and home. At a minimum, it makes propane a fast, ideal energy source during any transition to net zero carbon emissions. This is a message that’s often overlooked in any conversation about a cleaner environment.
“The final, but maybe most important element of messaging is our own behavior and actions,” Caywood said. “We’ve just ordered propane-powered bobtails, and we’re also evaluating the conversion of our current fleet from fuel oil to propane. The clear message is that we believe in our product.” He believes propane marketers are sending the wrong message to customers if they continue to invest in fleets that burn gasoline or fuel oil instead of propane; he also believes using electric heat or natural gas in offices instead of propane sends the wrong message to customers. “An automaker wouldn’t allow or want their employees to be driving a competitor’s car into their parking lots to go to work. We ought to be using our product.”
Messaging aside, Caywood believes propane-powered fleets make economic sense. “Right now in Michigan, the cost of diesel fuel is over $3 a gallon and Mont Belvieu propane this morning was around a dollar a gallon. The cost of powering your propane vehicle is going to be dramatically less expensive. Even the acquisition cost may be lower, depending on the availability of grants and subsidies, which can approach up to 25% to 35% of a bobtail’s acquisition cost if you are replacing an older, fuel oil chassis.
Caywood finally notes that some propane marketers will continue to ignore the national energy conversation. “There will continue to be companies that don’t see value in trying to address the environment in either their marketing message or their operation. My only hope is that those businesses are near us and compete with us. I believe fundamentally that the consumer cares about the environment, especially in a case like this where their only obligation is to continue using propane and perhaps even convert aging or inefficient electric appliances to propane.”