Opinion: The Value of Shared Accountability

By Paul Nazzaro | April 10, 2020

For nearly a decade, it has felt as though no matter what low-carbon liquid fuel supporters have done to advance the transition of the heating oil industry from carbon-based to renewable, many just don’t seem to care enough to jump in and help push the industry over the top.

All the industry meetings, one-on-ones and conference events have placed the message in front of retailers and wholesalers alike, however, the message appears to have a short-lived impact. For those of us who have long believed in biodiesel as the solution to keeping the heating oil industry alive and prosperous, it was our hope that by having all levels of the supply chain involved in the planning process, a larger number of individuals would at least feel some sense of commitment. But most industry participants just go back to putting this very important transition on the back burner and continue to embrace the status quo.

Some of the reasons for this malaise appear to be our aging population of disinterested parties who only wish to complete their final years in the business and wish not to participate in the industry’s renaissance. Many choose to hold back because they suggest there is a lack of supply of biodiesel or that it is an operational nightmare—one they would not introduce into their customer base. However, one of the most insidious impediments to the industry fully embracing biodiesel is the equipment service sector. And this problem necessitates everyone’s immediate attention.

Specifically, I’m speaking about the independent service companies that many dealers use to service their oil accounts in lieu of putting their own service team on the street. This sector, which I would like not to paint with a broad brush stroke, needs a wakeup call, and the only people they would likely listen to would be those who have shared an account list or who have these companies in their customers’ home at this very minute.

I have repeatedly addressed the negative impact that flagrant misinformation by reckless service technicians and service companies not tied to full-service heating oil delivery businesses have had on the industry. Here is an excerpt from a local fuel dealer who wrote to me to make me aware of what he deals with daily.

“Every day I receive calls from customers wanting to close their account with me because their burner service company has told them to stop using my oil because it is destroying their heating system due to the bio content that is in it. One technician even went so far as to telling the customer her house was going to explode because of the Bioheat. When these calls come in, I talk to the customer and try to educate them on the benefits of Bioheat. However, they don't want to hear what I have to say because they are convinced the oil is bad based on what the technician has told them. I feel this situation is getting worse instead of better as time goes on. I’ve been blending biodiesel in my oil for four years now and feel as though industry leadership should reach out to these groups and help educate them on the merits of our new fuel.”

While a core group of industry leaders—many of whom operate in the highest volume heating oil markets—have worked exhaustively to build market acceptance for Bioheat, sadly, many others have not. This article is not about those who have not chosen to lead. It’s about the importance of building collective accountability for the sustainability of this industry. I contrast responsibility to that of the current battle our nation is waging against COVID-19. 

State and federal leaders have been pleading with American citizens to exercise social distancing and have strongly encouraged us to follow the proven guidelines and facts that will help minimize the damage this virus is anticipated to cause if we continue avoiding their guidance. In many respects, our industry is no different. For far too long, our collective companies have failed to embrace proven facts about the overwhelming benefits of Bioheat and that has significantly stalled progress.

So, I’ll step off my soapbox and directly ask each and every one of you to pause and think about the future of your company. If you haven’t been an active supporter of Bioheat, please become an advocate by making certain that when you hear something or see something that is inaccurate about lab-tested, field-tested renewable Bioheat, you take action to correct the situation. Don’t allow those not committed to this industry to bad mouth Bioheat and continue to post misleading photographs of nozzles, strainers, filters and storage tanks. This equipment in my experience has clearly been neglected or simply poorly maintained, but uneducated service technicians will blame every problem on the transition to biodiesel. This needs to be stopped and stopped today. These service-only companies are negatively impacting every reputable, dedicated retailer in our industry. 

The main characteristic of a group with vision and deep accountability for impacting radical change is that there is enough truth, respect and desire within the group to see each other succeed. With these principles as their foundation, the group can spur one another on toward achieving common goals. They understand that the success of one individual is not enough on its own to overcome failure. Deciding to take ownership and hold yourself and others in your industry accountable is an individual and risky choice. It is up to every individual in our industry to make that decision on their own—and it must come from within. True ownership of a collective goal comes from a deep, intrinsic desire to give more effort than what’s required in order to succeed.

My commitment to advancing Bioheat for nearly two decades is well documented. So, when I received the email I’ve cited in this article, I did some research and discovered the website for the service company that was spreading this virulent information. The website is deplorable, elementary and clearly designed to build the company’s customer base by blaming all of you for delivering inferior oil or, worse, biodiesel-blended fuel oil. I wrote to the service company and encouraged them to terminate this strategy, to contact me or an industry leader where they operate and become informed about Bioheat and why our industry is advancing to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

As expected, they never responded to my invitation to contact me. I guess they’re too busy poisoning customers with irresponsible counsel and scare tactics that increase their service revenue on the backs of local heating oil retailers.

So, what’s it going to take to motivate the heating oil industry to take a stand and fight back? What’s required to fight legislators anxious to put you out of business? How do we fight the underground communication that goes on each day that’s focused on sharing war stories about the deplorable environments these technicians find in customers basements? And finally, what’s it going to take to fight the noncommitted delivery and service companies that take shrinking market share while never dreaming of supporting the state energy associations that are fighting battles each and every day to keep the markets open and available for all of us to compete well into the next several decades?

These characters can be as deadly as the COVID-19 virus. This article is not in any way overstating the impact of this underground system that challenges your survival. And like the virus our country is fighting, no company—large, medium or small—will be exempt. It’s time to start practicing “see something, say something.”

Author: Paul Nazzaro
Disruptor at Large, Advanced Fuel Solutions
paulsr@yourfuelsolution.com

 
 
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