June 2019, Vol. 246, No. 6


Natural Gas Champions and Constructive Dialogue

By Suzanne Ogle, COO and President, SGA


Although rich in energy resources, the United States has increasingly adopted a viewpoint that fossil fuel should be eliminated from the clean energy solution. The industry has been singularly targeted, grouping all fossil fuel into the same category, as a destructive influence in climate change. 

Moreover, there is increasing pressure to pull investments from fossil fuel companies in order to effect social change by causing a business to cease profiting from the use of fossil fuel. Combined with mounting pressure on state and local government to mandate the elimination of fossil fuel in the generation of energy; collectively the divestment crusade is influencing the conversation around fossil fuel.

Each commodity has distinct characteristics and varying degrees of environmental impact, yet it is common for anti-fossil fuel campaigns to make sweeping statements and group natural gas into the same category as coal or oil instead of viewing the product independently, and as a vital component of a carbon “lite” energy solution. 

Despite environmental activists’ demand to eradicate fossil fuels, the fact is there isn’t a single solution for meeting future energy needs. It’s going to take a collection of sources from all different energy industries including renewable and non-renewable. As a matter of fact, fossil fuel development is helping fund the transition to renewable energy. 

So, natural gas will play a critical role in our clean energy future. From power-to-gas technology, a method of integrating natural gas and electricity infrastructure to renewable natural gas which is harvested from organic waste and biomass, reusing waste keeping it out of landfills, and reducing emissions; natural gas is an integral component in America’s clean energy solution.

Bill Cantrell conducts training at SGA's Spring Gas Conference in Columbia S.C.

The natural gas industry is challenged to deal with change management in every aspect of today’s business. This fluid business environment is an exceptional opportunity for natural gas companies and their leaders to cross-pollinate knowledge and to enable progress and innovation through the power of thought leadership. With this goal in mind, a little over two years ago a collection of industry leaders met in Washington, D.C., to harness the power of knowledge sharing and evaluate the sentiment of conversation about the future of energy in this country. 

Attentive to the shared values that people have – clean air, clean water, a healthy community, and affordable transportation costs and household energy bills, they focused on how to build trust, reduce stalemates and move the energy conversation forward. The result of this meeting was a multi-phase training program called Natural Gas Champions; a training program focused on finding common ground.

If there is an art to conversation, Natural Gas Champions is the brush that helps paint conversational competence.

Often, dissimilar beliefs regarding sustainable energy solutions are based on perception and formed by making inferences. Natural Gas Champions is formulated on the premise that we meet people where they are and extend mindfulness by arming champions with data and communication skills. Natural Gas Champions is focused on encouraging constructive dialogue and improved communication as a solution to perception.  

By means of Natural Gas Champions, the Southern Gas Association is helping educate the public about the benefits of natural gas and in turn, changing the narrative.

Natural Gas Champions recognizes that people learn from each other when they acknowledge that they think differently about an issue. Two premises are the foundation of the Champions program. First, two-thirds of the public is open minded to energy solutions. Second, the most trusted messengers are people in your everyday life. 

Natural Gas Champions provides information and a framework for how to talk with family, friends, and neighbors about the multitude of energy solutions. Adrian Chapman, president and CEO of Washington Gas, and 2019 chairman of the Board of the SGA said, “The Champions program will help our employees in their day-to-day interactions with the public; sharing information about the essential role of natural gas today and in the future.” 

To date, nearly 1,000 industry employees have received Natural Gas Champion training via the Instructor-led training. Bill Cantrell, SGA CEO, and Natural Gas Champion lead instructor has taught this class to hundreds of industry employees. 

According to Cantrell, “The most gratifying part of providing this training is the confidence that participants take away – the empowerment they feel to engage others in a constructive conversation about the benefits of natural gas.”

Casual conversation can be a powerful mechanism. It’s how we share information and connect. It’s the social glue that binds us and determines how well, and at what level, we’re able to relate with one another. Constructive conversation is the underpinning of Natural Gas Champions. Not only does the program educate on energy facts, but it also trains the user on bridge building communication tactics. 

Because “the environment” can be an emotionally charged conversation, using effective labels of emotion and beginning phrases using rational words to describe emotion can disrupt intensity. Phrases like “It seems like,” “it sounds like,” and “it looks likes” take the focus off what “I” think and avoids the risk of making the other person feel like you’re imposing your thoughts on them.

The success of Natural Gas Champion Phase I, instructor-led training, was the impetus for Phase II, a credentialed, online training program that is accessible from the desk top or a mobile device. Natural Gas Champions Phase II is a joint industry project created with 21 member companies. Phase II launched this March, at the SGA Spring Gas Conference in South Carolina. The impact of Natural Gas Champion Phase II is noteworthy, JIP employees will add 88,000 Champions to the conversation. 

Constructive conversation requires clear, confident, creative thoughts and curiosity about the other point of view. Constructive conversations are held on mutual ground, where both parties can give examples that are relevant and put in context how things work from a broader perspective. 

Upon completion of the Natural Gas Champions training, Champions will be able to discuss the facts with confidence to listen to other perspectives without judgement. These skills will help transfer ideas, removing obstacles from the way and enabling deeper and broader engagement with the people we encounter in our daily lives. Natural Gas Champions are willing to engage with others positively.

While Natural Gas Champions highlights the efficiency of natural gas and provides statistical data from the EIA and EPA that demonstrate that the U.S. is leading the industrialized world in carbon reductions thanks to inexpensive and abundant natural gas, it also focuses on air and water pollution, property values, wildlife impacts, and safety.

We have seen that citizen-powered movements lead to social change. Cause minded individuals are taking the initiative to create their own evolution and rally support. And, their efforts are working. So too do the approximately 10 million workers employed by the natural gas industry have an opportunity to inspire, make an impact and bring their social networks and stories to the table to impact policy outcomes and shift public opinion.   

When we provide people, who have a shared sense of urgency about the benefit of natural gas as a part of a climate-friendly energy solution, and give them the facts, providing communication training and then connect them with each other through digital tools and social channels we activate change. 

Natural Gas Champions #RaiseYourVoice provides a centralized campaign structure and unified rallying message. Together we will can change the narrative through a grassroots effort.  P&GJ

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