(Posted Fri. Feb 10th, 2017)
NCGA joined ethanol producers and supporters this week in Miami, Fla. at Growth Energy’s Executive Leadership Conference to hear Growth’s take on the state of the industry and the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead. Leading this effort is Emily Skor, Growth Energy’s new CEO. Although new to the ethanol industry, Skor has made a career advocating on behalf of the consumer products industry. Having held several previous challenging roles in consumer health care products and crisis communications, she is no stranger to controversy. It is clear Emily Skor intends on making a difference not only at Growth Energy, but also within the ethanol industry as a whole. NCGA had a few questions for Emily to find out more about her vision, concerns, and what makes her tick. Here’s what she had to say:
NCGA: What’s Growth Energy’s number one strategic priority?
Skor: We are committed to supporting and expanding the nation’s incredible ethanol industry, and our top goal is growing market demand for ethanol – domestically and globally. We have specific targets in mind over the next several years, and we have plans in place to achieve that goal. With respect to strategic priorities they all align to advance that goal.
We will facilitate greater market access for higher blends of ethanol. Domestically, we are focused on expanding retail access and consumer demand for higher blends like E15. In the last year alone, through Prime the Pump, we’ve double the number of states selling E15. In the more than 630 gas stations selling E15 and E85 today, the blend wall isn’t just broken – it is irrelevant. Consumers are reaching for the more affordable, cleaner fuel option time and again. This year we’ll double the number of stations selling higher blends. Globally, we partner with the U.S. Grains Council and other allies on robust foreign market development initiatives in the most promising export markets including China, India and Mexico.
A reintroduction of ethanol to the American consumers is also a top priority. With increased market access comes increased consumer demand. We are reshaping and expanding our ethanol narrative to introduce the 21st century consumer to our 21st century fuel. Through more targeted messaging and communications strategies and tactics, we are beginning new conversations with new consumers – and we’re talking in their language and around their values. We’re helping them reconsider ethanol because it is good for engine performance, good for the air and good for the pocketbook.
Defending the RFS and pursuing pro-ethanol policies will continue. We are laser-focused on working with federal and state lawmakers and regulators to make sure policies embrace and promote unfettered access to biofuels like ethanol. Federally, we must make sure there is no regulatory backpedaling around the Renewable Fuel Standard. For the first time since 2013, EPA restored the RFS to the statutory levels set forth by Congress, bringing ethanol targets up to 15 billion gallons for the first time. This should be our floor – not our ceiling. We are asking Congress to deliver a Reid Vapor Pressure waiver so E15 can be sold everywhere across the country all 12 months of the year (and so that it’s availability cannot be challenged in future). And ultimately, we are bullish that rising standards for fuel economy present opportunities to encode the value of ethanol into the DNA of America’s fuel mix. We are working with a broad coalition of producers, growers, agricultural industry and auto industry to ensure ethanol is the high-octane, low-carbon fuel additive embraced by our nation’s auto fleet in the years ahead.
NCGA: If we’re sitting here a year from now celebrating what a great year it’s been for ethanol, what did we achieve?
Skor: We achieved it all! The RFS remains unchanged; we solved the RVP waiver issue; more retailers are selling higher blends in greater volumes, and we’re working closely with the Trump administration including EPA, USDA and USTR to increase the use of biofuels at home and abroad.
NCGA: When you’re passionate about what you do, there are always those scary issues that tend to keep you up at night. What issue(s) keep you up at night?
Skor: I would not say that anything scares me. What keeps me up at night is making sure strategically and tactically we are taking control of our own story and destiny at every possible turn and not allowing our opposition or detractors to define our value or the terms of debate. And… occasionally my kids.
NCGA: What do you want urban consumers, suburban soccer moms or MBAs new to the workforce to know about your industry?
Skor: I want these audiences to know that our industry is providing a cleaner fuel option that is good for the environment, good for their pocketbooks and good for the American economy and energy security. I want them to know that we are expanding fuel choices at the pump and that what you put into the gas tank really can make a difference.
The fact is, E15 delivers a higher octane rating than regular gas and enhances engine performance. It’s a homegrown fuel, so it both supports American industries and builds our energy independence. It burns cleaner, reducing harmful emissions, and it’s less expensive. It’s also the most tested fuel ever. Ethanol is the fuel of the 21st century. I want people to know that it’s the homegrown fuel that powers our lives, protects our families and cleans our air.
NCGA: Who is ethanol’s target audience – who do you see as the ethanol consumer? And what are some of the hurdles in trying to move them from awareness to purchase?
Skor: Every consumer is the ethanol consumer – they just don’t know it yet. We know through our years in NASCAR that auto enthusiasts are a target audience because of ethanol’s performance benefits. We’ve also done terrific market research to identify what other consumers are most likely to embrace higher blends, like E15, which is now available in 28 states. The data tell us that there remains a broad section of the population, especially among women and millennials, who would gladly and enthusiastically embrace biofuels. The problem is that these consumers have never been properly introduced to ethanol.
Our research found that consumers respond favorably when we give concrete details, when we explain that ethanol burns cleaner and cooler than oil while increasing octane, benefitting our environment and our engines. Mothers change their purchasing habits when they hear ethanol reduces the need for toxic gasoline additives linked to cancer, asthma, smog and groundwater contamination. Millennials consider buying higher blends when you tell them ethanol cuts carbon emissions by 43 percent or more.
Our mission is to reach these consumers, get them the facts about ethanol and give them a choice at the pump.
NCGA: Fill in the blank: “If the ethanol industry just had ___________ we’d be so much better off.”
Skor: We have so much going for us. Our value proposition is unparalleled. We have passionate champions who will commit their time and energy and resources to advance the industry. If we had Reid Vapor Pressure waiver and the full endorsement of the auto industry to retool engines for higher blends, we’d certainly be in a pretty good position then.
NCGA: The word “partner” means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
Skor: Partners are everything when you are in the ethanol industry. They are additional ambassadors and champions. They are fellow strategists and tacticians. They provide additional resources and energy. And they help create an echo chamber of support. Partners share your mission and work as best they can to help advance the cause. Partners also respect when we may have differences or limitations on our ability to unite. Hopefully that doesn’t happen often, but understanding how to overcome challenges together is an important aspect of any partnership.
NCGA: Sustainability is a word that incites a reaction with most everyone. Sometimes it’s a positive reaction and other times it’s a negative reaction. What’s your take on sustainability?
Skor: I have not met anyone who doesn’t support sustainability as a vision or goal. Sustainability is something every industry must strive toward in a way that is responsible and reasonable for all stakeholders. We are fortunate in that ethanol production is a wonderful example of sustainability. At the most fundamental level, unlike fossil fuels, ethanol is a biofuel produced from planted grains, plants and grasses. You cannot get much better than that.
NCGA: Describe your personal management style. How do you think it impacts your organization’s culture or reputation?
Skor: I am fortunate to work with a remarkable staff at Growth Energy. My aim is to empower staff and inspire them with a concrete vision of where we want to go, an action plan to get there and the resources they need to take us there themselves.
NCGA: Pretend that President Trump called you up and said, “Ok, Emily, let’s have dinner – just the two of us – but you have to decide where we go.” Where would you want to take him, what would you order to eat and what message would you share with him?
Skor: I’d take him to Big Bear in Mikana, Wisconsin. It is known for its fried Walleye, but the fried chicken is pretty fantastic as well. I’d tell him that nearly 9 in 10 of the people who voted for him in battleground states (including Wisconsin) agreed with his vocal support for ethanol and believe that homegrown biofuel is vital to American jobs and energy security.
NCGA: You’re a CEO, you’ve given a number of interviews. Everyone knows you. Name one fact about yourself you’ve not previously shared.
Skor: I met my husband in first grade.
NCGA: What’s your favorite row crop (careful…)?
Skor: No. 2 yellow field corn.
NCGA: On a more serious note, what are your future predictions for cellulosic ethanol?
Skor: I’m an optimist. The future is bright.
NCGA: Last question. If there was one thing the corn industry could do to better support the ethanol industry, what would that be?
Skor: I thank the corn industry for all it continues to do to support the ethanol industry. The more we regularly communicate with one another, the more we share information and align around shared goals and strategies the better we’ll all be.
NCGA wishes to thank Emily for her time in answering our questions. Keep an eye out for our second installment of the series featuring Bob Dinneen, President and CEO of the Renewable Fuels Association in the next couple of weeks. #growthELC