How sustainable fuel sparked a learning journey for Donnie Wahlberg  

Donnie Wahlberg first rose to fame in the boy band New Kids on the Block, aged just 15. Having experienced sell-out music tours before moving on to starring in hit films and TV shows, he is showing no signs of slowing down, as this summer he embarks on a new NKOTB tour, and they release their first new album in over a decade.  

Donnie sits down with Energy, Oil & Gas to discuss a partnership that initially seems an unlikely fit for the Boston native. But his enthusiasm, passion, and knowledge quickly override any doubt that he is the perfect spokesperson for an eco-friendly and sustainable home heating fuel called Bioheat® fuel. Working with Clean Fuels Alliance America (Clean Fuels), he is keen to raise awareness of the benefits that sustainable fuel, particularly Bioheat® fuel for heating the home, can bring to not just individual end users, but also local companies and communities.  Having conversations about how climate change is affecting our daily lives is where the change begins

He takes up the story: “I was first approached by Clean Fuels as someone they thought would be a good representative for Bioheat® fuel, but at that time I was completely unfamiliar with the product. I am not the type of person to do a campaign for the sake of it – first I want to take my time to learn about what it entails. So, I really dove in and became a student before I decided to get involved.  

“Also, I am careful not to use my platform to tell people what to do. I have a lot of fans from my work in music and television, and rather than telling my followers what they should think, instead I share things that I’m excited about, and encourage them to follow what they believe. This product and process was one I became enthusiastic about.” 

For a little background on the fuel, Bioheat® fuel is a renewable energy source that blends traditional heating oil with biodiesel, significantly reducing carbon emissions and environmental impact. Biodiesel is produced across America from a variety of raw materials and by-products that would otherwise be wasted. Furthermore, it can be used in today’s high-efficiency heating oil equipment without modification. 

“Clean Fuels has done so much work with its members to create a product that is an easy alternative to traditional heating oil,” continues Donnie. “It usually doesn’t require anyone to change their boiler, heating system, or tank, or invest in infrastructure. It’s just a new option that people can choose, that goes in the tank, warms the home, but is sustainable and better for the planet. They can keep the same fuel provider in most cases and just say, ‘Hey, just switch me over to biodiesel instead of the regular home heating oil.’  

“It was also interesting to discover that this product is particularly relevant and readily available in the Northeast US where I grew up! People in these neighborhoods may have inherited a home and a way of life from a parent or grandparent and want to maintain their traditions, but this is a small way in which they can modernize. I could see that this product made sense for people living in homes like my old one, that use heating oil to keep their families warm. These are some of the main reasons that pushed me over the top about wanting to get involved.”  

An easier choice 

The community aspect of the product spoke to Donnie – Bioheat® fuel is delivered by local, family-owned businesses that have been serving their communities for generations. This link to family and location was recreated in a video promo filmed right at Donnie’s own childhood home. “Growing up in the neighborhood means I understand that the people there have real responsibilities and a lot to manage to stay above water financially. The last thing they want to hear is some famous person telling them what they should be doing.  

“Bioheat® fuel offers a feasible choice, in a time when a lot of people feel like they’re being forced to make changes that they can’t afford to make. At the same time, they feel like they aren’t doing enough for the planet. This is an action that can be taken by a lot of people without really changing their way of life. That was important to me.  

Donnie Wahlberg  sitting on steps in front of a white door
Donnie Wahlberg

“We live in a divisive time and there are loud voices at either side of the debate. I would suspect that most people care about the environment, and they want to live on a clean planet, they will make greener choices if the options are there, to enable them to make their home healthier and their environment better. They may not even be 100 percent convinced their home heating oil is hurting the planet, but they might believe it has an effect inside the home. I certainly thought as a ten-year-old kid that the heating tank in the basement smelled bad, and I didn’t think it was healthy. If they use Bioheat® fuel to clean up their home, essentially, they are deciding to also help the environment.”  

Reusing waste 

Another aspect of Bioheat® fuel that appealed to Donnie was that it diverts waste that was headed to landfill and makes it useful. “I appreciate the benefits to be gained from turning used cooking oil into useable fuel – I have even seen some of this waste on a personal level at our restaurants [wahlburgers, a restaurant and bar chain owned by Donnie and his brothers Paul and Mark]. It’s a step in a healthier direction. The more I learned about the product, the more confident I was to share the story with my fans and people have responded the way I would have hoped.” 

Having filmed a promo and now regularly updating his Instagram feed with information about the product, the feedback Donnie receives is that people are curious to learn more. “As soon as I started having conversations with Clean Fuels, I became much more aware of the prevalence of biofuels. I started to notice if the airliner I was on was using it and I saw transit buses in New York advertising their use of biodiesel blends. I think my approach to making changes is to start with myself, so I am going to use biodiesel on my tour bus this summer and I’m going to be talking to people about it at venues.  

“This is a great way to get the word out and share information. We also have a lot of shows in the areas where the soybean feedstocks are produced, and I think it will mean a lot to the families who are in one way or another connected to the soybean industry, to hear me supporting this.” 

The demographic and reach of Donnie’s fanbase have also evolved with the band, and so now while the original, predominantly female ‘Blockheads’ are returning to the show, they are accompanied by their own children, as well as husbands and dads who appreciate Donnie for his roles in shows such as Band of Brothers and Blue Bloods. Donnie’s own son is keen to accompany him on tour, to see for himself how the biodiesel-powered bus performs and how fans respond. “That’s another reason why supporting this product makes sense to me,” he adds. “Our children are learning so much about how we must take care of the planet and I am glad to have found a bridge between my generation and my son’s generation to say, ‘Hey, look at this product, look at what it can do.’ The simplicity of the product is, I think, a big part of it, in that it allows us to have these conversations.”  

Small changes, big difference 

The learning journey that Donnie has been on since he began his relationship with Bioheat® fuel is showing no signs of slowing down. “I’m invested in this partnership, and I am paying more attention to everything now. I think this product is at the cutting edge, and it has sparked my interest in looking at what else I could be doing and I think the same is going to happen for a lot of people. Start with something that’s not too daunting, where there’s not a lot of jargon, and take the first step. It really motivates me to share this easy option and demonstrate it is available to them.” 

Looking to the future, Donnie is keen to meet some of the farmers who grow the feedstocks for Bioheat® fuel and who worked with Clean Fuels to come up with the concept of Bioheat® fuel. “These are family-owned farms, run by people who want to make a difference. I didn’t realize at the beginning that promoting home heating oil in the Northeast would lead me to learn so much and make changes to my tour, like putting biodiesel in my tour bus and no longer using fireworks in our shows. I’m starting with the fuel, but I want to keep building on the foundation of the relationship and discover more ways that I can spread the word and be useful to this product and to consumers.”