Going green: how green is your valley?

The new buzzword for the 21st century plumbing/HVAC contractor and just about any other contractor is What is green? Green is anything that can be perceived as being environmentally friendly. Whether perception and reality are in the same ballpark is a moot point. If some product, process or material is touted as green, that product, process or material is automatically elevated to an exalted status

The new buzzword for the 21st century plumbing/HVAC contractor and just about any other contractor is “green.” What is green? Green is anything that can be perceived as being environmentally friendly. Whether perception and reality are in the same ballpark is a moot point. If some product, process or material is touted as green, that product, process or material is automatically elevated to an exalted status by politicians, professionals (architects, engineers, etc.) and the folks responsible for putting projects on the board for contractors to bid on. The efficacy of the said item is never the issue. Whether or not it, the item, actually has some intrinsic green value is not the contractor's choice. His is to use it or lose it (the job).

In many cases, the need for some sort of green designation is almost fanatical. I've noticed that many of the articles in trade publications today have some sort of green slant, so the impact of green has not been lost on those publishers and editors. In fact, the hue and cry about “going green” has reached a crescendo in trade media of all stripes. Many of the pieces are aimed at making more money by going green — taking advantage of the current green frenzy and improving your bottom line while doing it. I'm all for improving your bottom line, but not simply by blindly following the pied piper of green.

A new entity has been created to facilitate and encourage green building practices. United States Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has become the pre-eminent group within the construction trades as the arbiter of what green is and is not. They provide classes in everything from water-saving devices to how to reclaim bricks for LEED credits, which presumably can be turned in for money or other valuable prizes. In many cases, federal or state money is withheld from projects that do not meet the LEED guidelines.

Much as the Environmental Protection Agency has turned its mandate into a club with which to bludgeon businesses and citizens alike, LEED is rapidly becoming a similarly heavy-handed organization. To disagree with it or any of its programs or pronouncements is heresy of the worst kind. Such heresy is punishable not by death, but by exclusion from participating in projects designated as requiring LEED approval. So, it seems, political correctness has come to the trades in a big way.

The question then for the contractor, is not whether a product or procedure is of good quality and works well for the given job, but rather what are its green qualifications? There are, naturally, some very good green products on the market that do what they are intended to do in a manner which coincides with the green agenda — waterless urinals immediately come to mind. Also there are methods of installation and ways of doing our job as contractors that do tread more lightly on the environment and should rightly be encouraged.

The downside of jumping on the green bandwagon, though, is that it's not always what it seems. Sometimes things or ideas which look good at first blush turn out to be not so good after they have been tried. The problem with that is, like most government programs, changing anything once it has been put into policy or into a code book are virtually impossible — farm subsidies leap immediately to mind here. So, while going green is a great concept in theory, the practical application of that concept is fraught with subjective viewpoints and political correctness of the worst kind.

The economic climate today is such that we are all scrambling to stay upright. Taking advantage of going green is certainly an attractive avenue to pursue, and it has benefits, both environmentally and monetarily for the contractor. Bear in mind that change for the sake of change has never been a strong suit of the trades. The “we've always done it this way” attitude has served us well for centuries, forcing new and better ideas and materials to prove themselves to our satisfaction before being embraced and assimilated into the craft. So, move cautiously into the brave new green world. Giving up your knowledge, expertise and skill because someone says it's PC to do so isn't good for the long term future of the trades. Question the pronouncements from on high. Make the LEED program defend its edicts before blindly acceding to it. It's simply good policy to question authority on these matters now, so that the objections will be noted for the record if later the ideas, products or procedures fall flat.

In the end it is you, the contractor, who will have to service and defend the green things you did. One should at least have some say in what and how these things are decided.

This column is an opinion piece based upon observations and conversations the author has had with contractors and building professionals.

The Brooklyn, N.Y.-born author is a retired third generation master plumber. He founded Sunflower Plumbing & Heating in Shirley, N.Y., in 1975 and A Professional Commercial Plumbing Inc. in Phoenix in 1980. He holds residential, commercial, industrial and solar plumbing licenses and is certified in welding, clean rooms, polypropylene gas fusion and medical gas piping. He can be reached at [email protected].