Power to the Green Plumbers

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image by David Cowles / www.youllputyoureyeout.com

As director of GreenPlumbers USA, Megan Lehtonen connects plumbers with eco-accreditation and comprehensive training on everything from solar hot water to natural wastewater treatment. Adapted from an Australian program, GreenPlumbers USA already has trained over 3,000 plumbers since launching in 2008.

How do you train plumbers to be green?
Plumbers are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable already. We challenge them to look at their careers in a different way by extending their education to include new technology and advanced conservation techniques. The five courses include training on everything from solar hot water to how to conduct a 50-point water audit. Plumbing companies that commit to training all of their technicians and adhering to a code of ethics can become licensed GreenPlumbers, and are listed on our website.

How could efficient plumbing help reduce climate change?
Saving water and energy reduces the environmental impact of our society. The transportation of water throughout California, for example, accounts for 19 percent of the state’s electrical use. Saving water saves energy. Plumbers are the face-to-face solution providers for consumers, and efficient plumbing could have an enormous impact on our country’s footprint.

You call for a “complete culture change in the plumbing industry.” What does that mean?
Top to bottom–manufacturers, wholesalers, contractors, and plumbers–the industry needs to adapt. For us, culture change means plumbers stepping up and taking responsibility to be champions of conservation. America needs to save water, and the plumbing industry needs to be part of the solution.

Why is it important to reduce water use?
Water is a finite resource. The water we have is the water we’re going to have, and Americans use on average twice as much as people in other [developed] countries. We can do better. You’ve heard it said that water is the new oil. Someday soon we’ll be saying, “Do you remember when we used to flush our toilets with drinking water?”

What inspired this program?
GreenPlumbers was developed in Australia due to a major drought that still troubles that country. We became aware of the program and negotiated to implement it in North America. We wanted the plumbing industry here to be part of the conservation solution.

What’s been one of your favorite experiences working with this program?
It’s really inspiring for us when a 50-year-old plumber gets excited about his trade all over again and you know that he’ll go out and be a representative for change. We’ve trained more than 3,000 plumbers in our first year, and we will train 50,000 to 60,000 in the next few years. That volume has the potential to result in huge water and energy savings.

What’s the one thing you would tell home owners to change in their plumbing systems?
Eliminate water-wasting toilets. Most cities offer rebates for changing your toilet to a better-performing, more efficient model. It’s simple and can save thousands of gallons of water a year. Approximately 100 million water-wasting toilets are still being used in this country today.

Jessica Kellner is the managing editor of Natural Home, a sister publication of Utne Reader and a trusted voice on green building and ecofriendly home design. This piece is excerpted from its September-October 2009 issue.

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