Incorporating ‘green’ products into your customers’ homes can have an impact on the economic, environmental and social aspects of their lives.

Moen's Rothbury faucet with water-saving aerator.

As green building has become more popular in the last few years, you hear a lot about sustainability. But what exactly does that mean? The Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments (ASBE) defines sustainability as “long-term cultural, ecologic and economic health and vitality.”

And this concept of sustainability says there are three “bottom lines” to consider, not just the financial or economic one. There is also the environmental bottom line, which measures the impact on air, water, land and global climate. And the social bottom line, which measures the impact of a person’s happiness, health and productivity, as well as the community’s welfare.

“There is growing interest in sustainability - among individuals and organizations,” notes the ASBE on its Web site. “Consumers are demonstrating their acceptance of sustainable products. They’re buying more energy-efficient light bulbs, appliances and electronics that bear the Energy Star label. They’re also buying more energy-efficient cars. … And some 70 percent of American consumers said in an August 2003 survey they are more likely to buy a product if they know the manufacturer uses environmentally friendly practices.”

The green movement is becoming more mainstream every day. As consumers make purchasing decisions for themselves and their families, it is becoming more common for them to think about the environmental impact and the social benefits that a product offers.

In construction, green building is no longer a niche sector; green nonresidential construction put in place was $13.4 billion in 2006, and by 2008 $21.2 billion of all new nonresidential construction will employ the use of green building principles.

Alson's fluidics technology.

“Green building will continue to grow,” notesRick Dutmer, consulting group manager for FMI. “It is not a question of whether your firm should invest in understanding the green sustainable trend and how to produce sustainable projects, it’s how much should you invest and how fast.”

Three major trends are pushing green building to the forefront of the construction industry’s consciousness, according to FMI’s 2008 U.S. Construction Overview:

  • Government initiatives. In the first five months of 2007, more than 100 green building bills were introduced at the state level. Many states have adopted sustainability requirements for all of their new government-funded construction projects. Governments have also implemented economic incentives in the form of tax rebates and credits, density bonuses and other policies such as expedited permitting and approval for green projects.


  • Residential demand. The heightened level of interest in sustainability within the residential construction sector has contributed to green construction’s movement into the mainstream. While demand for traditional residential construction is slowing down, the green housing and materials markets are expanding. Homeowners are increasing their investment in sustainable housing due to improved economic paybacks resulting from high energy prices and their growing sensitivity to environmental concerns.


  • Green materials. Green materials and building products are becoming more popular due to the upward trend in the green construction market. Consumers are becoming more knowledgeable about their health and the environment. They are making a conscious effort to identify what building materials are healthier, more energy efficient and economically sensible.

  • Delta Faucet's new Diamond Seal technology with PEX tubing.

    As the demand grows for green products and materials, the cost is mitigated. Today, many manufacturers are making green products, which leads to more competition and better pricing. In addition, distribution outlets for green materials are improving.

    “I am often asked, ‘What makes a product green?’” says Michelle Hucal, LEED AP, editor of Environmental Design + Construction magazine and member of the U.S. Green Building Council board. “The best answer I can provide is suggesting that a ‘green’ product is one that doesn’t harm the environment (such as material that contains no VOCs, conserves water and energy, and/or reduces the impact on landfills); a green building product may even benefit the environment (such as one that purifies water or reuses existing materials).

    “Fortunately, there is an assortment of tools and resources, such as third-party certification, available for product and material evaluation, which are often based on a diverse set of criteria ranging from recycled content or recyclability to its impact on indoor air quality or the length of its lifecycle.”

    (For a listing of green construction products, take at look at Environmental Design + Construction’s GREEN BOOK,

    Julien's stainless-steel kitchen sink.

    Sustainable Style In Plumbing

    Sustainable materials in plumbing can include stainless steel, cast iron, natural stone, marble, aluminum, recycled glass, copper, etc. Manufacturers of kitchen sinks and bathroom lavs use these materials frequently.

  • Stainless steel, for example, is 100 percent recyclable; even the dust from the steel-making process can be reclaimed, melted and re-used. It is actively recycled on a large scale around the globe.


  • Cast iron has long been known for its durability, and is also 100 percent recyclable. It has a high scrap value and a highly mature recycling infrastructure.


  • Aluminum can have a high recycled content, and is 100 percent recyclable. It is rust-proof and extremely durable, and needs no harsh cleansers to keep it clean.


  • Recycling glass uses less energy. Glass materials used from recycled glass reduces related air pollution by 20 percent and related water pollution by 50 percent.


  • Copper is durable and 100 percent recyclable. And because of its high conductivity, it is extremely energy-efficient.


  • Wood for bath vanities and tub surrounds, as well as cabinets and flooring in the kitchen, can be green if the wood comes from well-managed forests. The best way to ensure that is through third-party forest certification based on standards developed by the Forest Stewardship Council.

  • Stone Forest's basalt and stainless-steel lav.

    Conserving A Critical Natural Resource

    Water shortages are becoming reality a for many areas of the United States; a recent government survey showed at least 36 states are anticipating local, regional or statewide water shortages by 2013, caused by a combination of rising temperatures, drought, population growth, urban sprawl, waste and excess.

    “We’ve hit a remarkable moment,” Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told The Associated Press last fall. “The last century was the century of water engineering. The next century is going to have to be the century of water efficiency.”

    With many localities imposing water restrictions on residents, and tension between those areas that have adequate fresh water supplies and those who do not, water could be the new oil.

    The plumbing industry has been working for years on making products that save water. Yes, much of that started with the Energy Policy Act of 1992, which mandated low-flow toilets (1.6 gallons per flush). But advances and innovation have been occurring every year - some driven by the United States Green Building Council’s LEED program - so consumers have the best performing plumbing products using the least amount of water.

  • Toilets and urinals. While 1.6-gpf toilets and urinals are now the standard under law, many manufacturers have developed ultra-low-flow, or high-efficiency, models. To get points under the LEED program, installed toilets must flush with less than 1.3 gallons. That is the same standard used for the EPA’s WaterSense high-efficiency toilets (HETs). (To learn more about the WaterSense program, read this month’s Guest Editorial.)

    Kohler has 1.4-gpf (Class Five), 1.28-gpf (Class Five EST) and 1.1-gpf technologies (Pressure Lite), as well as a dual-flush option (1.4/1.0 gpf - Power Lite) and the Steward waterless urinal. Sloan Valve Co. introduced some new water-saving products at last fall’s Greenbuild show in Chicago, including the solar-powered, dual-flush Solis flushometer and a 1 pint urinal system. American Standard has its FloWise 1.28-gpf high-efficiency toilet, and Gerber has the Ultra Flush and Ultra Dual-Flush models.

    Caroma’s dual-flush toilets offer a 0.8 gallon flush and a 1.6 gallon flush, making all its models HETs. And Toto unveiled nine new HETs to the market, all with its 1.28 E-Max flushing technology.

  • Kohler's Rockton dual-flush toilet.

    While many consumers (and plumbers!) can recall the debacle of the first generation of low-flow water closets, the industry’s manufacturers have tested and retested to make sure this newest generation of ultra-low-flows deliver the performance as well as the water savings.

  • Faucets. Today’s faucets are required to not exceed 2.2 gallons per minute, and there are faucet manufacturers who have gone beyond that standard.

    Moen recently introduced its Rothbury collection with a water-saving, 1.5-gpm aerator. Neoperl’s Cache aerator cartridge can be hidden in the faucet, can be used in bath or kitchen faucets, and achieves flow rates of 1.5 gpm. Both have been certified by WaterSense. (WaterSense requires faucets to use no more than 1.5 gpm; LEED requires flow rates of less than 2 gpm.)

    How about a faucet that guarantees no leaks? That’s what Delta Faucet Co.’s new Diamond Seal technology promises - it reduces the number of leak points because of the closed system. The InnoFlex PEX waterway is part of that system, and also keeps water away from any metal contaminants in the faucet, including lead.

    Touchless, or hands-free, faucets - such as Danze’s Parma kitchen faucet - are green because they help keep germs and contaminants from getting on hands while the faucet is being used, but they also save water. The sensor in the faucet only allows water to flow when it detects an object under the faucet. Kohler, Delta Faucet Co., Moen and Elkay also make hands-free faucets.

  • Danze's hands-free Parma kitchen faucet.

  • Showers and showerheads. The law requires that showerheads have a flow rate of 2.2 gpm. Alsons fluidics spray technology features chambers in the showerhead that control the water; there are no internal moving parts to wear out. These showerheads area available with flow rates of 1.85 gpm, 1.75 gpm and 1.6 gpm.

    Hansgrohe’s EcoAIR handshower and showerhead uses air-injection technology to provide a flow rate of 1.6 gallons per minute.

    Both manufacturers say that these technologies allow for a full-coverage shower, even at the lower flow rates.

    What about a steam shower? Steam shower systems - such as ThermoSol, Mr. Steam or Steamist - require only about 2-5 gallons of water to power a steam bath for 20-30 minutes versus 30 gallons of water for a 20-30 minute regular shower.


  • Gray water re-use systems. Reduce fresh water use even more by re-using gray water - water from your bathroom sink, tub/shower or washing machine. The primary use of gray water seems to be irrigation, but you can also use that water to flush toilets. Sloan recently introduced a gray water system that stores water from bathroom drains, sanitizes it and then pumps it to the toilet tank when the toilet is flushed.

  • Sloan's graywater system.

    Water Facts

    To see the impact of how we use (or waste) water, here are some stats from the EPA’s WaterSense program:
  • Leaky faucets that drip at the rate of one drip per second can waste more than 3,000 gallons of water each year, and a leaky toilet can waste about 200 gallons of water every day.


  • A full bath tub requires about 70 gallons of water, while taking a five-minute shower uses 10 to 25 gallons.


  • The average household spends as much as $500 per year on its water and sewer bill. By making just a few simple changes to use water more efficiently, a homeowner could save about $170 per year. If all U.S. households installed water-efficient appliances, the country would save more than 3 trillion gallons of water and more than $18 billion dollars per year.


  • If one out of every 100 American homes retrofitted with water-efficient fixtures, we could save about 100 million kWh of electricity per year - avoiding 80,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. That is equivalent to removing nearly 15,000 automobiles from the road for one year.


  • If 1 percent of American homes replaced an older toilet with a high-efficiency toilet, the country would save more than 38 million kWh of electricity - enough to supply more than 43,000 households electricity for one month.