One relatively recent program hopes to turn plumbers ‘green.’



Steve Lehtonen, executive vice president of the PHCC of California, helped kill state legislation on high-efficiency toilets - and then six months later worked with the same legislator to help make essentially the same bill a new law that went into effect at the start of this year.

Why the change of heart? Long story short: a trip to Australia. That’s where, in a 2006 trip, Lehtonen learned about the country’s GreenPlumbers program.

The training and accreditation program gives plumbers a new opportunity to capitalize on homeowners’ growing concerns to save water and cut energy use. The program was developed by the Master Plumbers’ and Mechanical Services Associates of Australia. Since its implementation in 2001, the program has “greened” 5,000 plumbers throughout Australia working at 2,300 businesses, and been one contributor to helping the country cut its water use in half from levels in the 1990s.

After that trip Down Under, Lehtonen sealed a 15-year deal to bring the plumbing program to the United States. We caught up with Lehtonen on May 27 in Chicago as part of the group’s Metro City Challenge, a seven-city tour that featured two separate green workshops over the course of just four days after the Memorial Day weekend.

“Plumbers had long held their mission to be protecting the health of the country,” Lehtonen told the group. “Because of climate change and global warming, our new mission is to protect the resources of the planet by training plumbers to be advocates and educators in environmental protection and conservation.”

The day-long workshop we attended started by giving the 30 or so participants a rundown of the program and its goals. The group only got its official start last September and has since held 30 similar workshops and trained more than 600 plumbers. Judging from hits to its fledgling Web site, Lehtonen believes interest is growing on the program. He said the site only went live in January and earned 440 unique visitor hits. But that number of hits has grown to more than 5,100 last April.

The GreenPlumbers program consists of five courses that total 32 hours of training. The goal for this year is train at least 8,000 plumbers, but over the next 10 years Lehtonen hopes to train some 15,000 plumbers in California and 40,000 across the country. The workshop we attended - “Caring For Our Water” - was one of five classes. The other classes are:
  • Climate Care
  • Solar Hot Water
  • Water-Efficient Technology
  • Inspection Report Service
These classes are free and intended for general information on green plumbing and heating. The GreenPlumbers USA training program relies on grants, contributions and sponsorships to deliver the training free to participants. For example, the meeting we attended also included a presentation by American Standard on its various water-saving products.

A larger part of the program, however, will be a license available for a fee. Lehtonen says the goal of the license program will be to join with other like-minded businesses to advertise, create a national referral center, create new efficiency programs, etc. - in other words, build the GreenPlumbers USA brand.

“Once the GreenPlumbers concept is known among consumers,” Lehtonen added, “they will prefer and demand a green plumber.”

Lehtonen also believes the program is a great way to address the workforce shortage facing the construction trades. Drawing on his own example of killing water conservation legislation, Lehtonen had to admit that the conservation plumbing industry can be its own enemy at times when it stands dead-set against the type of progress younger people considering careers accept.

However, if GreenPlumbers USA can enhance the image of the plumber as a green steward, he added, it stands to reason that it could bring more people to the plumbing and heating trades.

MCAA Hosts Green Webinars

The Mechanical Contractors Association of America began a Green Building Webinar Series last March. The presentations are free to members; they begin at 1 p.m. Eastern and last less than one hour.

The MCAA will hold three more webinars this year:

  • July 24 – Matt Gregg of McKinstry Co. will lead a session on “Water Efficiency Products and Design” and cover, among other topics, water-efficient toilets and urinals, and greywater systems.

  • Sept. 25 – Jerry Yudelson of Yudelson Associates will discuss “New Technologies, Lessons and Opportunities in European Green Building Approaches.” The session will be based on an upcoming Mechanical Contracting Education Research Foundation study on various European building technologies that can be used in the United States.

  • Nov. 20 – The topic and speaker are still to be determined.

    For more information or updates, log on to the MCAA’s green website, www.greencontractors.us.
  • Photo: ©iStockphoto.com/Florea Marius Catalin