Last month, PM interviewed John Watson, Sloan Valve Co.’s water efficiency director, at the company’s office in Franklin Park, Ill. Watson has worked at Sloan for 10 years, the previous nine as director of technical services. He also serves on the board of directors of the Plumbing Manufacturers Institute.
Sloan Valve is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and has been an outspoken advocate for water conservation in the plumbing industry.
PM: What initially motivated Sloan Valve to support water conservation?
JW: Primarily it was an extension of what the company was founded on. We were just ahead of the curve. The history of the flushometer is one of using energy within the piping system to create a flush. When compared with the old-style cistern valves, the flushometer system always had advantages. We essentially were founded on the principle of doing more with less water.
Being a leader in this area, we felt it was important to take a visible position. We have wind power and solar panels on the roof of our building. It’s the whole picture. We believe in it. We live it here.
PM: Was there a competitive business reason as well?
JW: It’s reasonable to assume there will be some competition. And there’s no doubt that you always want to be better than the competition. But we’re moving forward with or without them. Our primary business focus is to be a market maker, not a market taker. We do things based on science and data so that the products perform well. We’re not a “me-too” company, and our products reflect that.
PM: Are you worried that green washing will affect people’s attitudes toward water conservation?
JW: Absolutely. On more than one occasion, I’ve encountered so-called green products that don’t perform, and I have to explain to a contractor or engineer that the experience shouldn’t change their attitude about products that do perform.
I worry about companies that produce inferior products, make claims and turn people off to the green movement. It’s a major concern.
PM: Do you believe green buildings will increase their share of the construction market?
JW: I do. On the plumbing side, it’s about more than being LEED-certified. There’s the business proposition that if you reduce the water you use, there’s money to be saved. We can do things better with less water. We’re putting out products that save water, so people are seeing a return on their investment in these products. And the savings that water-efficient products can bring to companies are not just in new buildings.
PM: Does LEED pay enough attention to water conservation?
JW: Does anyone? Water is our most precious natural resource. Thankfully, LEED 2009 has changed. We now have prerequisites for water use. Above these requirements is where you get points. The number of credits in the water arena has grown from five to 10. Of course, we’d like to see more emphasis on water conservation. As more people get into life-cycle assessment and explore how water relates to energy usage, I expect the points assigned to water actually will grow.
PM: Do plumbing contractors pay enough attention to water conservation?
JW: I’ve done a number of speaking engagements, and I’ve never had one that wasn’t a packed house. All things being equal, they’d like to do the right thing too. As long as manufacturers keep reasonable pricing in place, and they’re not paying a huge premium for green, plumbers will embrace this.
For retrofits, smart contractors will see this as a business opportunity. In addition to the products they put in new buildings, they can save their existing customers water and money.
PM: What can contractors do to educate their customers about water-efficient plumbing products?
JW: They need to stay engaged with their local associations, such as PHCC and ASPE. They should keep up with reading the journals such as yours, as well as visiting the EPA’s WaterSense Web site. If they’re interested in a particular company such as Sloan, we have a water efficiency section on our Web site related primarily to commercial restrooms.
PM:What can plumbing contractors expect to see from Sloan in 2010?
JW: An expansion of our product lines using solar-generated power for our devices on a larger scale. Also, a urinal that uses a low volume of water but delivers it at a rate that keeps the water moving through the device. And, an expansion of products using gray water.
PM: How is Sloan connecting with contractors on water conservation issues?
PM: If you had only one message to give to plumbing contractors, what would it be?
JW: The less water you use, the more efficiently you have to use it. The focus has to be on the products and technology.
I also want to emphasize the fact that wise contractors will get involved in the green movement. It’s a business opportunity of saving money for customers, and there’s the betterment of society. It’s not glamorous work, but it pays dividends beyond the money.