Going green is not only good for the planet; it is good for your business. Many green products cost more initially, but will save money over time. The initial purchase price of a product is only a small part of the total life-cycle cost. Lifetime energy and maintenance costs are the more significant elements of the equation.
In addition to higher initial costs, green products can be more complex than standard products, involving additional steps and procedures. Green practices also can be more complex, requiring effort from not only the product but its user as well. In order to provide plumbers with the proper training to recommend and install green products and services, Green Plumbers Training was created.
In 2006, Steve Lehtonen, IAPMO senior vice president of environmental education, Green Plumbers training and accreditation, became aware of the Green Plumbers program in Australia through the Master Plumbers of Australia’s website. The Australia program began because of the severe drought the country was experiencing. When Lehtonen read more about the program, he believed it was something the United States needed to implement in order to educate plumbers about water conservation issues so they could, in turn, educate consumers.
Green Plumbers, which was brought to the United States in 2007 and expanded to all North America, is a training and accreditation program that assists plumbers, inspectors and other building officials in understanding their roles in the environment and public health. The training consists of material related to efficient water and energy use:
• Caring For Our Water — understanding the water cycle process as well as the new technologies and behaviors that contribute to increased conservation;
• Climate Care — understanding the concerns of global warming, high-performance water heaters and hot water delivery;
• Water-Efficient Technology — graywater, rainwater, municipally supplied reclaimed/recycled water, estimating condensate production and reuse, and onsite wastewater treatment;
• Solar — a reintroduction of solar thermal concepts to the plumbing trade; and
• Inspection Report Services — a quick review of high-efficiency plumbing and related appliances, how to find rebates, an overview of landscape irrigation and how to conduct water audits.
In addition to those listed above, four other courses are being developed. In order to become an Accredited Green Plumber, one must take all 32 hours of training and pass a third-party, proctored, open book exam, says Doug Kirk, director of the Green Plumbing Curriculum. These classes can be done either online or in person.
“Live classes are available in almost any location as long as there is enough demand,” Kirk says. “We aim for a class minimum of 20; however, we’ve done classes with fewer students. Once they have done their hours and taken the exam, they will be listed in our Accredited Green Plumbers search database.”
Green Plumbers training began with four specific goals in mind, Kirk says. These goals double as certification incentives to plumbers:
1. Restore the image of plumbers to what it was in the 1930s when the “The Plumber Protects the Health of the Nation” poster was first published.
2. Provide a pathway to employment for young people to join the industry. There is a projected need for more than 100,000 plumbers in the next 10 years. If the image of the trade can be seen as “green,” the belief is that young people concerned about the health of the planet should have a vested interest in making sure the natural resources are used wisely.
3. Become Champions of Conservation by being in the forefront of this movement. Green Plumbers don’t just “protect the health of the nation,” they “protect the resources of the planet.”
4. Increase business opportunities through brand recognition. Plumbers can become an advisor to clients on water conservation and energy efficiency. They can perform water- and energy-related audits while showing property owners the opportunities to reduce their yearly costs for water, sewer and energy.
“Green Plumbers Training gives plumbers the opportunity to refocus or reimagine their businesses on a segment of the market that has huge potential growth opportunities,” Kirk says.
Since its inception, Green Plumbers accreditation has reached many states — the most popular being California, with nearly 2,000 people certified. Accreditation also is popular in Colorado, Arizona, Texas, North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. “With the number of drought-stricken areas increasing, it’s just a matter of time before the incentive to learn increases and there is a need for plumbers to be aware of being green,” Lehtonen explains.
But with all the greenwashing taking place the last few years, consumers and industry professionals are confused about what is green.
“What plumbers need to understand is that water and their trade are tied together; without water we don’t have a trade,” says John Smith, vice president of business development for Green Plumbers USA and lead training instructor. “There is a stigma that green products don’t work as well as other products, but it’s not true. Education is key to learning about what works well and that is why this is a perfect partnership.”
Smith worked 17 years as a plumber before selling his business — The Arizona Green Plumbers — and working for Green Plumbers USA full-time. He had wanted the Green Plumbers accreditation for his company to promote on his website, he says, but quickly became passionate about environmental issues in his local community.
He formed important relationships with local water and conservation departments. In his first year as a Green Plumber, Smith was quoted in magazine and news articles, and appeared on local television shows. “That put me in front of many others and allowed me to be seen as the expert,” he explains. “I wanted to be seen as the hero in the community and this training allowed me to reshape my image.”
John Baethke, president and CEO of John Baethke & Son Plumbing in Chicago, shares Smith’s passion for being green. “Plumbing is literally changing daily,” he says. “Every day new products are out there competing for our business. Our customers bring us the products they are finding on the Internet and most of them are the latest and greatest. If we are not constantly training, reading and keeping up on what’s new, we will fall far behind.
“Green Plumbers Training helps with that. The curriculum is constantly changing to give the plumber the latest and most up-to-date information.”
This program changes a contractor’s focus to being the expert, Lehtonen adds. The Internet has given consumers more information, which leads to questions. Contractors not educated in green issues could lose out on work opportunities.
“Green Plumbers are truly on the cutting edge of plumbing technology,” says Nick Marine, president of Marine Plumbing Service in Marietta, Ga. “Customers are attracted to us because they want to be environmentally responsible. Not only do we save water, but we save the customer money on water bills.”
Marine’s motivation to become accredited began when he saw first-hand the large amount of old toilets being placed in landfills. “Now we crush all toilets to be recycled into aggregate for roadwork,” he says. “We also recycle the cardboard packaging for our WaterSense toilets. Being a Green Plumber is more than a title, it’s a lifestyle.”
The time commitment can be a difficulty, Baethke says. “We are all so busy it is understandably difficult to find a week to attend all the classes and get accredited,” he admits. “In Illinois we are required to have a license to perform plumbing, so if you have that, then it’s not too much of a stretch to understand how green technology relates to plumbing. It’s really only a different way to do things — it’s still plumbing.”
Because of his Green Plumbers accreditation, Baethke’s company is often looked at as a resource in the community. He includes new developments in water conservation and other water issues in his blog, Facebook and Twitter posts.
“Now that we are in the further stages of water scarcity in many states, many apprenticeship courses and programs, including the United Association in late 2009, have incorporated water efficiency curriculum,” Lehtonen notes. “The hope is that plumbers across the country, as they go through their plumbing apprenticeships and graduate, will, in essence, be Green Plumbers.”
In addition to the UA’s Green Plumbing Awareness program, Green Plumbers Training has influenced other programs to be put into place. IAPMO has partnered with ASPE to create a Green Certified Plumbing Designer certificate program. Since its creation last year, it has run three different courses and has resulted in about 60 Green Certified Plumbing Designers.
Another program, which was first announced mid-July, is a partnership between Green Plumbers Training and Qualified Water Efficient Landscapers. “We are making it easier for water agencies, schools and colleges across the country to offer certifying programs for both Green Plumbers and QWEL,” Lehtonen says. “We’ve really begun to see local control of classes as the better option.”
He explains it is very expensive for the organization to go around the country training plumbers. In addition, the classes run from 18 to 32 hours, so a plumber may lose four days of work. With a subcertifying organization, plumbers can take the courses over six to eight weeks in the evening. By making it easier for plumbers to take classes, Green Plumbers hopes to see more plumbers getting their green certifications.
Other plumbing associations have begun to develop their own green programs, such as the Plumbing–Heating–Cooling Contractors — National Association’s eight-hour water audit course.
“All these programs are about getting the word out about being green and helping contractors to help their customers save money,” Lehtonen says. “It is important for everyone to know that there is not enough water to go around. If we can provide safe, healthy, water-efficient products, and we can train plumbers to properly install those products and be an expert on advising consumers, I think it is a valuable service for everyone — not just in the United States but globally. We want them to be the experts who advise consumers.”