Is environmental stewardship a business decision or altruistic thud factor?

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By Anders H Bygden

Special to the GTA Construction Report

When evaluating a course of action we use the best information available at the time.  But uncertainty can lead us to doing what makes us look good in the eyes of our boss or the stake holders.

I once wrote a research report that said very little but had a great “thud-factor”.  This is where the mere weight of the report landing on my superior’s desk with a “thud” made it more credible.  It contained pages and pages of references and quotes of opinionated well-known personalities and at the end I made the impassioned plea for the reader to agree with this line of reasoning that was no more than group-think.  My bosses thought it was great and gave me the benefit of the doubt to go ahead and set out the new course of development for the group.  The report was passed up the line as a justification of the spending spree that followed.

I did have the tiny inkling that no-one would actually read this report in depth, so sending it via email would lose any likelihood that it would thud on anyone’s computer screen.  It had to be printed and bound and delivered with a thud.

Now having been involved with a manufacturer of products that really are of environmental real-world benefit, I come across others’ proposals and implementations as only pandering to group-think.  Often group-think is a result of the loudest and best positioned opinions gain a following and the basis of the opinion is not tested because it would be seen as slowing down the speed to adopt, even if the action is ineffective.  A particular hotel and casino in Las Vegas has bicycle racks and parking spaces for fuel-efficient cars.  When that decision was implemented, was it a business decision because they can attract more high-rollers arriving on bicycle or in electric cars?  More than likely, the decision was to implement because in the LEED application process, it appears to be favouring green initiatives and thus contributes to LEED certifications.

Now don’t get me wrong; LEED initiatives are a very valuable step in promoting building standards that aim to minimize emissions, water use, waste and indoor air pollutants.  Without an incentive to create better surroundings, certifications would have little business value and soon would be relegated to the status of green-washing.  As it is, the Green Building Council and it’s rating system LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has certified over 4,200 buildings in Canada and 13,500 commercial buildings in the U.S. and is a major force in the new building and commercial retrofit industry.  The results are buildings that have lower energy consumption and higher environmental expectations on the input materials in the operation of the buildings.

This is where an expectation of financial return would be a good signpost for the weighing of environmental initiatives.  If the operation of a building naturally produces undesirable emissions under the current process, what can be done to reduce the environmental impact and also reduce the financial burden on the building?

Easy; replace the cost of waste with a rebate for re-use.  The only problem is there are very few MRO products (maintenance, repair & operations) that are manufactured with a re-use in mind.  In fact, a quick Google search of “recyclable MRO products” will bring up several in the personal protection and hose fitting segments, but where are the items that are vital to the buildings function, like lighting, water use, and air filtration?

I find only one in the HVAC side of building maintenance and it is by Delta M Inc. (www.deltaminc.com).  Their “purECOgreen” HVAC filter is manufactured to be used in commercial applications where there is high air volume and high filtration requirements.  The customer purchases these filters as they would with any other kinds and installs them like any other but once the filter has reached its maintenance interval, a call to the company and they will take them back (they even pay the return shipping) and you get issued a rebate for each one returned.  The web site describes the process as a regeneration of the used filter into pristine condition to be sold again.  It sounds similar to a rechargeable battery but where are the pitfalls?

First I would check to see if the products have been certified by ASHRAE and what the performance levels are.  A MERV 8 filter rating (Minimum Efficiency Reporting Value) with a high resistance measure greater than 0.3 inches of water glass will just cost the building in energy costs leaving the operator with only the appearance of environmental benefit.  That’s a small thud factor.

Secondly, the end-of-life for the filter should be considered.  If you have found a filter that performs well but is destined for your waste dumpster, then not only will you have to pay to have it hauled away to a landfill, you have it on your conscience that your children’s home may be built on a site of the remnants of your filter use, and the water at their house tastes funny.  There are no environment points for increasing land fill use.

Lastly, you may turn to a filter that is washable in order to reach that pinnacle of no-waste environmental leadership, only to find that the claims from your office tenants are that the building is making them sick.  The air you so well intentioned tried to filter is now the source of mould, hydrocarbons, and bacteria.  Again, the thud you may hear is the last tenant slamming the door on their way out.

Three reasons not to choose a DIY washable air filter

  1. Their performance is limited. An air filter’s performance in trapping particulates is expressed in the MERV rating. These ratings range from a low of one up to 16. A washable air filter typically has a MERV rating of one to four. This may be effective for larger particulates like dust and soot, but a washable air filter may not be as effective as a higher-rated disposable filter.
  2. They need maintenance. They don’t call it washable air filter for nothing. These filters need regular maintenance, and once you’ve washed them, you’re not supposed to simply dump the water out. Because that water was exposed to bacteria and other particulates, it’s considered a waste water hazard and should be disposed of appropriately — creating extra work for you.
  3. They can collect fungus. If a washable air filter is put back into use while still wet or damp from the wash, it’s prone to collecting bacteria and fungus – which can then escape and start circulating through the building looking for a new place to set up shop.

However, you can become a category captain in the building maintenance and operations industry by making business decisions that furthers your environmental initiative while reducing the cost of operations.  By demanding and selecting products that are cradle to cradle products with performance levels that earn certification points on truly effective green initiatives, you can see the economic benefits directly for the use of the products as well as from the marketing value it has in attracting and retaining valuable tenants or staff.

My recommendation is to investigate products like purECOgreen and evaluate them on the Total Cost of Operations (TCO) to determine if they contribute to certifications like LEED and BOMA BESt/360° and if they meet regulations such as zero waste to landfill.  If they meet that bar then the cost to implement needs to be balanced against the savings from solid waste haulage, savings by reduced absenteeism and potential litigation costs, and lower energy usage.

A USA TODAY article claimed 7,100 LEED-certified commercial buildings targeted the designs towards the cheapest and easiest green points by taking steps with an unknown effect, such as providing preferred parking for fuel-efficient cars or bicycle racks.  If your building that you work in or that you own or operate did nothing more that change the supplier of your HVAC filter, you would stand to gain five LEED points or earn a BOMA 360° certification.

No one needs to know that in the next three years you will save $4,000 for dumpster elimination, and reduce your carbon footprint by 75 tonnes, or that you earned $12,000 in return rebates.

That part is just altruistic.

            Anders H. Brygden is vice-president sales and marketing at Delta M Incorporated, based in Milton. He can be reached at  andersbygden@deltaminc.com or by phoning (905) 864-6500 ext 225.

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