In the U.S. HVAC market, environmental activism doesn’t refer to anything too highly visible. There are no million-contractor marches planned for the National Mall, no protests, and no one throwing red paint on inefficient buildings.
In our realm, the environmental activism taking place in 2010 centers on things like working through associations for legislative change, and focusing on the “act” part of activism in daily business activities.
EVERYDAY ACTIVISMSome contractors are taking activism as meaning “to act.” They are doing green things without them being mandated.
“Every day we are thinking about how and what we are doing to be green,” said Brian Nelson, with Nelson Mechanical Design, Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.; “how we will reduce energy use for a client, how our proposal for an HVAC system will help the client save energy, and how our energy retrofit will save energy.
“Reducing energy use is so important in so many ways,” he continued. “Amazingly enough, HVAC contractors are able to lead this green effort because our systems present such an opportunity for reducing energy use.”
He pointed out that reducing propane, fuel oil, and electricity consumption “means less pollution, less dependence on foreign sources, a better balance of trade, and it keeps Americans working making new equipment that we will install in our green projects, etc.
“There is no down side to using less energy,” said Nelson. “It does, however, take a commitment to being the provider of solutions, which in turn requires a commitment to knowing how to find those solutions and/or learning enough to figure out the solution. It is 2010 after all; we have had enough time screwing around with inefficient and poorly controlled systems. The HVAC contractor needs to step up to the plate!”
“We are active environmental activists in the way we conduct business,” said Russ Donnici, CEM, REA, president and founder of Mechanical Air Service Inc., San Jose, Calif. “We recycle materials removed from jobs, we offer value engineering for projects that include green energy options to conserve energy, and we made the switch to R-410A in 2003 because it was better for the environment.
“We are not what I call environmental Nazis,” he said, “like PETA is for animals, because I think those radical views take away from the message. We practice what we preach and our office is climate neutral, meaning we have implemented many energy-conservation methodologies and purchase green power for the rest of the power we use.”
“For us it is simple,” said Greg Crumpton, co-owner of AirTight Mechanical, Charlotte, N.C. “Do the right things all of the time, not just when it fits into your budget or cost projections. Doing the right things require thought and preparations, not winging it as many of our competitors seem to do, then trying to make it up on the next one.”
Doing it right requires education and awareness for the entire organization, he pointed out, as well as educating customers. “I just try to keep all of our clients aware of the apples-for-apples scenario when comparing quotes; then if we lose, begging the customer to monitor the tasking to ensure all of the procedures are done to EPA standards.
“Basically, we try and run as professional and knowledge-based company as we can.”
“I like how all of this can avoid the polarization of the climate change debate,” added Nelson. “If we think purely in terms of energy use, foreign dependence on our energy, tight local school budgets, and rising costs of fossil fuel, then being an environmental activist is an easy choice.”
CAPITOL ACTIVISMContractor organizations like the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) and the National Association of Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors (PHCC) use their membership to show support, or a need to modify key pieces of legislation that could affect them.
Proposed laws currently on their radar include the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act of 2010 (S3663), which includes the Home Star Energy Retrofit Act.
“PHCC encourages its members to be involved in every facet of government whether it be at the local, state, or federal level,” said Kevin D. Schwalb, the group’s director of government relations. “Home Star is a great example of their activity on the federal side.”
According to Schwalb, the Senate version of the bill has two provisions that are detrimental to the contractor community:
1.“A contractor would have to front the money for a rebate to a homeowner, then go through an aggregator to recoup the money,” he explained. “In today’s economy, contractors are operating on thin margins. Contractors not able to float the loan would opt out of the program altogether, thereby not allowing themselves the opportunity to take advantage of the program.
“If contractors and retailers (in rural areas in particular) are forced to make this choice,” he said, “that also means homeowners dependent on their participation may not have the opportunity to take advantage of the program as well,” negatively affecting the bill’s job creation potential and overall effectiveness.
2.The tax incentives only promote a single organization, the Building Performance Institute (BPI), “and disallow equal access by all qualified and highly-trained workers, particularly small businesses that can legitimately undertake high-quality retrofit work,” said Schwalb. “Not only is it unnecessarily expensive to attain and retain accreditation with BPI, but the geographic reach of the organization is highly limited, with few states having any meaningful saturation of BPI-accredited companies actually able to use the proposed incentive.” And again, it would not result in creating jobs for highly-qualified contractors.
PHCC suggests that its members tell their senators that “as a contractor charged with implementing the Home Star program, it needs to be amended to not place an undue financial burden on contractors, and not discriminate against highly-qualified contractors who will be cut out of the process in order for Home Star to recognize true energy efficiency, water conservation, and job growth potential.”
ACCA uses its online Grassroots Action Center to get members in touch with key legislation and legislators. Through the center, members can respond to alerts and contact their elected officials “to push initiatives that help [their] business - and fight initiatives that could harm it!”
Regarding Home Star, the association asserts that “Home Star has a very worthy goal, but changes must be made to the rebate structure, and the unnecessary accreditation requirements for Gold Star must be eliminated.
“Tell your senators that they should not shut small business out by turning contractors into bankers, and tell them that it is inappropriate for this bill’s corporate backers to use this legislation to try and turn a small, untested organization into some sort of national monopoly on energy-efficiency programs.”
In addition to ACCA and PHCC, the above changes have been supported by the National Association of Home Builders, the National Lumber and Building Material Dealers Association, the National Roofing Contractors Association, and the Green Mechanical Council. Together, these six groups represent more than 193,500 contractors nationwide.