Since the 1970s, when chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were first suspected of contributing to the deterioration of the ozone layer, our industry took the lead in transitioning to less destructive hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC) refrigerants, and then to hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants. With environmental concerns shifting from ozone depletion to global climate change, the release of HFCs, considered to be greenhouse gases, into the atmosphere, puts the continued use of these vital products at risk, not only in this country, but also around the world. At present, no suitable, plentiful, economical substitute to HFCs exists.

To ensure continued availability of these plentiful, efficient, economical refrigerants, HVACR manufacturers are taking the lead to ensure that appropriate steps are taken to minimize refrigerant emissions. The Air-conditioning and Refrigeration Institute (ARI) represents the manufacturers of more than 90 percent of North American-produced residential and commercial central air conditioning and commercial refrigeration products. Half of the manufacturers who responded to a recent industry survey said they have built their manufacturing facilities with a zero emission goal, and more than 70 percent of the respondents of the same survey said they have already reduced emissions in their plants by 25-75 percent.

Taking these voluntary industry efforts a step farther, ARI recently launched a Responsible Refrigerant Use Initiative designed to help plant managers take every appropriate step to contain refrigerants and minimize releases. The effort consists of five activities, some complete, some underway, and some to be developed:

Develop an Industry Responsible Use Guide
The ARI Responsible Use Guide for Minimizing Fluorocarbon Emissions in Manufacturing Facilities, released in March 2006 with the endorsement of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), emphasizes the recovery, reclamation, reuse, or proper disposal of refrigerants and the need to use trained and certified personnel.

The guide targets processes used in the manufacturing of both residential and commercial HVACR equipment. It also lists practices that should be performed in every facility where refrigerants are produced, used, stored, or prepared for transport.

Industry-Wide Endorsement of ASHRAE Standard
Through the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), industry professionals have developed a standard to address the containment of refrigerants during design, product development, manufacturing, installation, service, operation, maintenance, decommissioning, refrigerant recovery, reuse, disposal, handling, and storage.

Between now and 2007, manufacturers will work with ASHRAE to revise and strengthen the standard. For its part, ARI will help develop acceptable methods of testing for refrigerant containment and tightness standards for various types of equipment.

Strengthen and Enhance Section 608 of the Clean Air Act
Section 608 of the Clean Air Act prohibits the intentional venting of CFC and HCFC refrigerants. However, inconsistencies in the application of these regulations have led to unclear guidelines for technicians and equipment owners. These inconsistencies, combined with a lack of enforcement from the EPA at the technician level, have resulted in an atmosphere of complacency regarding regulations. Our industry must take a proactive approach to control the emissions of HFCs - and all refrigerants.

ARI is working with other associations within our industry in a broad-based coalition to establish and promote common responsible-use goals for HFCs. This industry coalition will approach the EPA, Congress, and the administration with a unified message regarding the actions that must be taken to preserve the use of HFCs in this country.

Promote Government use of NATE-Certified Technicians
The federal government is the largest owner and tenant of both commercial and residential buildings. The U.S. General Services Administration alone manages an estimated 330 million square feet of public and private leased workspace with some 1,600 government-owned buildings.

ARI will continue to encourage the federal government to require its HVACR installation contractors be NATE-certified.

Establish a Recovery/Recycle or Destruction Program
As part of its overall commitment to improve life and the environment, ARI is exploring the development of a voluntary, industry-led program to:

  • Ensure the desired quality of refrigerants, while encouraging reuse;

  • Employ financial incentives throughout the value chain to encourage return/recycling of all refrigerants;

  • Certify all recycled refrigerants;

  • Ensure continuation of free-market recycling enterprises; and

  • Provide funding for the environmentally responsible destruction of unusable refrigerants.

    There are many links in the responsible-use chain, from the chemical companies that produce refrigerants to those who reclaim or destroy refrigerants at the end of their useful life that must be part of an effective responsible-use strategy. Through ARI members' cooperation and full participation in the Responsible Refrigerant Use Initiative, the industry can demonstrate its environmental responsibility while preserving for our use - and the comfort of our customers - these vital refrigerants.

    William G. Sutton, ARI President, 703-600-0314,

    Publication date: 05/29/2006