Practicing Water Conservation at Home: An Interview With Joan Darvish-Rouhani

Created:
Thu, 2016-07-14 10:52

Everblue LEED Instructor Joan Darvish-Rouhani sat down with Speakman, a seller of premium shower and bath products, to discuss how and why consumers should practice water conservation at home. Here are the results of their interview.

If you'd like to learn more about water conservation in homes and buildings, you should consider our LEED training program. Visit our What is LEED? page for more information.

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How important is going green in the shower, reducing from 2.5 to 2.0 or lower?

The need to conserve water is important for two reasons:

  • drought conditions exist in many areas of the U.S. and the world
  • the amount of energy required to process water into potable water is surprisingly large

The amount of potable water used in the U.S. is staggering. Take showering, for example:

“Showering is one of the leading ways we use water in the home, accounting for nearly 17% of residential indoor water use—for the average family, that adds up to nearly 40 gallons per day. That's nearly 1.2 trillion gallons of water used in the United States annually just for showering, or enough to supply the water needs of New York and New Jersey for a year!” (EPA Watersense 2016)

As droughts worsen – and new ones begin – conserving water is a true priority. Global warming, which is causing many of the extreme weather patterns we are experiencing, is also tied to potable water consumption:

“U.S. water-related energy use is at least 521 million MWh a year—equivalent to 13% of the nation’s electricity consumption… findings suggest that the carbon footprint currently associated with moving, treating and heating water in the U.S. is at least 290 million metric tons a year. The CO2 embedded in the nation’s water represents 5% of all U.S. carbon emissions and is equivalent to the emissions of over 62 coal fired power plants.” (The Carbon Footprint of Water, 2009, Bevan Griffiths-Sattenspiel and Wendy Wilson)
 
One simple conservation measure, reducing the amount of water used in the shower from 2.5 to 2.0 gpm (a 20% reduction), would result in an annual savings of over 2900 gallons per family – or, 240 million gallons per year in the U.S. – with a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as well.

Clearly, going green in the shower can have a massive, positive effect on the planet and climate, now and in the future.

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What impact have you seen LEED making on the construction industry as a whole?

LEED is growing at nearly exponential rates for nonresidential buildings: nearly 50% of all nonresidential construction will be green in 2015, compared to only 2% in 2005! These figures include more than LEED-certified buildings; however, the total global amount of LEED-certified building (residential and nonresidential) square footage is more than 13.8 billion as of August 2015. LEED is definitely the green building rating system at this point in time.

For the residential sector, green buildings are growing steadily as well. Currently, according to USGBC...

“62% of U.S. developers currently are building green (more than 15% of their new construction will be green homes). Within the next 2 years, it is estimated that more than 84% of new home builders will be adding green homes to their portfolio. This has a very large effect on the U.S. economy... the current surge in green building starts and investment in the residential market will have an outsized impact on an estimated 17% to 18% of the domestic economy over the next decade.”

What market is leading the way in terms of conservation construction?

Energy efficiency has been at the forefront of all types of construction since the oil crises of the 1970s, and remains the predominant green strategy. What has changed with the concept of ‘sustainable’ construction is that the building sector has expanded its understanding of the impact all the systems in a building – including plumbing - have on overall energy efficiency. Statistics on new construction in the U.S. bear this out:
 
In 2011, 71% of construction businesses reported using at least one green technology or practice and more than half were involved in improving energy efficiency within their establishments or reducing creation of waste materials. (CDC NIOSH)

The green technologies alluded to include water conservation, such as water-efficient fixtures, and appliances that are both energy- and water-efficient, such as cooling towers.

What would you recommend to people to integrate environmental best practices into their everyday lives?

There are four primary practices to integrate into one’s private life:
  • mindfulness with consumption
  • efficiency in energy and water equipment
  • using mass transit, bikes or feet when possible
  • mindfulness with disposal

Mindfulness with consumption is arguably the most difficult of the four. It is always better to reduce our use of materials, because these materials – from raw materials to manufacture to use and eventual disposal – have a significantly negative impact on the planet. If a person, or a family, makes the commitment to reduce their use of new materials, the results will be a slowing of the depletion of nonrenewable natural resources, a potential reversal of climate change, and a reduction in other negative effects of materials production and use (water and air pollution, ozone layer depletion, acid rain, smog, etc.).

Mindfulness with consumption also includes mindful use – choosing products in smaller and/or reusable containers, being sure to use all of the material before you purchase a replacement, and knowing as much as possible about the life cycle of the product so you can make the least impactful purchase.

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When you do need to replace your equipment, choosing energy efficient and water efficient products should be a priority. This seems like a no-brainer, but the purchase itself can be complicated – highly efficient equipment can have higher first costs, but they save so much in operating costs that they may pay for themselves fairly quickly. This calculation – the premium paid initially compared to the operating cost savings – needs to be made at every purchase.

Transportation is a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions – and pollution, and taxes that we all pay. The cost of maintaining roads to be able to accommodate large numbers of cars is huge, both in terms of money and environmental impact. We, as individuals, are paying the price! Using mass transit as much as possible, and advocating for the introduction or expansion of mass transit in your locale, significantly reduces these costs. Walking and using bicycles are clearly the better options – no emissions or pollution, and lots of health benefits. If you can’t get to your destination on your own steam, and mass transit isn’t available, be mindful of your automobile use – consolidate your errands and carpool as much as possible.

Mindfulness in disposal is the final ‘best practice’ to integrate into our lives. Even if you have reduced your consumption significantly, you will still be using products. There will always be waste – we cannot eliminate it. HOW we manage the waste will have a great impact on the planet in the future – for good or for bad. Think about what happens when you are finished with the material – reusing is clearly the best option, yet, it’s not always available. Recycling is great – except it uses a tremendous amount of energy, both in the transportation of the material to and from the recycling facility, and in the facility itself. Still, recycling is better than ending up in the landfill. Resale as salvage is a great idea, as is composting at home.

In essence, the very best practice to adopt is to keep the planet and your impact on it at the top of your thinking – by considering your impact in your purchasing and your activities, you will start making positive decisions that never even occurred to you before.

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Corporations as employers can lead the way in educating their employees in these best practices, and providing opportunities to put the practices into action. Mass transit subsidies are currently a common way to help employees reduce their carbon footprints, and innovative employers can find many other low- or no-cost methods for helping their staff become more mindful in their work and private lives. In my opinion, individuals and families should not be alone in their attempts to lead sustainable lives; so much of our time is spent at work and/or at school that the result of individual efforts will be minimized, or even thwarted, if employers do not play a leadership role in developing a sustainable mindset.

In your opinion, what will happen if we don’t make a change soon to more conservation minded living?

At a certain point, global warming will become irreversible. Up until that point, land-use issues, water and nonrenewable resources conservation are pressing needs – because if we manage to reverse climate change (and I believe we can), we will still have to deal with a seriously depleted and polluted planet if we do not take these problems seriously. Becoming more sustainable in our individual mindsets and in our corporate decision-making will have a positive impact on the future – our children and our 401ks!

What role do you believe manufacturers need to take in green building practices?  Do you think manufacturers are doing enough to help drive change?

Manufacturers can be a leading force in sustainable building – through product development, quality marketing and working with designers for new strategies (into which the products will fit).

Clearly, product designers need to think past the product itself. Major effort needs to be placed on integrating the product into a strategy deployed by building designers, builders, and facilities managers. Taking a whole building approach with the design of building materials – and working with building design and construction practitioners to understand how these individual products or systems interact with others in buildings – is key to sustainability.

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The second step manufacturers need to take is to initiate dialog. Once the product is market-ready, the manufacturer must take the lead in educating building professionals about the positive outcomes that can be achieved with the product. This means the manufacturer must understand green building concepts AND the LEED building rating systems.

In truth, manufacturers will not be leading the sustainable building movement – the role the supplier plays is one of (major and invaluable) support, especially with the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems in buildings. To fulfill this role requires a technical understanding of sustainable building, LEED and whole-building strategies – plus, effective technical marketing of the products.

I believe strongly that product developers and market managers must have a firm foundation in LEED in order to play their vital role in sustainable buildings – design, construction, operations and maintenance.

If you could share one message with people about conservation and green building principles what would it be?

Buildings are a collection of individual systems – roof, walls, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, drywall, paint, etc. - yet they act like an organism once they are occupied – each system, even paint, has influence on the operating ability of all the other systems. These interrelationships are of paramount importance, but they are rarely discussed.

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Also left out of the discussion is the lifecycle of the building and its materials, although buildings have an enormous impact on the planet, from the extraction and manufacture of the building components, to their uses and their eventual disposition. If one is truly interested in conservation, keeping a ‘whole building approach’ while designing, building, operating, repairing, and replacing buildings must be in the forefront of all decisions.

Highly efficient fixtures and equipment are vital, of course, and the manufacturing of these materials and their eventual replacing (otherwise known as the ‘lifecycle’ of the product) should be integrated into design and procurement choices. Manufacturers who understand this can provide valuable information to building designers, constructors, and facilities managers via standardized disclosures (Life Cycle Assessments, Environmental Product Declarations, Corporate Sustainability Reports, and Health Product Declarations). With LEED buildings, these disclosures will help project teams meet thresholds that will allow them higher certification levels. For both LEED and non-LEED buildings, these disclosures will help building owners make informed decisions that are in line with their procurement criteria; manufacturers who are more sustainable in their own practices will see an increase in sales as a result of this transparency.

To sum up, the one message about sustainable building would be to think in terms of life-cycle while keeping the interrelationships of all the systems in a building in mind. This approach will result in energy- and water-efficient buildings that work better, last longer and are more pleasant to occupy.

 


 

Joan Darvish headshotJoan Darvish-Rouhani develops and teaches courses on the LEED Rating System for Everblue.

Joan's goal is to grow the number of sustainability practitioners in the Construction and Design communities, so that we all benefit from better, greener buildings. She firmly believes that product managers, marketing managers, and sales representatives need to take the LEED Green Associate exam.

Joan is a LEED Green Associate and a member of the USGBC Implementation Action Committee. Her field experience includes project engineering for commercial LEED projects.

 

 

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