How Greenwashing Can Affect the Building Industry

How often is it that we hear a company has “gone green”? No longer taking paper invoices, they have digitized everything and managed to make their products environmentally friendly in one way or another. Recently, there has been a lot of climate change news hyper-focused on low levels of water in Lake Mead and the worsening droughts in different areas around our great nation. As a result, many companies’ PR and marketing teams have leveraged that news to find a way to jump on the green bandwagon and grab positive attention for their “green” products or efforts that may not be truly green. These acts, known as “greenwashing,” can give companies the perception that they are helping the environment in the eyes of their consumers.

Greenwashing is defined as misleading or deceptive publicity that is disseminated by an organization to present an environmentally responsible public image. A prime example of this is how many manufacturers reacted to the mandates from the EPA Act of 1992. The act instated a nationwide requirement that any new toilets being installed needed to flush at 1.6 gallons per flush (GPF) or less. The average toilet manufactured at the time flushed at 3.5 GPF. To comply with the new law, manufacturers simply lowered the fill valve buoy to create the environment where a toilet manufactured to flush at 3.5 GPF would technically flush at 1.6 GPF. Unfortunately, because it was designed to flush at a higher volume, these new 1.6 GPF toilets would now need additional flushes, clog often and even cause backflow issues.

This simple mistake caused an entire generation of building and plumbing professionals to avoid installing “low-flow” products so that they would not have to face the dreaded callbacks from customers to fix the clogging or backflow problems associated with these toilets. As a result, this also has created a huge obstacle for manufacturers who are continually innovating to create toilets to work better with less water but face a perception problem from plumbing professionals that they don’t work well.

Essentially, when a manufacturer claims that their product is green – how do we hold them accountable for it and ensure that the products we install will perform to the standards of our consumers? The immediate answer: certifications.

For the sake of being brief, I won’t outline every certification available to plumbing products, but I will outline the two that hold the most weight in the plumbing industry.

WaterSense Certification

In June of 2006, the EPA officially launched the WaterSense program as both a label for water-efficient products as well as a resource for consumers to save water. Their mission is to transform the marketplace for products and services that use water and promote a nationwide ethic of water efficiency to conserve water resources for future generations and reduce water and wastewater infrastructure costs.

Part of how WaterSense accomplishes their goals and continues their mission is by setting certain requirements to earn their prestigious labels. One of their most important certifications centers around tank-type toilets. Revised in 2014, the WaterSense specifications are applicable to:

  • Single-flush, tank-type gravity toilets
  • Dual flush, tank-type gravity toilets
  • Dual flush, tank-type flushometer tank (pressure-assist) toilets
  • Tank-type, flushometer tank (pressure-assist) toilets
  • Tank-type electrohydraulic toilets
  • Any other tank-type technologies that meet these performance specifications.

In a quick summary, in order for any of the toilets above to use the WaterSense label on their products they must meet three main criteria:

  1. Effective flush volume shall not exceed 1.28 GPF
  2. Solid waste removal must be 350 grams or greater (about 2lbs)
  3. The toilet must
    1. Conform to ASME regulations
    2. Have a fill valve that must be a pilot valve type or meet the performance requirements of the fill valve test protocol
    3. Have a tank flushing system that must be tamper resistant and affixed to the tank
    4. Have a tank that must be set to its maximum use setting which should not exceed:
      1. Single Flush Fixtures: 1.68 GPF
      2. Dual Flush Fixtures 1.4 GPF in reduced flush mode or 2.0 GPF for full flush mode

Essentially, the WaterSense certification is not a walk in the park to achieve, but the standards set by the program guarantee that you will be purchasing a product that is not only water-efficient but also performs well.

MaP and MaP Premium Certifications

For those in the plumbing industry, or even those that influence it, high performance and low maintenance are the goals of every job or project. When it comes to toilets, the pros know to look for the MaP® PREMIUM-certified label to indicate that a product has high performance and low maintenance. To achieve a PREMIUM rating, a toilet must go through the MaP group’s tests, which measure the amount of waste moved with each flush. Current EPA WaterSense standards only measure up to 350 grams of waste moved per flush. MaP’s testing measures up to 1,000 grams, providing an even better evaluation of a toilet’s flush capacity – as more grams equal a better performing flush. A rating of 250 grams is required to meet MaP standards, and 600 grams is required to meet MaP Premium standards.

In addition to a toilet’s ability to remove waste, MaP PREMIUM toilets must also use no more than 1.1 gallons of water with each flush, which is 14% less than current EPA WaterSense requirements.

Both WaterSense and MaP certifications are tested through a third-party vendor to ensure that there is no bias and that testing remains consistent. And both of these certifications help prevent greenwashing -- not only by ensuring that your product uses less water from our environment but that it has high performance and low maintenance. Be sure to keep a look out for the WaterSense and MaP logos on packaging when choosing a toilet for your next project in order to avoid products that might be guilty of greenwashing.

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