Prohibited Green Technologies

October 22, 2007

Green technologies make good sense to most of us, but incomplete or uncoordinated implementation can lead to circumstances where green technologies are not able to provide the full benefits that they can. In some instances, regulatory requirements can even lead to making green technologies counterproductive.

Waterless urinals present one striking example of how regulations and green technology are not yet working together. In some municipalities, waterless urinals have not been allowed by building inspectors because they do not meet code requirements. Or, in some cases, building inspectors have allowed waterless urinals to be installed, but have required the builder to provide plumbing supply lines to bring water to the waterless urinal locations (though capped off and hidden behind the finished wall). The rationale for this is that if the waterless urinals are later removed and replaced with conventional urinals, extensive renovation will not be necessary to bring water to the location.

This upsets many of the green benefits of using waterless urinals in the first place. While waterless urinals provide water savings, that is not the only green benefit to incorporating them into a green building. Waterless urinals, when installed without a water supply line, provide savings in materials by avoiding the installation of likely dozens of feet of water supply pipe. Given the material cost, the high embodied energy content, and the extensive mineral use in mining, refining, and creating even ten feet of copper pipe, much of the savings from installing a waterless urinal is wiped out. Because of this, it will take much longer to realize the savings that using a waterless urinal should provide.

Another instance of conflict between regulatory requirements and green objectives is in trucking. Canadian truck drivers recently met with federal officials to showcase “Envirotrucks.” These are trucks with features that can reduce smog and greenhouse gas emissions.

Technologies such as aerodynamic flaps make trucks more frugal with fuel. But the flaps stick out so the truck is longer than some provinces allow. One solution is to shorten the cargo section of the truck, but the trucking industry isn’t willing to do that.

Shortening the cargo section means that trucks must carry a smaller load. Savings from increased efficiency may be more than offset by a need for more truck trips to carry the same amount of cargo, and, though the individual trucks may be more efficient, making more trips does nothing to reduce the overall level of emissions. More truck trips also add to road congestion, and magnify the adverse effects by slowing down the entire transport system.

Green technologies need to be incorporated into regulatory systems in a way that does not outweigh the potential benefits. Otherwise, green improvements can be perceived as just expensive indulgences, rather than offering real gains. Real progress comes not just from incremental, individual improvements, but when the larger systems are revised to allow the most appropriate and efficient systems to be properly used.

Link: CBC News

Image source: Construction Resources