Wastewater Warrior

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Photo By Jennifer Hale
Megan Lehtonen believes plumbers can help change the world.

Director of GreenPlumbers USA, Megan Lehtonen is working to reduce our nation’s water and energy use by offering plumbers comprehensive training on everything from solar hot water to natural wastewater treatment. Adapting the Australian program to the United States just last year, GreenPlumbers USA has already trained more than 3,000 plumbers and plans to train 50,000 to 60,000 more in the next few years.

How does plumbing contribute to global climate change? How would efficient plumbing help reduce it?

Saving water and energy reduces the environmental impact of our society. We are learning more and more about the nexus of water and energy. For example, the transportation of water throughout California accounts for 19 percent of the state’s electrical use. Saving water saves energy, and everybody benefits. Plumbers are the face-to-face end-solution providers for consumers across the country, and efficient plumbing can have an enormous impact on our country’s environmental footprint.

How do you train plumbers to be green?

Plumbers are incredibly skilled and knowledgeable already. We challenge them to look at their careers in a different way by extending their education to include training related to new technology and advanced conservation techniques. The five courses (32 hours total) include training on everything from solar hot water to how to conduct a detailed, 50-point water audit on homes and businesses. Plumbing companies that commit to training all of their technicians, and adhere to a code of ethics, can become Licensed GreenPlumbers. These companies are listed on our website by location, so consumers can have a conservation option when looking for a plumber.

You call for a “complete culture change in the plumbing industry.” What does that mean?

Top to bottom–manufacturers, wholesalers, contractors and plumbers–the entire industry needs to adapt to new technology and conservation procedures. For us, culture change means plumbers stepping up and taking the responsibility to become champions of conservation. America needs to save water, and the plumbing industry needs to be part of the solution.

Does changing the mindset of working plumbers help change the mindset of home and business owners?

Certainly the GreenPlumber can be effective in influencing the purchasing decisions of business and homeowners, but we’re finding more and more that the plumbers and the consumers are working together to find the best environmental solutions.

Why is it important to reduce household water use?

Water is a finite resource. The water we have is the water we are going to have. Americans use on average twice as much as other countries. We can do better. You’ve heard it said that water is the new oil. We aren’t talking about saving water as much as we are talking about not wasting water. Someday soon we will be saying, “do you remember when we used to flush our toilets with drinking water?”

What inspired this program?

GreenPlumbers was developed in Australia due to a major drought that still troubles that country today. We became aware of the GreenPlumbers program and negotiated to implement the program in North America to emulate the savings achieved by Australia. We wanted the plumbing industry in this country to be part of the conservation solution.

What’s been one of your favorite experiences working with this program?

It’s really inspiring for us when a 50-year-old plumber gets excited about his trade all over again. And you know that he will go out and be a representative for change. We have trained more than 3,000 plumbers in our first year, and we will train 50,000 to 60,000 in the next few years. That volume has the potential to result in huge water and energy savings.

What’s the number one thing you would tell homeowners to change in their plumbing systems?

Eliminate water-wasting toilets. Most cities have rebates available to change out your toilet to a better- performing, more efficient model. It’s simple and can save 11,800 gallons of water per home in a year. Approximately 100 million water wasting toilets are still being used in this country today.

What’s your favorite eco-friendly but luxurious item in your bathroom?

My Grundfos Comfort System. It’s a pump and valve combo that delivers hot water in an instant to my shower, saving precious morning minutes and at least 5 gallons of water waste per shower.

Megan’s favorite things

• Water (fresh or salt, whatever I can get into)

• Family

• Opportunity

Learn more about GreenPlumbers USA.