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Green fog obscures genuine advances

There is a green mist descending, and it needs blowing away, says Mike Creamer of Business Edge

There is no hiding place. You may be in industrial chillers, air conditioning splits, refrigerated merchandisers, or even specialist low temperature refrigeration, but I bet over the past month or so you have had a salesman look you in the eye and tell you his latest product is more environmentally friendly” than the competition.a

There is a word for it, of course. Greenwash. It may sound like the latest incarnation of Persil, but Greenwash is in fact fast-becoming the bane of the refrigeration and air conditioning world.

It began in adverts and brochures, where you might expect marketing claims of environmental holiness to be on the extravagant end of the truth spectrum. But it is now beginning to infect the editorial columns of some journals, where claims are being uncritically passed on to readers. I exclude this journal and one or two others in this sector, which continue to take an admirably circumspect approach to the contents of press releases.

However, open any copy of a general business magazine, or indeed any national newspaper, and it is not long before the unsubstantiated claims start tumbling off the pages. Before long, you are knee deep in a rising tide, and the Greenwash just keeps coming.

The truth is, we should not be surprised that our industry finds itself at the centre of this. We specialise in systems that consume large quantities of energy; they are in sectors (such as air conditioning) where, almost uniquely, consumption of electricity is rising rather than falling; the equipment we produce also uses raw materials such as copper, aluminium and steel, all of which are in global short supply. And, arguably most significant of all, running through the arteries and veins of our systems are refrigerants implicated in climate change and environmental damage on a global scale.

All these issues come home to roost on the industry’s collective desk.

It is because of this, we now find ourselves at the centre of a storm of what I would call “promotional re-engineering”. This is the activity of repositioning products, often long established ones, as environmentally friendly – often without changing one rivet or washer of their design.

For example, what is this? “An ergonomically-designed and portable device for interpersonal communication requiring zero energy consumption and made from natural renewable resources.” It is of course a pencil, wrapped in Greenwash, and it has been around ever since the first caveman picked a charred twig off the ground and wrote his shopping list on a granite wall.

The bottom line, of course, is that the impact of our industry on the environment matters. In this, we have both a unique responsibility and a unique opening, to make things better and to open up new opportunities.

Whether we are conscious of it or not, most of us who earn our living from air conditioning and refrigeration have an influence on how plant performs, and the extent to which it impacts the environment. The issue is that genuine technological advances that could have a hugely beneficial impact on the environment risk being lost in the “fog of war”, as the green mist descends and blankets the scene.

What is needed is a new and objective basis for comparison. I suggest we need a new Green Standard. This industry-wide gold standard (but green) would set out a list of unified performance criteria and materials specifications against which companies would list their products. It could be along the lines of the Eurovent programme on plant performance, but with a wider set of parameters – to include efficiency at both full and part load / lower ambient conditions, anticipated life-time running costs and so on. After all, it is these measures of performance, in real-world conditions, rather than at theoretical conditions seldom met with in the UK, that really count.

Equipment spends almost all of its life operating at part-load conditions, so why specify its energy efficiency at full load? And all equipment installed in the UK is subject to UK temperature and weather conditions, not to some abstract condition plucked out of the air in Brussels. So why not rate its anticipated efficiency at the conditions it is likely to meet in the real world, during its operational life? We have the data, we can do this. Yes we can.

This could perhaps take the form of an Energy Efficiency Profile, based on the previous year’s UK weather data at one or more locations. A “model” building could be derived and the cooling / heating loads accurately calculated, with plant capacity and efficiency determined in order to arrive at theEnergy Efficiency Profile.

I seem to recall the US market introducing SEER (Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio) a few decades ago, and this might form a useful basis for us to utilise.

To an outsider wandering off the street into this conversation, all this must seem blisteringly obvious. It might also seem rather incredible that this issue hasn’t been properly addressed before. It’s high time it was.

Therefore, I charge the industry’s trade bodies with the task of establishing a new Green Standard. It will help separate genuine claims from specious, and give buyers the opportunity to make straightforward comparisons between equipment based on real-world UK conditions. It would bring together existing objective measures of environmental performance, and put them in an easy-to-read format that enables quick reference.

There may well be, as I write, some highly motivated committee beavering away behind the scenes to establish just such a scheme. In which case, I stand humbled, and full of anticipation to see what they come up with. If not, get your finger out chaps, we sorely need it!