Plumbing's First Green Giant
Since 1979, I have been involved with the ASME A112 Committee on fixture standards. During my first few years on the Committee, I met a towering man from California by the name of Michael Martin, who represented the California Energy Commission. Michael was always very polite, prim, and proper. He spoke with a formal British accent, having emigrated from England in the early 1950s.
Michael looked to be a few years older than myself. I quickly befriended Michael since he was a fellow engineer and had a strong passion for energy conservation. It was many years later that I learned Michael was 25 years older than me, but he never looked it.
Michael became known as a pain in the a** on the A112 Committee by many of the members. This was because he fought passionately for his cause, and he did it in the most gracious manner. In many ways, he was a good pain in the a**. One that I dearly admired.
Man of Many CausesOne of his first causes was the lowering of the flow rate for showers. When Michael joined the Committee, the shower flow rate was 3 gpm. Michael championed lowering the flow rate to 2.5 gpm. When manufacturers’ representatives and contractors promoted the removal of flow restrictors, Michael encouraged all manufacturers to prevent the removal of restrictors. He eventually had the standard changed to make it difficult to remove any flow restrictor.
Michael also championed the change to lower the flow rates for lavatories and sinks. When 1.6-gpf-flush water closets came into vogue, Michael was there supporting them - provided that the fixtures could meet all of the performance requirements of the standard.
At times Michael seemed to be a thorn in the side of manufacturers because he would always ask, “Why not?”
One of the reasons I liked Michael so much was because he lived what he preached. He always tried to conserve and save energy. He rode his bicycle to work every day. He said it was good exercise and it saved gasoline.
When he traveled to the A112 Committee meetings, he couldn’t see wasting a room that had two beds. I would receive a phone call a few weeks before the meeting and he would ask if we could bunk together. He wanted to save California money, and he thought I could save money as a consultant struggling to make a living. I always agreed to share the room. More because I liked Michael and respected his cause than any need to save money. A few times, I simply paid for the room for both of us.
When the Committee members went out for dinner, Michael would often stay in our room and eat the food that his wife packed for him. He said that he hated to waste money on an expensive restaurant meal when he could eat a better meal that he’d brought from home. Besides, if he was going to go out for an expensive meal, it would be with his loving wife.
Of course, rooming with Michael had its perks. I got to know him that much better, and gained a great deal more respect for his life and what he had accomplished. We could also work after the meeting to get more accomplished.
Standard of ExcellenceI remember one evening when we hit an impasse on the development of the A112.18.3 standard. This is the standard that regulates pull-out spray faucets, the most popular style of kitchen faucet today. Michael and I worked until after 1 a.m. putting together a systematic approach for evaluating products. The reworking of the standard received the Committee’s blessing the following day. While it still took many months to complete the standard, the language did not change much from the work that Michael and I put together that one evening in our shared room.
When I look at that standard today, more than 15 years later, it still reads the same way - having stood the test of time. Yet, Michael never took any credit for the work he did on it. As far as he was concerned, this was just a part of being a member of the Committee.
Today, green is the major trend. But many in the profession were “greenies” before the term was ever invented. Michael was one such individual. He firmly believed that it was an engineer’s responsibility to conserve energy and water whenever possible.
“Just because it is available doesn’t mean you have to use it,” was one of his favorite statements. He thought all of us in the profession - engineers, designers, contractors, and manufacturers - had an obligation to conserve energy.
California was truly fortunate to have such a dedicated employee. He worked for the good of the citizens of that state.
On New Years Day, Michael died at the age of 80. He was working in his office the week before his death. While he was frail, his mind was still sharp. He had planned to move back to England in the middle of January to live out the rest of his life. He didn’t get that chance.
I hadn’t roomed with Michael in a number of years. But I did enjoy seeing him or speaking to him on the phone. It was an honor to have known such a dedicated professional. It was a privilege to work with him on a number of causes. I will miss seeing him at future meetings.
One of the greatest tributes that I can pay to Michael Martin is that he was a kind, gentle man who treated everyone with respect. He taught me that by his actions. When we spoke late into the evenings lying in our beds, trying to fall asleep, he would always impart words of wisdom. He encouraged me to be more patient and respond professionally.
There are times, such as when I have a frustrating situation, that I think of Michael’s kind words. I find myself being more patient and trying to be kind to everyone. I learned from a master.