Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ed Osann (right) makes a point to Chris Miller of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s staff during the ETS.

In the future, we won’t use the phrase “green buildings” because all buildings will incorporate sustainable technologies. I heard someone make that comment a few years ago, and I was reminded of it again last month when I moderated the International Emerging Technology Symposium in Bethesda, Md.

IAPMO and the World Plumbing Council sponsored the ETS to highlight new products that save water as well as to discuss opportunities for further efficiencies. Speakers came from trade associations, government agencies and private industry.

And while some of the presentations during the two-day event convinced me that “green buildings” will disappear from our vocabulary, others suggested we still have a way to go.

Technology is responsible for the nearly 50% decline in indoor residential water demand in the last 18 years, said Bill Gauley, a partner in Veritec Consulting, an engineering firm that specializes in water efficiency. Products taking the most credit include toilets, showerheads and washing machines.

In his presentation, “Are Water Efficiency Programs Reaching the End of the Line?” Gauley said the need for such incentives is dwindling.

“It’s getting more difficult to find inefficient toilets and clothes washers in old homes,” Gauley said. “New homes are built with efficient appliances. This is a market taking care of itself.”

With technology bringing water volume down in plumbing products such as toilets about as low as it can go, he said, changes in human behavior will have to drive further efficiencies. We’ll need more people like the ones who are installing graywater systems today to be green, not to save money.

Ed Osann, senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, also noted the drop in residential water usage, which has been going down 1% per year for the last 15 years. He cited the “25 by 25” program that would result in water used in new residential construction being 25% of what it is today in 2025.

“This is achievable by reducing customer-side leakage and increased use of water metering and efficient products and appliances,” he said. “Outdoors, we have to take landscape irrigation off potable water.”

Doug Bennett, conservation manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said his agency's Water Smart program has resulted in 9,000 new homes in Las Vegas with high-efficiency plumbing and desert landscaping. On the downside, he pointed to an EPA Home Water Study that shows new homes using more water than older homes in U.S. cities other than Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Kevin Kampschroer, director of the Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings at the U.S. General Services Administration, said dual-flush toilets in federal buildings did not see anticipated water savings because flush handles were installed improperly.

“Sustainable buildings do perform better but they do not perform to their potential,” he said. “They are using the same amount of energy they did 20 years ago.”

We can't take green buildings for granted. With the progress technology has allowed us to make, we need to turn potential water efficiencies into reality.