Though I don’t claim this often, I am, in fact, part of the millennial generation. I try to avoid all of the negative stereotypes associated with my age group. But there are quite a few that are true: I do like avocados; sharing internet memes; and taking selfies. Millennials — like myself — are also environmentally conscious. 

In 2015, a Nielson report found 73% of millennials were willing to pay more for sustainable goods compared to the 51% of baby boomers. Additionally, 81% of millennials expect their favorite companies to make public declarations of their corporate citizenship. Seeing as how millennials have surpassed baby boomers as the nation’s largest living adult generation (according to population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau), that’s a lot of pressure on companies to not only create more sustainable, energy efficient products, but also walk the walk, so to speak, by lowering their carbon footprints.

Corporate sustainability initiatives

The PHCP-PVF industry is no stranger to creating energy efficient products to help customers reduce operating costs as well as lower greenhouse gas emissions and meet corporate sustainability goals. Many of the manufacturers in our industry understand the importance of energy efficiency and sustainability, and have aligned their corporate strategies to meet progressive sustainability goals.

For example, Uponor North America announced in January it had received a 2020 Manufacturing Sustainability Award from The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal for its efforts to reduce waste, improve energy efficiency and empower labor.

“Our commitment to sustainability is a powerful influence on our business, from product development to how we manage our scrap and conserve water — all of which ties into the success of our business,” said Bill Gray, president, Uponor North America.

In 2020, Uponor successfully completed several key sustainability initiatives reflected in the company’s sustainability report, including: Signing a pledge with nonprofit Operation Clean Sweep to keep resin residue — a byproduct of PEX pipe manufacturing process — out of drains and waterways in the Twin Cities area; reducing the amount of PEX scrap by 36% over 2019 numbers through yield improvements; and powering 100% of its manufacturing and distribution facilities in the U.S. with renewable (wind and solar) electricity.

Another manufacturer who has committed to sustainability is Rheem. The company has announced that by 2025, it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and achieve zero waste to landfill in its global manufacturing operations.

KOHLER has also announced it is working toward net-zero environmental impact by 2035 by reducing or offsetting greenhouse gas emissions and sending zero solid waste to landfills.

Zero energy on the rise

Net-zero energy buildings are also a growing trend in both residential and commercial spaces. According to the New Buildings Institute, the number of zero energy buildings across the U.S. and Canada have increased tenfold since 2010, and encompass more than 80 million square feet of commercial building space. Additionally, a report from Business Wire indicates the global net-zero energy buildings market generated a revenue of $896.6 million in 2018 and is projected to reach $2.1 billion by 2024, advancing at an impressive CAGR of 15.6%.

ASHRAE recently joined the ranks of net-zero energy buildings when it announced the move to its new global headquarters building in Atlanta this past winter — the 66,700 square foot building, built in 1978 on 11 acres of land, will be fully net-zero energy by March 2021 with the completion of a photovoltaic (PV) system installation. The headquarters building incorporates several digitally connected solutions, including remote monitoring and analysis of building performance with online dashboarding for transparency and advanced Building Automation System (BAS) integration with other systems, such as ASHRAE’s meeting reservations systems. Other solutions include a digital twin and Building Information Model (BIM), innovative mechanical systems visible through open ceiling around radiant panel clouds and advanced conferencing systems designed to serve as a “digital lighthouse” teaching resource. The building definitely looks impressive — check out ASHRAE’s short video tour here:

So what does all this mean for you? MEP engineers are in the perfect position to advance sustainability goals, whether they are company initiatives or government-driven mandates. Your job as an engineer is to help your clients meet their efficiency goals. You have the design experience, product knowledge and know-how to create energy efficient, sustainable buildings. But now, it’s time to go one step further. Turn that ability inward and take a good hard look at what your own firm is doing to compete in this space. Does your firm have a sustainability initiative? What can it do to be more environmentally conscious? If you don’t already have a plan in place, there has never been a better time to jump on the sustainability train.