Green Challenges Manifest as the great amphibious philosopher Kermit

Green Challenges Manifest

As the great amphibious philosopher Kermit once observed, “It ain’t easy being green”. This was demonstrated to me firsthand when we visited the USGBC Greenbuild Seminar recently. We were fortunate to stay in a fine hotel designed by some not to be named would-be green architects and engineers who were, frankly, still struggling mightily with the sustainability paradigm.

Check in was smooth enough – acres of “green” carpet, sustainably harvested wood casework, low VOC paint, the whole shebang. Ditto for the room wherein organic cotton linens beckoned and low flow bathroom fixtures sparkled.  The possibility of cross-ventilated hotels rooms, unfortunately, seems a distant dream.

No, friends, the problem presented in the public spaces where some of the conference attendees gathered after the days proceedings to swap stories and compare ‘e-swag’, those wonderfully wasteful accoutrements of green industry, offered up lovingly in a reusable tote. A visit to the bathroom revealed some yet to be resolved green opportunities.

There is that place in a bathroom where a man might find himself in, ahmm, a seated position that demonstrated the first challenge of corporate-scaled water conservation. My arrival in the smallest room (partition, actually) was greeted by a welcoming and vigorous low flow flush. Well okay, nice to see you too!

Another superfluous flush was offered upon the customary backwards-facing approach. By my simple math we’re down two flushes at this point, effectively negating the water saving low flush technology. Then, right on queue, the requisite flushing upon standing. A final fare-thee-well flush upon exit for a total of four flushes where one would have sufficed.

Making my way to the sinks I had to pass by a line of urinals, presumably of the low flush variety (waterless urinals perhaps being deemed too radical!). A sequential volley of urinal flushing, like soldiers saluting a passing dignitary, ensued. I did feel special but there were five urinals in there; wow, we’re down a solid 7 or 8 gallons at this point.

But the challenges of being green were not yet done presenting their case. Arrival at the sinks caused the two adjacent sinks to offer unneeded water in addition to the one I wanted to use; there being no off valve on these sensor driven faucets I had to watch the symmetrical waste as I scrubbed up.  The sensors must have been set to “luxury wash” because they keep on low-flowing long after the rinsing was done.

Then it’s off to the electric hand dryer (still don’t like those things although I realize it’s an electricity, material, and cleaning savings so I’ll endure.) Enough velocity to exfoliate a rhino and I’m done but the machine is not. It continues to blow furiously as I head for the exit.

Refreshed and bathed in a mist of cleansing atmospheric moisture I head for the door. The urinals, not to be caught napping when in the presence of such a renowned environmentalist, mark my passing with yet another five-gun salute.

This has been an interesting visit!

I ended up in architecture because I understood the engineers would take care of the math but I’m pretty sure my single visit to the green bathroom resulted in approximately 10 or 11 gallons of water unnecessarily hitting the drain, some of it of the precious hot variety.  So intrigued by the colossal waste I lingered briefly, risking an embarrassing call to hotel security, just to see if my experience was typical. Sure enough, the next unwitting greenie to enter set off a similar display of ironic waste.

As someone once observed, we may be lost but we’re making great time.

Here’s to everyone who struggles, and sometimes fails, to protect the scarce and valuable resources of this green earth; just remember to check your work.

Steve Farrell

Asheville, North Carolina