In 2010, the Department of Energy and some powerful commercial building owners (Lowes, Walmart, Costco, McDonalds, more…) issued a challenge to the industry to provide more energy efficient rooftop HVAC units (RTUs). At that time, no commercial RTU manufacturers met the challenge. Now, 5 of the major manufacturers offer more than 195 models that do.
Today, building efficiency products represent more than $60 billion in U.S. revenue; they grew 43% from 2012 to 2016. In 2018, 2,250,000 people spent some or all of their time working on delivering energy efficiency technologies. Employment in energy efficiency grew 3%, twice the national average, adding 67,000 jobs nationally. This does not even include those working on other advanced energy segments such as wind energy, solar or energy storage.
When challenged, both the public and private sectors responded. New associations and collaborations were created, R&D budgets and startups in the space boomed and federal, state and city entities created incentives to fuel all that activity and catalyze the movement. Now programs like ENERGY STAR helps consumers and businesses save over $30 billion each year by marking energy-saving products, homes, and commercial buildings.
We need some of that love for the reuse and recycling of materials. Why?
Jobs and the economy: In 2016, recycling and reuse activities in the United States accounted for 757,325 jobs, $36.6 billion in wages; and $6.7 billion in tax revenues. A U.S. recycling rate of 75% by 2030 (we are stuck at 35%) would create 1.1 million new jobs.
Resources & the environment: We need to tackle greenhouse gas emissions. Most folks don’t know that materials management is associated with an estimated 42% of all U.S. GHG emissions. Let’s put it into perspective -- according to the EPA, if we increased recycling of mixed construction and demolition debris to 50% (we stand at around 34%), it would drive reduction of 75 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. That calculates out the same as if we avoided use of 120 billion kWh of electricity -- like not using electricity in all of Argentina or the Netherlands for an entire year or taking 16 million cars off the road for a year.
Don’t get me wrong -- we need to keep turning the energy efficiency crank. An astounding 64% of the primary energy consumed by US manufacturing is “lost” during transmission, power and steam generation, process heating, HVAC and lighting use, and other activities. Just saying we need to learn from our success and apply it to the management of reusable materials and catalyze the innovation machine.
Oregon is one of the most active states when it comes to energy and the environment. In 2018, the Oregon Dept of Environmental Quality invested $600,000 across 16 projects in Materials Management grants. On the other hand, Energy Trust of Oregon spent around $143M on energy efficiency in 2017.
If we have learned one thing from energy efficiency it is that public / private investment in driving resource-use behavior change and innovation pays off.
Now let’s Redo our approach to materials management.