A Win-Win Approach Out of Washington

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A new environmental program that emanated out of Washington last month bears a name that seems highly appropriate – and takes an approach that makes a great deal of sense.

It’s also an approach that signals an encouraging and intelligent departure from government strategies of the past.

“WaterSense,” a water conservation program launched several weeks ago by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is aimed at educating consumers about making product choices that limit water consumption, and help preserve the environment, without compromising performance.

Under the program, manufacturers will be able to certify that they meet EPA criteria for water efficiency by following testing protocols for products such as toilets, faucets and bidets. A “WaterSense” label will be placed on products that meet the government’s criteria, and those products will then compete in the marketplace with products that do not carry the label.

Sound like a win-win-win for consumers, manufacturers and the environment?

It is.

Resource conservation, of course, is a goal that everyone ought to aspire to. The trick in the past, however, has been how to best achieve that goal – through heavy-handed, sometimes nonsensical, government mandates or through voluntary, market-driven initiatives on the part of manufacturers.

“WaterSense” suggests the latter approach – an effort to achieve conservation through education and voluntary cooperation, rather than through strict government regulation.

The theory is simple: Consumers will buy into the program because it’s good for the environment, and manufacturers will endeavor to produce water-efficient products – not because a government agency mandates them to, but because they want to be perceived favorably in the eyes of the public, address market demand and sell more product.

Creating voluntary incentives of this type is an approach that can clearly work when it comes to conserving energy and protecting the environment. Kitchen and bath manufacturers have demonstrated that for years. Appliance and lighting manufacturers – prodded in part by the government’s popular “Energy Star” program – have made major strides at reducing energy consumption in their products.

And kitchen cabinet manufacturers have long been working voluntarily toward promoting sustainability and the wise use of natural resources. Their latest effort is the development by the KCMA of a voluntary “Environmental Stewardship Program,” which provides cabinet suppliers with an opportunity to demonstrate that their products and procedures meet key environmental criteria commonly referenced by kitchen /bath designers, government agencies, builders, consumers and others (see story).

The alternatives to voluntary programs like this, frankly, are not pretty. With no government interference, environment abuses can run rampant. On the flip side, excessive or ill-advised government regulation has never proven an effective formula for balancing the needs of the public with those of the business community. Neither do piecemeal, inconsistent state laws of the type opposed by associations like The Plumbing Manufacturers Institute (see story).

Voluntary programs strike the appropriate balance – with the government and the manufacturing sector working hand in hand for the good of all.

That’s why programs such as the latest ones by the EPA and the KCMA make so much sense.

Kitchen and bath dealers – along with builders, remodelers, designers and retailers – will have to do their part to make these voluntary programs work. Plumbing and cabinet manufacturers will have to continue to produce environmentally-friendly products. And the kitchen/bath design trade will have to collaborate by making their customers aware of the value inherent in those products – and by specifying the products as a matter of course.

The alternatives, as noted earlier, should be avoided at all costs.

The public doesn’t need products that waste valuable resources or denigrate the environment. The government doesn’t need the manufacturing sector returning to the scenario of decades ago, and doing anything they please. And manufacturers certainly don’t need government bureaucrats breathing down their necks and enforcing regulations that are counterproductive to everyone.