Reclaiming US leadership in the HVAC/R Refrigerant Management Industry

July 18, 2019 / by Ted Atwood

Ted Atwood

HVAC/R & Refrigerant Management: What are the values and impact?

Refrigerant management meant something different in 1994. There seemed to be three things driving awareness and excitement (yes there was excitement):

  1.  A crisis to close the hole in the ozone layer.

  2.  Everyone's values were aligned and the goal of closing the hole were not in conflict with the   commercial goals of US business.

  3.  Refrigerants were very expensive, and the industry saw an opportunity to begin replacing older   refrigerants with newer, better options.

The US takes the lead

It was accepted that governance or control was going to be led by the US and no one doubted it. We had the tech, manpower and expertise needed.  Other countries didn’t line up against us. We didn’t use brinkmanship to negotiate terms, and all of this was managed by a Republican President with a Democratic Senate, and no one disputed the science behind diagnosis of the problem. 

Once the Montreal Protocol was signed in 1987 and ratified in 1988, it took the EPA 6 years to meet with industry members from the manufacturing segments in equipment and gas, and then talk to associated groups representing technicians, distributors, producers and the newly emerging recycle/reclaim companies.  By 1994 these meetings yielded a consensus on the best path forward. Six years seems like a long time, but a lot was accomplished in that time resulting in a clear task list:

  • Develop and deploy training programs and to train and certify 250,000 techs. 
  • Design, build, ship and sell recovery machines.
  • Manufacture recovery cylinders.
  • Develop protocols and standards to test, certify and validate gas purity.
  • Design, build and deploy equipment to clean the gas (referred to as Reclaim equipment).
  • Set up programs to manage the collection and recycle of the gasses planned to be recovered.
  • Design new HVAC equipment.
  • Develop retrofit plans.
  • Set up guidelines for handling.
  • Create tools to track refrigerants, leaks and compliance needs.

I traveled the world during this time and was always impressed at how far ahead the US was of the rest of the world.  We shipped cylinders, technology and gas to every continent, and our standards and protocols became the standards that drove the worlds activity.

By 1998, only 10 short years after the ratification, the market was humming along when we noticed something that we had missed in our haste to solve the hole in the ozone layer – these refrigerants didn’t just cause the hole in the Southern Hemisphere, but they were impacting the CO2 levels.

We were missing key information

You have to remember the 1990’s signaled the end of the Iron Curtain and the beginning of the opening of intellectual and commercial relations with the Chinese, as well as the beginning of serious climate research. We couldn’t do it before then because each country was isolated. The US, Canada, Europe and some other smaller countries had been sharing data prior to the 1990’s. Now the massive countries of China, Russia and the Eastern block were sharing data - so our teams of scientists could suddenly collaborate and better understand the impact everywhere. Borders no longer limited visibility, and suddenly gaps in the data were being filled in. Now we could see it all, and the scientific community dug in and began to gather results. 

Since 1999 debates have raged here in the US about climate change, its impact, and most recently whether we can be effective at slowing the pace of climate change. Steadily since 1999, the US has been stuck in a state of analysis paralysis that has dethroned us from our former leadership role. While we debate the science, others are making progress on developing market solutions on change outs, advancement in technology and research into new alternatives.  These companies live in China and India and they have the support of their hometown neighbors, citizens and governments.  

international unity climate change

Over 25 years things have changed, and the United States is now widely perceived as a laggard, and even an obstacle to collective action on managing refrigerant.  We are not leading. Thought leaders in this space who still call the US home, companies like Chemours (formerly DuPont), Honeywell, Carrier, York & Trane, are leading the R&D effort to find replacements for gasses that harm the environment and equipment that can run on these new gasses that cause less impact to the environment. Trakref® is one of these companies, working hard to provide solutions that reduce leaks, guide outcomes, support positive behavior and enable digital solutions to complex problems. 

But alternately, foreign companies with no investment in new technology and very little investment in the US have come to the US and used our court system to manipulate intentions and stall or slow progress so they can sell last generation gasses. This process is helping them to preserve the ability to sell gasses that are harmful and known pollutants – with no benefit to  the US at all and instead continues to drag us away from our leadership role. The technology and investment made by leading US companies are supporting a strong export opportunity but doing very little to foster growth and progress here at home.

Back to the future

So how does the US return to a leadership role?  We pay attention to the motivators and remember that there remains a vibrant and strong set of resources here ready to get to work. 

Debates are great. They help us expose all aspects of an issue, but we need to recognize that the science results have little bias and the companies investing in holding us back have a significant bias since they stand to benefit from the paralysis. An endless debate results in stagnation, and if we are going to lead, stagnation is not the best path to manage us back to a leadership position. 

So over the last 30 years we have learned there are 4 primary motivators:

The Risk:  Unfortunately, failing to assess the risk of the status quo does not mean the risks won't materialize - it just means you won't be adequately prepared when they do.

We Need a Crisis: We have one, it is called the ever-increasing payments to insurers, and the loss of productivity. A recent report in The Insurance Journal had a great quote:

climate risk climate change productivity loss financial impact

Values Need to Align: 24 states are members of the US Climate Alliance and these states, located on both coasts, in the center of the US and along our borders, have aligned their values without any need for a federal mandate. These states are leading the US. So this is already happening, but the 26 states that don’t belong, also don’t get a say.

Maximization of the Value of our Resources: We have the best minds, the best experience and a host of companies that have made a massive investment in the tools needed to do the job, we are wasting that talent and opportunity.

How much do we really need to know before we make a good decision, What would an 80% confidence level mean for us on this path?  Would it bring more jobs, result in more input to the outcome, enhance our relationships, build goodwill, reduce risk?

Wrong EmPHAsis on the Wrong SyLABle

It is Not a Climate Issue – It’s a money issue. Most people who are reacting and resisting the science behind climate change are ignoring the impact that variable costs related to insurance are having on their bottom line. If you work in an organization and are resisting the need to manage this, then you might also not understand the impact poor maintenance has on your bottom line.  

Research published in The Journal Nature last year stated climate change costs the world economy $1.2-trillion a year. Loss of productivity and damage to property was the main part of this, with the insurance industry having to pick up the tab. 

losing money climate change waste

Trakref® has been on the front line of the issue for decades and we know that the solutions we offer can provide companies with the visibility into the impact their organization is having. The results our clients experience provide proof.   Recently we teamed with some smart people at Vanderbilt University and helped take a look at what private companies can do to lead. They did a full review of the history, impact and motivations that align the values that drive change. It's an 11 minute read and provides a lot of valuable insights.  All of our clients save money on energy, materials, maintenance and management as a direct result of improving how they manage leaks and monitor activity. A typical ROI is less than 6 months and that how it should be.

Download the  Private Governance StudyThere are more than 1,200 multilateral environmental agreements actively in effect today, from GRESB, ISO 14001, Montreal Protocol, Kigali, Dow Jones Sustainability index, C40 - the list is endless. So most companies already belong to some form of regulatory or voluntary climate and abdicating leadership doesn’t slow the progress, it only slows our development. At Trakref we intend to continue to support the best outcome and help companies to achieve compliance simply. By harmonizing this patchwork of regulations and the associated responsibilities and supporting the alignment of values needed to put cost-effective processes in place to lead, we can reduce risk and make progress.  As a private company invested in helping the US companies, we are part of the wave of effort that is helping the US to lead again.


At trakref® we are HVAC/R & Refrigeration Compliance experts. Click the button above to download our joint study with Vanderbilt on the Private Governance Response to Climate change. Become a leader in refrigeration management in the US. 

 

Topics: HVAC/R, Compliance Reporting, Refrigerant Compliance, Refrigerant Management, compliance, climate change, refrigerants, private governance, Regulation, HFCs, legislation

Ted Atwood

Written by Ted Atwood

Ted is the President & CEO of Trakref, a cloud-based HVAC/R and refrigerant management software company that provides unprecedented solutions for commercial properties. He has spent more than 20 years in the HVAC/R industry, even owning and operating one of the nation’s largest refrigerant reclaim and recycling companies.