In the fall of 2013, 128 Canadian licensed plumbers and apprentices took part in a pilot version of the Green Plumbers® USA program. They came from the Greater Toronto Area, Kitchener-Guelph-Waterloo, and the City of Vancouver to learn about a plumber’s role in urban water sustainability.

Of course, we hoped participants would find topics such as the water cycle, conservation programs, water audits, high-efficiency technology, rainwater harvesting and greywater interesting. However, a core purpose of the pilot project was for us to learn from them. Through post-training evaluation surveys, focus groups, and a national phone survey of 200 randomly-selected plumbers, we learned about their attitudes and behaviors as they relate to sustainability. Here’s what they said:

 1.  We are professionals and sustainability is part of our job.

Plumbers are experts when it comes to water-using appliances, piping, fixtures and fittings. Many of them are personally interested in sustainability and already install high-efficiency shower heads, toilets and faucets. Furthermore, they are keen to learn. Of the 200 randomly-selected plumbers we talked to, 47% were interested in attending sustainability training.

 2.  Tell me about technology.

It’s all about technology. Future workshops need to showcase and demonstrate emerging products, teach proper installation procedures, and provide access to manufacturers. If innovations make sense and are competitively priced, plumbers want to know about them. The more they know, the better chance they have of successfully making a recommendation to their clients.

 3.  The way of the future belongs (more so) to the future.

In all three locations apprentices and instructors responded enthusiastically to the training offer. Young tradespersons seemed eager to learn skills that may help to differentiate themselves in a highly competitive marketplace. That’s not to say that experienced plumbers were not interested – they were. It is simply acknowledging that foregoing a paid job and that changing long-standing practices can be barriers to participation and implementation.

 4.  We’re missing a conductor. (Will anyone stand up?)

Fragmented governance of the trade makes implementing a program of this nature on an ongoing basis challenging. Local governments are supportive of the program, but ultimately represent only their local jurisdictions. Training and accreditation is governed on a provincial basis, which makes integration into apprenticeship programs a formidable bureaucratic task. As well, there is no over-arching national professional body or organization with a mandate for this kind of training, leaving an obvious gap for program continuation.

 5.  For me to sell it, you need to want it.

With the proliferation of do-it-yourself TV shows and websites, easy access to low-cost materials through retailers, and strain on Canadians’ pocketbooks, plumbers find their clients looking to cut costs wherever possible. However, water-efficient technology often has long-term benefits that aren’t exclusively enjoyed by the individuals who invest in their installation. Residents, businesses, contractors and municipalities need to start demanding high-efficiency technology and expecting their plumbers to be familiar with sustainability practices.

Next Steps

The goal is to design a program that provides plumbers with the knowledge and skills they need to advance water sustainability in the places where they work. We need to figure out how to get there. Current opportunities include exploring governance and financing arrangements, developing a made-in-Canada curriculum, and generating a broader awareness of green plumbing practices.

Project Credits

Project management was provided by Econics, a BC-based company that specializes in urban water sustainability. Workshops were delivered by Doug Kirk, the lead trainer from Green Plumbers® USA, and Sam Steele, a plumbing instructor with Humber College in Toronto. Market research was led by Metroline Research Group from Kitchener, Ontario. Advertising collateral was prepared by Bravo Advertising and the project website was designed by The Steve Roper Group.

Funding was provided by the Royal Bank of Canada through the Alliance for Water Efficiency, by Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and by a consortium of local governments who are committed to enhancing water efficiency in their regions: City of Guelph, Region of Waterloo, Region of Peel, Regional Municipality of York, Halton Region, City of Toronto and City of Vancouver.

What would you like to see happen with sustainable plumbing in Canada?

There is an opportunity to influence and build a unique program that produces tangible and lasting results. Share your ideas with Econics on Facebook, Twitter (@EconicsWater), or LinkedIn. We’re listening!