SUSTAINABILITY AND LIFE-CYCLE CHALLENGES: The Coalition for Responsible Fire Protection in Its Second Year

By John Schuster

As the Coalition for Responsible Fire Protection enters its second official year, new questions, issues, and trends continue to arise. The Coalition was formed out of a long process of open forum and debate; the underlying goal is to apply models of environmental responsibility to the field of fire protection. While this remains a noble cause, our members also consider this issue to be a strategic business decision as we consider the vast emerging green construction markets and how we can best meet the needs of green companies.

The biggest hurdle the Coalition has faced, and will continue to face, is the tendency to assume the Coalition is simply a clean agent forum. While clean agents will certainly be integral to any discussion of the environmental aspects of fire protection, they are not the sum total. If one considers the full impact of life-cycle assessment outlined in ISO-14044, one will come to the same conclusion that the Coalition has: there is a significant amount of work to be done aside from clean agents.

The greatest challenge for the industry may not be the clean agent issue but rather accepting responsibility for capturing products sold into the market at the end of their service life. Today, companies differ in their commitment to taking products out of the field at the end of their life. There are no formal programs, and participation varies greatly from product to product and market to market. Many times these products simply end up in the back of a warehouse or in a landfill rather than undergoing appropriate reprocessing. One of the goals of the Coalition is to encourage manufacturers and fire equipment distributors to more aggressively capture, reclaim, and destroy agents and hardware at the end of their service life across the range of fire products.

To address this end-of-life challenge, the Coalition will work with organizations like the World Resources Institute to develop standardized guides for companies to deploy for life-cycle management. This will require the manufacturers, the fire equipment distributors, and the end users to work together to manage the product from cradle to grave. The end result will be products manufactured with less negative impact on the environment, improved service during a product’s service life, and more business for the fire equipment distributors as they provide end-of-life services.

The Coalition encourages fire equipment distributors to adopt greener practices by providing information, education, and training regarding sustainability and competitiveness. The goals will broadly address business practices rather than focus solely on fire protection products. The Coalition also seeks to help fire equipment distributors obtain the certifications and labels that allow them to demonstrate their commitment and credibility to organizations, such as Walmart and the General Services Administration (GSA), that have incorporated sustainability into their purchasing requirements.

It must be noted that Coalition membership is open to more than just fire equipment manufacturers and distributors and seeks to include members from a wide range of stakeholders including building owners, architects, government officials, manufacturers, and green market companies. The Coalition’s intent is also to recruit end users and members of government agencies and the green consulting community. The long-term hope is that the fire protection industry will become just one membership segment. Through recruiting a diverse group of members, the Coalition can include a number of different perspectives in the process and come up with solutions which are well-rounded and fair.

We invite any company interested in taking a more responsible stand on environmentally responsible products and business practices to seriously consider joining the Coalition for Responsible Fire Protection. You can obtain more information at www.responsiblefireprotection.org.

The Coalition will be hosting the Conference on Sustainability in Fire Protection in Park City, Utah, on September 12–15. The conference will have twelve knowledgeable speakers who will address specific environmental issues facing the fire protection industry and how fire protection companies can capture the growing demand for “green” products in a credible and profitable way. Companies interested in learning how to better position themselves to take financial advantage of opportunities with the rapidly expanding green market should consider attending.

Copyright © 2011 by John Schuster, all rights reserved.

John Schuster is chairman of the board of directors of the Coalition for Responsible Fire Protection and a sales and marketing consultant for SEVO Systems.

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