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Thought Leadership | June 28, 2022

Accelerating Sustainability Policy with Government Affairs

Karen Meyers, Vice President, Government Affairs

Global uncertainty abounds as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, increasing inflation, and the lasting effects of the COVID-19 pandemic alter supply chains, uproot lives and foster anxiety over government’s capacity to solve daunting problems. In my role leading Government Affairs at Rheem, these events have led me to think more deeply about how companies, with their capacity to deliver solutions and products across the globe, are often best positioned to lead the way on solving vexing policy challenges. 

Climate change is foremost among these challenges. As a global manufacturer of air conditioning, heating, water heating and refrigeration equipment, Rheem is uniquely positioned to scale industry-leading energy efficient and sustainable products in the built environment. My responsibility, and that of Government Affairs at Rheem in the climate change conversation, is to accelerate policies that enable governments and stakeholders to meet climate commitments with Rheem products. In the U.S. and around the world, we offer Rheem’s perspective as an innovator. We harness our engineering, product development and manufacturing expertise, along with a deep knowledge of policy drivers and regulatory, code and standards requirements, to communicate with policymakers and regulators and drive positive action.

At the core of these conversations is Rheem’s sustainability strategy – A Greater Degree of Good – that places Rheem on the leading edge of companies reducing the environmental footprint of their products. A Greater Degree of Good is Rheem’s holistic strategy to innovate around environmental sustainability and create the leaders of tomorrow in the HVACR and water heating industry to put these commitments into practice. By 2025, Rheem will launch a line of heating, cooling and water heating products that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent compared to incumbent technologies. As we embed sustainability innovation and decarbonization into the DNA of our design and product development process, how do we make sure that the policy framework in the U.S. and globally accelerates and supports this level of innovation?

A Workforce for the Future

An important role the public sector plays is to ensure we have a qualified and ready workforce for the changes of tomorrow. As an example, forthcoming federal energy efficiency standards will transition much of the residential market for electric and gas tank water heating to heat pumps. This is a technology leap with environmental and consumer benefits. An ENERGY STAR-certified heat pump water heater cuts customer energy bills, saving a family of four an average of $350 per year compared to a standard electric water heater, and is up to three times more efficient.

The installation of heat pump water heaters requires new tools and skills for many in the plumbing industry. We need to think big if we expect consumers to embrace heat pump water heaters, and that means training a workforce to be familiar with the product and confident in recommending the solution to homeowners. Plumbers and installers are critical market influencers, and helping them understand, sell and service sustainable products will significantly accelerate adoption. Because it’s so important, this is another area where Rheem has stepped up. Through our in-person and virtual training worldwide, we are working to train 250,000 plumbers, contractors, and key industry influencers on sustainable products and best practices by 2025. We are well on our way to surpassing that goal, training close to 150,000 between 2019 and the end of 2021.

Governments at the local, state and federal level can enable this transition through upskilling and offering support for technical and community colleges. The Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides tools and resources to states that match employers with people who possess the necessary skills for high-demand careers, including plumbing and HVAC. The U.S. Congress can send a positive signal to our industry by reauthorizing this important program to train one million employees per year across all industry sectors for the next six years.

Harmonizing Decarbonization Policy

What other policy drivers can accelerate the built environment toward greater environmental performance? We know buildings play an important role in sustainability, as the construction and operation of buildings represents 39 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Water heating and space cooling and heating are the largest emission contributors in that vertical. In the United States, progress is at times hindered by a patchwork of state and local rules and energy codes. Let me share an example of how greater coordination and standardization can help drive down emissions in the built environment.

The United States and dozens of nations globally are transitioning from the high-global warming potential (GWP) refrigerants traditionally used in air conditioning systems and heat pump water heaters to more environmentally friendly coolants with dramatically lower GWP. The improved environmental performance of these climate-friendly refrigerants requires hundreds of local and state code bodies to update complex building codes to permit the installation of systems that use this new technology. In the U.S., Rheem is leading an initiative within our industry to accelerate the adoption of new state building energy codes by 2024 in preparation for a nationwide change in 2025 to environmentally friendly HVAC products. The goal is lofty; it will not be easy to achieve as each state, and in some cases, municipalities also, need to update their building codes.

The Department of Energy can foster best practices for states and localities to adopt in order to slash emissions in the energy code process. However, much more needs to be done to bring state building energy codes up to date and realize the full potential of innovation in new air conditioning and water heaters that utilize climate-friendly refrigerants. At Rheem, we are providing expertise to code officials, sharing model building code language that these officials can use to update codes and put the country on a pathway to achieve crucial emission reduction goals.

These are just our efforts stateside. We are also working with governments globally to accelerate positive policy change. In Europe and the U.K., for example, there is a movement to phase out all hydrofluorocarbons and transition to natural refrigerants such as propane or CO₂ while also reducing dependence on foreign gas. In these markets, we are pursuing hybrid systems that use propane as the refrigerant, a pathway that achieves two goals: the phase-out of fluorinated refrigerants, and a transition to products that use approximately 80% fewer fossil fuels than today’s products.

In my career at Rheem, I am constantly impressed by our company’s capability and commitment to solve tough problems, including crafting policies that improve environmental performance and deliver A Greater Degree of Good.