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Easier Being Green
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Easier Being Green

Until quite recently, it was difficult to find too many people in the watershaping industry who were willing to say much about “going green.”

For a while now, I’ve thought that was a mistake: It’s been manifestly clear for several years that practices and programs related to energy conservation, water conservation and an overall sense of environmental responsibility are here to stay, and I always think it’s better to stay ahead of the curve when these movements arise than it is to try to react after the fact.

In this particular case, I think staying out front is far and away the better idea, and I’m happy that our society has embraced environmental activism in the form of recycling and purchasing energy-efficient appliances and automobiles: It all makes a good deal of practical, common sense at a time when resources are being stretched thin and costs for energy, water and basic materials are rising.

At the same time, I refuse to take great issue with those who have yet to climb on board with the green movement. Old, established thought patterns don’t alter overnight, and it’s difficult being put in a position where, one day, you’re doing your best to do a good job and, the next, people are branding you as an environmental outlaw because you drive a big pick-up truck.

Even so, it’s time to acknowledge that times have changed and that we watershapers need to start thinking in creative ways about joining the Green Revolution, get ourselves out ahead of the curve and find an assortment of ways to make certain our clients and the public at large are satisfied with what we’re doing or attempting to do when it comes to being green.


What’s happening right now – truly as I write this – is that more and more people out there are going green with as much force and momentum as possible. On the one hand, we should take this trend very seriously and do all we can to participate aggressively; on the other, we need to develop our “hype detectors” and make certain what we’re doing makes sense.

When I watch television or read consumer magazines, I just laugh when I run into many of the advertising messages they carry about “green” products, basically because what I see are slogans rather than true greenness. This obvious marketing hyperbole doesn’t cut it, and I get the sense that in some respects that it’s making consumers a bit cynical about manufacturer claims of environmental virtue. At the same time, I also see ideas and products that can and really do make a positive difference.

Ultimately, it’s up to us to sift through the information we’re receiving and make decisions about products and approaches that make the most sense – just as has always been true. In this case, however, I think we get too skeptical and cynical at our peril, because I think the green movement is the real deal.

I didn’t start out thinking that way: Part of the challenge I’ve always faced in accepting environmentalism is that the movement comes with plenty of baggage. Indeed, the environment has been a political football for years, and I’ve always been offended by the extremists who seem to want to take much of the satisfaction and all of the fun out of modern life.

But what I’ve seen in recent times has opened my eyes, particularly as a watershaper who interacts with architects and landscape architects who spend so much of their working lives focusing on sustainability and LEED points.

That comes very close to home for me: By analogy, it’s no longer about driving an underpowered Volkswagen microbus with a peace sign on the front panel, but instead about sophisticated technologies, hybrids, alternate fuels and all-electric options in well-appointed automobiles that have get-up-and-go, spacious interiors, beautiful designs and all the amenities that we associate with luxury.

To me, that’s highly significant: I’m never happy when, in a modern world filled with abundance and wherewithal, I’m asked to serve a cause by telling people who’ve achieved success that they can’t get what they want and must sacrifice their quality of life to save the world for everyone else. I can’t buy into that, and I don’t see my clients doing it either.

What they are buying into is the idea that they can do things as modern citizens to make a positive difference. On that level, they continue to seek the finer things in life, but they’re anxious to do so in ways that demonstrate their sense of genuine environmental responsibility. In other words, luxury, pleasure, and true greenness are no longer incompatible in concept or reality.


My clients, however, have questions and seek my help in cutting through the hype to find the truth. They’re keenly interested, for example, in knowing whether or not their investments in environmentally beneficial products will be worthwhile, not just with respect to financial paybacks but also to helping the environment in real and tangible ways.

In some cases, I tell them, the advantages are small on both fronts; in other cases, however, the investments make perfect sense. This is why I’ve spent so much time in the recent past getting educated and up to speed on these issues. I need to be able, almost on a daily basis now, to speak in clear, credible terms about benefits in ways that go well beyond the empty chatter that seems to accompany all things green these days.

In other words, as someone who is genuinely concerned about the environment and equally interested in delivering value to clients, I’m now in the habit of taking long, hard looks at what I can do as a watershaper to make my projects as realistically green as can be.

For me, it always starts with good hydraulic design. This is not a new topic to readers of this magazine, and we should all know by now that downsizing pumps and upsizing pipes yields tremendous energy savings.

In my projects, I exploit good design by setting flow rates at four feet per second or lower, even though the industry standard right now is at six feet per second or greater. At lower velocities, both system and energy efficiency increase dramatically – and there’s also the added safety benefit that the low flow rates can help reduce concerns about suction entrapment. The beautiful thing in all of this is that these designs don’t increase project costs significantly for my clients and also save them money down the line.

Yes, I recognize the fact that there are still some watershapers who haven’t heeded this hydraulic-efficiency message, but if you’re at all interested in talking with clients about how green you are, this is a great place to start! Heck, it works even if your clients’ sole motivation is saving money. (I don’t kid myself here: Lots of clients who talk a green story are really in it for the ongoing savings.)

And lest we forget: We do live in times when our government offers tax relief based on the energy efficiency. I know of no specific programs or breaks related to watershapes, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come along someday. And if you think of how far the LEED program has come in a relatively short time, my guess is that watershapes will be considered as part of the picture sooner rather than later.

All I know is that, right now, design teams and clients I work with are all ears when I bring up any ideas in which energy savings and other environmental benefits are a possibility.


The bottom line is that there are people on both the professional and client side of the equation who are extremely interested in weighing options that point in a green direction.

As an example, I’m currently working on a project on a small island that lacks basic infrastructure. The project includes multiple watershapes, landscape lighting and a spectacular array of refined outdoor spaces. The clients could very easily afford to run the entire estate using fossil-fuel generators, but instead they’re insisting on our using solar heating for the watershapes and solar panels to generate electricity for a large percentage of their energy needs. So even though cheap, renewable energy isn’t a necessity, the clients are moving strongly in that direction just the same.

And they’re not alone: In recent months, we’ve been involved in several other projects in which clients have set similar requirements. They’re not willing to give up luxury, but that doesn’t make them any less interested in reducing energy consumption, saving on operating costs and feeling green about the whole project as a result.

So now we’re looking into geothermal heating systems and LED lighting systems – new technologies to us, but something we’re learning about as quickly as we can. We’ve also become involved in designs where heat pumps are a big part of the picture. This is definitely familiar turf for us, but we’re using these systems in more integrated ways that make them even better investments for our clients.

Again, our clientele isn’t interested in making sacrifices with respect to aesthetics or functionality, but these folks do want to know about technologies that will reduce the environmental footprints of their systems. From my perspective, it doesn’t matter if they’re motivated by environmental altruism or pocketbook issues: I need to be conversant in the language of the green movement and be ready to work with design criteria that implement green-oriented technologies and approaches whenever necessary.

For one thing, this greener focus has carried me more deeply than ever before into water-treatment issues and options. As I’ve mentioned in this space many times before, saltwater chlorine generation seems to be today’s most popular choice, basically because it eliminates the need to transport and handle chlorine and simplifies the task of maintaining proper water chemistry. But my clients are also into ozone these days – whatever works! – and most of our recent projects include some combination of the two approaches.

Somewhere in all of this, my clients are also expressing their concerns about water usage and the state of the water supply where they live. To overcome any hesitation they might have, we’ve also developing our expertise with systems that capture and inject rainwater into our systems. In many cases, it’s a simple matter of pitching decks toward collection troughs, pre-filtering the runoff and upsizing surge tanks to handle the increased volume.

Here again, what I love about such systems is that they add precious little to a project’s cost but yield major benefits when it comes to water usage and making our clients feel better about their watershapes.


I’d like to conclude this discussion with a message to the manufacturing sector: For a good while now, I’ve believed that they could help everyone out by designing and selling matched equipment sets for installation as off-the-shelf skid packs.

The truth is, despite our industry’s best efforts to educate its designers and builders, too few watershapers are masters of efficient hydraulic design. In that light, doesn’t it make sense for manufacturers to offer prepared, fully engineered equipment sets with all hydraulic connections preassembled and all guesswork removed from the picture? And wouldn’t it be a great idea to make the ports on pumps, filters and heaters larger to accommodate the bigger pipes we’re using?

As I see it, these would represent huge, green steps in the right direction. Yes, some suppliers are already moving this way, but I see the potential for huge benefits here and think they all should take meaningful, powerful and, yes, promotable steps in that direction.

For those of us who work with clients, one thing we should all know and accept is that, whatever the specific manifestation, general pressure to minimize the environmental impact of our watershapes will only grow for the foreseeable future. Those who deny this trend will fall dangerously far behind the curve – especially when the economy rebounds and demand bounces back.

You can dig in your heels and resist, but to my way of thinking, there’s really no choice but to set aside apprehension, political sentiment and doubt, then jump on the bandwagon and start thinking, talking and truly being green.

Brian Van Bower runs Aquatic Consultants, a design firm based in Miami, Fla., and is a co-founder of the Genesis 3 Design Group; dedicated to top-of-the-line performance in aquatic design and construction, this organization conducts schools for like-minded pool designers and builders. He can be reached at [email protected].

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