In his letter to the editor in the December issue of ES, Walter Sperko stated he was "nauseated" by what he called "self-righteous finger-shaking" in a previously published column. In the holiday spirit of bah humbugs he lamented, "I kept waiting for (the author) to tell us to do a professional job for the children."

Walter, don't hold back, buddy - tell us what you really think!

While the remarks were tough, I found them refreshing. Because while I certainly believe in sustainable design, I know greenies can come off a bit self-absorbed. I mean honestly, are we going to extend the life of the planet appreciably if we call for displacement ventilation in lieu of a traditional overhead system? The answer is no, so we should get over ourselves already.

If we want to save the earth, we are in the wrong business. We create artificial environments for goodness sake; you can't get more unnatural than that! Last time I checked, the HVAC market for igloos and mud huts (truly sustainable structures) was pretty limited. However, if we are committed to healthy, efficient, and state-of-the-art design, then the future is greener than you might think.

Sensible folks can quibble over the definition of good vs. green design, but the fact is that the vocabulary of our industry, and perhaps more importantly, those who call on our industry's expertise, increasingly includes terms such as green and sustainable.

One example is in school design. Here, green equals healthy, and a healthy indoor environment is considered a right, not a luxury. Moreover, if you don't provide a healthy environment, some argue you are penalizing the child. It even has a name: environmental injustice.

Mr. HVAC Goes to Washington

If you don't think things have changed, consider this: On October 2, 2002, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing on environmental standards for schools, and what they called green schools in particular (www.senate.gov/~epw/stm1_107.htm#10-01-02).

At that hearing the EPA testified, "... if the ventilation system is providing little or no fresh air, (a) child may not be learning up to his or her full potential." That's not exactly a surprise to you or me, but remember, this is a government hearing, not an ASHRAE meeting. Politicians and journalists heard these words, and that increases their awareness and expectations of performance.

The National Clearing House for Educational Facilities (www.edfacilities.org) issued a study in November of 2002 titled, "Do School Facilities Affect Academic Outcomes?" This well-documented study shows that the built environment clearly bears on students' and teachers' ability to perform, and concludes "We already know what is needed: clean air, good light, and a quiet, comfortable, and safe learning environment." All of these needs are central tenants of green/good design.

The study goes on to state, "[A healthy indoor environment] can be and generally has been achieved within the limits of existing knowledge, technology, and materials. It simply requires adequate funding and competent design, construction, and maintenance." This begs the question: Can we rise to the level of competent?

Mrs. Crabapple is Getting Hip to Your Jive

They say there is nothing more dangerous than an educated consumer. An educated consumer with 25 tiny minions to keep healthy and their guardians happy is dangerous and motivated. That is why a number of resources directed at educators regarding a healthy environment may be of interest to you.

Billed as "sound guidance that gives school officials the ability to improve IAQ and create a healthier environment for children and staff," the EPA's IAQ Tools for Schools Kit (www.epa.gov/iaq/-schools/tools4s2.html) includes checklists, an Indoor Air Quality Problem Solving Wheel, a fact sheet on indoor air pollution issues, and sample policies and memos.

Other sources of information include the EPA's Healthy School Environment site (cfpub.epa.gov/-schools/index.cfm), the DOE's Energy Smart Schools site (www.eren.doe.gov/energysmartschools/), and the EPA and DOE joint effort Energy Star Program (http://yosemite1.epa.-gov/estar/business.nsf/webmenus/Schools).

Personally, I think the government's efforts are commendable, but instead of asking educators to do our jobs, maybe there is a business opportunity for a consultant or two.

If not for the Children ...

Unless you are reading this column chained to a redwood somewhere, chances are you are an HVAC practitioner with an ego and a reputation. For the sake of both, you owe it to your client to provide the most appropriate design.

If that isn't enough, remember the NSPE Code of Ethics, which states in part, "... the services provided by engineers... must be dedicated to the protection of the public health ..."

That's good design. That's green design. ES