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The economics of environmentally responsible refrigerant gas

I envy the young in one respect: There is so much more opportunity today than when I was a student to get a degree in environmental studies and to find employment in a range of green-driven careers, even for non-scientists.

Back in the day, it was a realm for people with an affinity for things like engineering, physics, chemistry and zoology ­– and I wasn’t all that good at any of those things. I took biology in college with nurses and pre-meds and managed to finesse a B, but that plus a class in “rocks for jocks” – intro to geology, which was a lot harder than it was made out to be – and I was done.

But I did study economics as my minor, and have found it touches a lot of what I’ve worked on in my nearly-forty year career in communications. Happily, it contributes to how I manage stories on the environment – including this one on refrigerant gasses.

Yes, refrigerant gasses. It seems like a niche topic until you consider all the air-conditioned buildings and all the cold storage that serves the food industries. Then factor in all the concerns about ozone and climate and regulations that have happened since the late 1980s around the harmful effects of refrigerant gasses such as CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) and subsequent gas technologies. Refrigerant gasses are a big deal.

Refrigerant gases can be cleaned and recycled; photo courtesy of Hudson Technology Company

It’s a story of global impact, developing technologies, and beleaguered industries doing their best to be compliant and responsible. But it also illustrates how good intentions don’t always translate into good effects.

As the story describes, advancing to cleaner refrigeration gasses could mean a wholesale replacement of cooling equipment. The life cycle cost of doing so might well be counterproductive at reducing greenhouse gases. In this case, it’s better to stick with the older type of gas (R-22), make sure it doesn’t leak, and have it cleaned periodically. Recycled and cleaned R-22 is as good as virgin R-22; the building managers who stick with the system will save money in the short term, over time, and do the environment a favor in the process.

And that, my friends, is smart economics making for a smart environment. Kids, at least take the intro to micro and macro to learn how it works – and how environmental responsibility will almost always have to square with economic realities.

Photo credit: Hudson Technologies Company

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Russ Klettke

Business Writer

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