10 Worthwhile Minutes?

About the author: Larry Teller joined EPA’s Philadelphia office in its early months and has worked in environmental assessment, state and congressional liaison, enforcement, and communications. His 28 years with the U.S. Air Force, most as a reservist, give him a different look at government service.

photo of Larry TellerI’d hoped my first contribution to this valuable space would speak to a cosmic issue, offering one person’s humble thoughts on how–on the job at an EPA regional office, and away–we can honor our sacred obligation to repair the world. Then, while leaving the train on Friday, I bumped into a co-worker. Our 10-minute walk somehow turned into a friendly contest to invent practical ways to save energy and water.

We came up with two ideas and, being veteran EPAers, devoted most of our words wondering why people more entrepreneurial than us hadn’t already developed and commercialized our utterly obvious breakthroughs.

The first was at our feet: the escalator from the train platform. Why, we wondered, does it continuously run all day long when, except for the morning and afternoon rush hours, it’s used intermittently? Why not have a sensor that starts it up when someone approaches? Energy Star friends, you’ve done wonders for fridges and are now needed at escalators.

Having solved escalator energy waste, and it being National Drinking Water Week, Fred and I devoted our remaining minutes to home sinks. Thinking of two daily tasks-washing dishes and shaving-it seemed sensible that there’s usually no need for the water to run for several minutes when it’s needed part-time. Thinking of doctor and dentist scrub sinks, can there be a safe foot pedal or other way to turn the water on and off while hands are occupied?

Although our last minute together covered possible technical challenges-reliability of switches, wear and tear on escalator gears, tripping over foot pedals, home maintenance-we decided that the R&D gang is up to the task.

Fred and I are willing to share the profits that will surely come our way. My question, readers, is whether our ten-minute commuter brainstorm under the streets of Philadelphia (it was raining) was worthwhile.