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Brian Fitzgerald - Tackling climate change with minimum energy performance standards

Committee members are at the heart of worldwide standards. The thousands of standards that keep us safe, protect the environment and allow businesses to thrive could not happen without the dedicated people providing technical expertise on specialist committees.

brian fitzgerald standards committee member

These industry champions contribute to detailed technical specifications, or provide oversight on process development through discussions with other experts both nationally and across the world.

So who would be part of this and why?

We asked Brian Fitzgerald, one of Standards New Zealand’s many committee members devoting some of his time to a massive 23 committees. As Technical Lead with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) in Wellington, Brian’s decades of experience overseas in industrial process control and the motor industry led him to want to bring positive change from within the channels of decision making.

'When you contribute to standards using the public submission channel, it can feel like your voice is lost or doesn’t count. As a committee member I have a voice. On an international stage that might be just one voice in over a hundred, yet I’m representing New Zealanders’ needs and unique perspectives on matters that can affect the lives and interests of thousands of people. That’s powerful, especially in bringing a government perspective so commercial interests don’t dominate the public or environmental impacts – a balanced view is always needed.'

Why is it important to get involved in standards development?

‘Standards are the absolute bedrock of regulation. There’s never been a greater need for them as they are a cornerstone of global climate mitigation and adaption, and a ‘must have’ if the world is to successfully tackle climate change.’

Brian admits he is the sort of person who enjoys reading the dense technical papers that can accompany committee participation and standards development and translating them into easy to understand summaries for a wider, non-technical audience. He also believes standards are extremely important.

‘Nobody gets excited when you mention standards but let me give you a good example of where they make a tangible difference to New Zealand consumers. Most New Zealanders would be familiar with the Energy Rating Label seen on the front of appliances in shops. These help people compare energy efficiency and running costs of similar appliances when deciding which to buy.’

‘Behind these labels are minimum standards the appliance needs to meet under Energy Efficiency Regulations. The test standards that sit behind these labels mean that for every product you see in the shop, there might be 25 others that do not meet standard so are not permitted to be sold within New Zealand. Standards create a ‘floor’ in the market for minimum energy performance standards (MEPS) that must be met, or legal action is taken against the importer or retailer.’

‘Appliance MEPS and labelling have saved New Zealand a massive $1.4 billion in avoided electricity costs since they came into being in 2002.’

‘There are many countries around the world that still do not have MEPS or labelling and where cheap, inefficient appliances consume higher levels of electricity – and thus release higher levels of carbon – making the problem worse. Ironically, in using more electricity it often costs those who can least afford it more, impacting both people and the environment.’

Brian’s consideration of the bigger picture shows how, to him, being part of a committee is far greater than just reading papers and attending virtual meetings. He can realise his passion for enacting positive change as part of a bigger group.

‘The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) being hosted in the United Kingdom later in 2021 is a good example of countries coming together to shape necessary global change. In the past five years the number of countries using MEPS and labelling has risen 50% from 80 to 120.’

‘New Zealand is helping some Pacific Islands introduce MEPS and labelling. On some islands a significant proportion of their Gross Domestic Product is used to pay for diesel to run generators to produce electricity. In some cases the lowest efficiency appliances are being sold, using even more of this precious, costly and carbon-intensive fossil fuel.’

‘Standards might seem a small part of the picture, but they are a very important part, that can support poorer countries to respond to the global call for action and help provide their contribution to global efforts. When standards help consumers save money and reduce carbon, integrating them into all areas of government policy is simply a no brainer! Standards matter now, more than ever.’

So what would you say to anyone wondering if they can help make a difference on a committee?

‘I involve other members of my team in standards committees, to pass on what I have learned and support younger people to grow in their careers. This knowledge transfer is of tangible value to the success of EECA.’

‘Being a ‘generalist’ rather than a subject matter expert is an ideal starting point, as is the courage to ask questions. An inquisitive mind that asks the questions that are rarely voiced keeps all committee members learning. I’d like to see many more young people take part in standards committees and perhaps some form of research and development or levy rebate could be provided to help companies fund participation of their younger employees, so participation is directly tied to those coming up through their career. We need more of a consumer voice too, as the view of the end user is critical to providing a fair, balanced and equitable standards outcome.'

'But New Zealand is a small country and we don’t have the huge budgets like some of the larger countries. That doesn’t stop us having our say on the international stage though, like so much else we do, New Zealand is good at finding innovative and elegant solutions that enable us to punch above our weight!’

If Brian has inspired you to consider participating, you can find more information on Standards New Zealand’s website.

Standards development committees