WRD: telling our story to the world

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Published: 17 April 2019


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Stephen Gill speaking at the UNEP meeting in Paris
Stephen Gill, the driving force behind the inaugural World Refrigeration Day on June 26, reflects on the story so far.

It was an extraordinary moment. On February 18 in Paris, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) OzonAction announced it had joined the growing coalition of partners around the world that are supporting World Refrigeration Day (WRD). 
The announcement was made jointly by Dr Shamila Nair-Bedouelle, Head of OzonAction, and myself. To have the opportunity to speak to a UNEP meeting about our industry and what it does for the world was both an honour and a privilege. On a personal level, it is something that I will never forget and as someone representing our industry it is a dream come true. We now have the platform of a WRD to do what we have always tried to do. The ball is now firmly in our court.

Why have a WRD?
There are now international or world days for just about everything, some of them frivolous and some extremely serious. If we take the positives from the successful ones, they do serve to draw focus and raise awareness of some very important issues or causes that may otherwise struggle for attention.  

Many within the industry will agree that our industry is often described as hidden and rarely attracts attention for the right reasons. Often it is when something fails or, recently, for its environmental impact. And yet, as the UNEP announcement pointed out, refrigeration in one form or another plays a significant role in modern life and human comfort.
 
This lack of awareness by those outside our industry often leads to misunderstandings or simply blind dismissal of it. The lack of appreciation leads to more than just a mild frustration, it also affects career advice and representation to government, amongst many other issues. It excludes us from so much.

The question of how we raise our profile has long troubled industry leaders, with many good initiatives always underway. But despite these valiant efforts progress has been slow. WRD is potentially different in that it presents an opportunity for all stakeholders to work together to achieve the aim of raising awareness. 

The background 
The concept of an international or world refrigeration day is not new. Indeed, there have been attempts ever since the first World Refrigeration Congress held in Paris in 1908.  However, these have attracted limited attention and where often only celebrated locally (nationally). 

So, what is different this time around?
It is difficult to say exactly why previous attempts have failed but when I set out upon a mission to establish WRD almost a decade ago, I had some clear ideas as to what I felt would lead to success:
  • To be successful, WRD had to be a global event. It is no use celebrating WRD in one part of the world only. 
  • To become global, it was essential to gain the support of national trade associations and professional bodies in the different countries and regions 
  • To look beyond the immediate industry bodies and involve those from the wider community.
  • WRD couldn’t ‘belong’ to any one national body.
  • One date must be agreed upon by all.

When I first floated the idea to a number of associations it was always welcomed, but the issue of fixing a date that was agreeable to all proved extremely difficult. Whilst many liked the idea of a WRD, they also held strong opinions regarding the date. There are many suitable dates in the calendar, all with valid reasons, which led to endless debates without resolution. To break the deadlock I proposed June 26. 

Why June 26? 
In many ways, it was a compromise, but not one without merit: June 26 is Lord Kelvin’s birthday.

No one would claim that this great polymath scientist is the father of refrigeration, but his name is used for the absolute temperature scale, and he was the first to describe heat pumps as early as in the 19th century; predicted their use. This connection to absolute zero, and to heat pumps, completed the desire to make WRD not just about any one particularly application or technology. It embraced heating, too, so fitted perfectly the idea of a day being for refrigeration in the widest sense of the word.  

Growing support
The date was agreed and fixed in early 2016. Then began the process of gaining buy-in from international associations and bodies. Anyone who has experience of being involved in this type of organisation will know just how difficult it is for them to respond quickly or be flexible. Often they are headed by volunteers and hold only a few board meetings a year. There were no shortcuts but the effort paid off in June 2018, when Graeme Fox from REFCOM and then Marco Buoni of AREA officially expressed their organisations’ support for WRD 2019. More support quickly followed from the IOR, IIR, ARIAH and ASHRAE. This support grew rapidly with backing from associations all over the world. 

It was the support from so many national industry trade associations and professional bodies that represent many of the millions of women, men, and enterprises who work in this sector that attracted UNEP’s attention. OzonAction is the first United Nations body to join the coalition and reaches 147 nations and regions, many of which don’t have strong national industry associations. With UNEP’s involvement, we truly do have a World Refrigeration Day.
And we have reached this stage without any budget whatsoever, so I am very grateful to all the people who have given their support and time along the way.

What’s next
June 26 2019 will be the inaugural day of what is planned to be an annual event, with discussions already under way to make 2020 a week-long celebration. 

The aim of the first year has always been to begin the process of raising awareness of the diversity of the industry. Hence the theme for 2019 is diversity in terms of applications, systems, technology, locations, people and careers, etc.  

To highlight how this, WRD is inviting those working in the industry to take a photograph of themselves with a card describing briefly what they do and where they are. The possibilities are as endless as the diversity of this amazing industry. 

We also want the general public to be involved, by taking photos of their domestic fridges, ac units or heat pumps, and to take time on the day to explain to younger family members or pupils what refrigeration is and what it means to their daily lives.

Any industry individual or organisation wishing to be involved should contact steve@worldrefrigerationday.org

www.worldrefrigerationday.org