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The Green Issue

Jun 2, 2010 10:16 AM, By Cynthia Wisehart

What does it mean for AV?

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Green AV

The LEED standard has charted a compelling path that never­theless underestimates the potential of green AV.

Infocomm 2010 marks a big step in the greening of the AV industry. As announced at the show, a new sustainability rating system for AV and electronic systems based on the work of InfoComm’s Green AV Task Force and the current AV Sustainability Task Force is open for feedback.

Those of you who have worked on LEED projects or attempted to understand or acquire LEED credits know both the attraction and frustration of the sustainability rating. With its emphasis on the building itself (credits favor such things as recycled carpet) and on carbon-reducing logistical elements such as car-share services (but not video­conferencing), the LEED standard has charted a compelling path that never­theless underestimates the potential of green AV, indeed green technology of all kinds such as building automation, telecommunications, and IT. For example, while the standard rewards energy efficiency, it does not formalize incentives for the control systems that can maximize a building’s energy management and monitoring.

Scott Walker, president of Atlanta-based Waveguide Consulting, who heads up InfoComm’s AV Sustainability Task Force, knows all this firsthand from eight years of experience on LEED projects. While Walker has earned his stripes as a LEED-accredited professional, he found himself increasingly marginalized from key conversations on LEED projects. “We work on a great many projects where the conversation is all about LEED, and there is nothing we can do because the standard doesn’t really provide for AV,” he says. “After a while, people quit asking us to come to the meetings because they don’t want to waste our time. Where we used to all talk together about technology, now it’s about sustainability, and they don’t even want me at the table. What does that say?”

The perception is that AV is a net energy cost, albeit a minimal one, and little can be done about it to affect the big picture. That is certainly not the case, Walker says. Even beyond that, Walker says AV needs to be seen not just as an impact to be mitigated but also as an instrumental tool for increasing a building’s sustainability solution and culture. InfoComm pursued this objective in part through combined efforts with other technology trade associations including Continental Automated Building Association (CABA), Building Industry Consulting Service International (BICSI), and the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA). But that wasn’t clicking for the United States Green Building Council (USGBC); it was focused on other priorities, and technology wasn’t in the frame, Walker explains.

However, on the core idea—that a ratings system can drive innovation and opportunity, and formalize progress toward a larger goal—LEED broke trail and proved the point. InfoComm is now developing a standard for power management for submission to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), as well as the sustainable technology rating system that will focus initially on AV but is open for other associations and industries to join.

“We estimate that 66 percent of the rating system is universal to electronic systems from many industries,” says Randal Lemke, executive director and CEO of InfoComm. Further, the rating system was developed with an open architecture that allows other industries to bring their criteria into the system. InfoComm is talking with other associations and working to form a coalition of commercial electronic industry associations to help its members use the rating system.

“When InfoComm started working seriously on green in 2007 and 2008, our initial goal was to develop a green AV body of knowledge and highlight best practices, but it was hard to create a body of knowledge if there are no definitions; we were at the root level rudderless,” Walker says. Best practices alone, he says, were not enough; a ratings system, with benchmarks and scores to achieve, was a crucial component. “Then you have a target and a definite way to design your systems as well as market your work.

Walker wants people to understand that the standard is not only about limiting or reducing technology or impact—“for everything in the rating system that could be seen as limiting future sales, there’s another element that promotes new sales,” he says.

That said, the point of the current version unveiled at InfoComm is to elicit honest feedback for revisions. “You’re going to see a work in progress,” he says. “It’s going to take more than the 10 of us [on the Task Force] to figure this out.” Walker says the configuration of the task force deliberately includes manufacturers, integrators, and consultants, the whole “biosphere of AV”—and eight of the 10 members are LEED-accredited professionals. “But we need more than two representatives of each viewpoint.”

Once the rating system is established, the next hurdle is to get owners to ask for it in requests for proposal (RFPs) and to aspire to that level of sustainability. Once the owners begin to demand it, as they have done with LEED, innovation will follow, as well as opportunity for those who can differentiate their business based on green expertise.

“It changes how you do your work and how you sell your business,” Walker says. “We will be trying to out-green each other, and that’s a good thing. The question is: Will we be part of the problem that needs to be eradicated or part of the solution that needs to be amplified? When our systems are seen as part of the intelligence of the building—part of driving efficiency, managing and monitoring resources, and supporting greener business practices—we’ll be back at the center of the table.”

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