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Taking The LEED

As the ?green? building movement comes to the forefront in building design and construction, how will it affect AV infrastructure and system design?

Opening in the fall of 2006, The Hearst Tower was the first LEED Gold-certified building in Manhattan.

Opening in the fall of 2006, The Hearst Tower was the first LEED Gold-certified building in Manhattan.

Call it “The Inconvenient Truth” movement or the “green” revolution, but let's face it: Everyone is paying more attention to energy efficiency, recycling, and alternative energy sources than ever before. The mainstream focus on climate change spurred by Al Gore's movie, the recent Live Earth concerts, segments on the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” and celebrity endorsements for “going green” inevitably means that this trend will eventually make its way to the AV industry.

What's the connection between pro AV and the focus on climate change? Buildings. According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), based in Washington, D.C., buildings are an often-overlooked solution to climate change. In fact, they are responsible for nearly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, due to energy use, water consumption, and other operational issues.

Although the USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System has been around since 1993, the pro AV community is just now turning its ear toward the buzz. “The number of LEED projects is growing geometrically, if not exponentially,” says Scott Walker, president and a founding principal of Waveguide Consulting in Atlanta, who recently made AV history when he became the world's first Certified Technology Specialist in Design (CTS-D) to attain LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) certification. “Many municipalities like Atlanta, New York, and Chicago are requiring that all new city buildings are LEED certified. It's also becoming part of the architect's RFP that the building needs to be a certain certification level — Silver or above, for example.”

Brian Huff, CTS-D, a supervisory consultant at Acentech, an AV technology consulting firm based in Philadelphia, agrees. “LEED is coming up on every project these days,” he says. “There is a groundswell of attention to LEED in the architectural and facilities communities, but pro AV manufacturers have traditionally been disconnected from architects. But the issue has such a high profile recently that LEED initiatives are definitely on their radar now.”

What is LEED?

According to the USGBC, the LEED Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings, promoting a whole-building approach to sustainability by recognizing performance in five key areas of human and environmental health — sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection, and indoor environmental quality. Registered building projects are subject to a lengthy application and review process in order to earn points in each category.

Most importantly for the AV industry, the USGBC does not certify, promote, or endorse products and services of individual companies for LEED certification. “The No. 1 myth that manufacturers put out there about LEED is a misinformed statement like ‘our product is LEED certified.' LEED is the certification of buildings, not one product,” says Clint Childress, green buildings coordinator for Draper, a window covering, projector mount and projection screen manufacturer based in Spiceland, Ind. “The biggest need right now is educating the AV marketplace about LEED.”

AV manufacturers are beginning to see value in training or adding LEED APs to their staffs. According to Childress, a LEED AP himself, Draper now has 10 on the payroll. Waveguide's Walker realized two years ago that becoming a LEED AP made good business sense. “We work on many higher education projects, and that market has been an early adopter of the LEED point system,” he explains. “Schools need to be seen as a good neighbor to their city or town since large campuses — often with 100-plus buildings — can have such a major impact on their surrounding area. Additionally, the university owns those buildings long-term (50 to 100 years), so improvements in energy efficiency can pay huge dividends to the institution. The corporate market has been a slower adopter because they don't often view their buildings as a long-term investment in the same way.”

Manufacturers are feeling pressure from architects and end-users to develop green products, adds Childress. “Some proactive designers are pushing for green design that addresses energy efficiency and environmentally friendliness,” he says. “It's not just good for the planet; it's also good for the building's resale value. Buildings from the 1950s and '60s have a lower resale value due to higher energy consumption and higher operating costs.”

LEED's Impact on AV

Given that there are no basic LEED credits that can be earned for AV, what can systems integrators, consultants, and manufacturers do to add value to a LEED project? “In order for a project to meet its stated LEED targets, AV designers may need to modify their designs to specify products with low-emitting volatile organic compounds (VOCs) to help with factors like indoor air quality,” says Walker.

However, one can earn up to four “Innovation Points” on a LEED project for exemplary or innovative solutions to improving a building's sustainability. For instance, AV control systems can help manage building power usage instead of just managing AV meetings. “Since the control system is often already controlling the lighting, shades, and HVAC, why not make the building more energy-wise through the use of AV room scheduling software? No need to heat or cool a room that is not in use,” says Walker.

Although LEED doesn't currently factor into AV design, there are lots of ways a system can be energy efficient, therefore becoming indirectly beneficial to the points system, adds Huff. “Is it enough of a cost-savings to justify applying for one of the four Innovation Points you can earn per project?” he asks. “To apply for points, systems must be documented (i.e., we used Energy Star-compliant products). In order to add value to the process, manufacturers only need to make what would be incremental changes to their products like benchmarking maximum and standby power consumption.”

Additionally, he and Walker are developing boilerplate language and protocols to include in specifications for LEED projects.

LEED innovation design credits are given for strategies and not based on equipment (much like the certification itself). In order to earn design credits, the design team must show how and why its strategy is innovative. Childress uses videoconferencing as a prime example. “There isn't any direct tie-in to LEED points, but if the team can show that X-number of travel hours were reduced and therefore saving Y-tons of carbon emissions, then perhaps they can earn a point,” he explains.

The biggest disconnect between the LEED process and AV manufacturers is the lack of baseline calculations of AV equipment. While power consumption may be a standard line in a product spec sheet, other information (such as efficiency ratings, the type of materials used to build the product, and emission levels) are not readily accessible. “LEED puts a big emphasis on the content of the products — like no urea formaldehyde in any wood products, for example,” Childress adds. “Designers must choose carpet and paints with low VOCs. However, for AV equipment there are no guidelines.”

According to Walker, a project can get LEED-Platinum certification (the highest level) without a particularly energy-efficient AV system. “Thus, AV is still like extra credit work,” says Walker.

Increasingly, however, the goals of a traditional AV environment will be seen as being in conflict with LEED principles. “Daylight harvesting is a big deal in LEED, but AV designers often prefer to eliminate natural light from a space in favor of artificial light because it's easier to control and predict,” Walker notes. “It's wasteful thinking: Let's eliminate light so we can replace it with light. In a presentation environment, why not zone the shades as well as the light, and use control presets to manage contrast on the screen. Down the road, I anticipate more use of ambient light sensors and atomic clocks that manage lighting levels based on season and time of day by favoring natural light over artificial. The technology exists.”

But don't forget the facility still needs to function, Walker adds. “Fulfilling LEED requirements while designing an AV system is a balancing act,” he says. “Other than equipment, we are looking into the use of recycled materials like denim versus fiberglass batting for acoustical absorption. The thinking is to use sustainable materials without decreasing the performance of the building. To the contrary, LEED is about enhancing the performance of a building.”

So as LEED gains momentum in the building and construction industry, its impact will be felt in several areas of AV. First, manufacturers will need to address energy efficiency in its product lines. For example, Extron recently debuted the HPA 502 Energy Star–qualified amplifier, touted as an energy-efficient product to help meet green building requirements. The Extron HPA 502 consumes 8 watts when idle and less than 1 watt in standby mode.

Second, consultants are on the lookout for intelligent scheduling software that allows the user to tie into building management control systems like HVAC controls from Honeywell and Johnson Controls. Third, manufacturers will have to better manage the product's full life cycle, including divulging how they are recycling their old gear. “In my conversations with manufacturers, they are not resistant to this idea,” says Walker. “But they are also not doing it yet.”

New York's Hearst Tower

Daylight harvesting in the Hearst Tower can reduce energy consumption, but creates challenges for viewing displaying images.

Daylight harvesting in the Hearst Tower can reduce energy consumption, but creates challenges for viewing displaying images.

A recent example of the marriage between LEED and AV is New York City's Hearst Tower. The 46-story, 856,000-square-foot building opened on Oct. 9, 2006, as the city's first LEED Gold-certified building. The structure was created to consolidate the operations of the Hearst Corp., publisher of 20-plus magazines. “Our firm partnered with Hearst to analyze their real estate,” says Bob Seitz, project manager at Gensler & Associates Architects, who was responsible for interior design of the Hearst Tower and management of the design team. “They were spread around eight or nine different spaces in Manhattan.”

The Tower was built on an existing six-floor base building. London-based Foster + Partners designed the green building, which was built with 80 percent recycled steel and includes green systems such as rainwater collection and radiant heating/cooling. “European design firms know LEED since LEED requirements are codified in Europe,” Seitz notes. “They are 15 to 20 years ahead of the U.S. in this respect.”

The multipurpose space at the top of the Tower best reflects the integrated approach of green design and AV. The three-story space is lit mostly by natural light during the day and has a comprehensive AV control scheme using the building's Crestron control system that turns the space into three separate areas or as one entire space. A custom-designed shade system is installed in the curtain wall. All interior materials are made from sustainable materials, and paints and finishes are all no- or low-VOC. Acoustical treatment is hidden behind painted corrugated aluminum slots that are painted using special paint with low VOC.

Solar studies were completed by Gensler and Foster + Partners that showed the angle of the sun and its effect on the installed flat panel displays. The study captured a snapshot of four days — one in each season. Using the study, Michael Schuch, partner of CMS Innovative Consultants in Melville, N.Y., and head of the AV design team for Hearst Tower, was able to evaluate and design the location and quantity of displays for the space. “The space has a 9-foot ceiling that peaks to 30 feet. The video displays are installed in shadow areas where sunlight has a minimal effect on the displays,” he explains.

However, LEED requirements did not directly impact the selection of AV equipment on this project. “The AV industry is lagging in contributing information that can contribute to LEED points,” Schuch says. “Many of the calculations we used on the project were done by the design team, but we selected equipment and provided systems where we could substantiate for LEED points.”

That included the use of the Crestron control system for HVAC, lighting, automatic shutoff of unused equipment, and room scheduling using Crestron Room View. Schuch and his team were also conscious of infrastructure materials like copper cabling and notes there were instances where they may have used either fiber-optic cable or less copper. “Manufacturers are starting to provide the information, but it's still a long way off,” he says. “LEED is being pushed by architects and building projects. We, as consultants, need to push manufacturers.”

Looking Ahead

Resolving the effect of ambient light from windows on displayed images in meeting rooms was a common challenge in the Hearst Tower project.

Resolving the effect of ambient light from windows on displayed images in meeting rooms was a common challenge in the Hearst Tower project.

With continued emphasis on climate change and energy conservation, there is no doubt that LEED is here to stay. Walker, Huff, and Childress all point out that LEED requirements will most likely change in the future as the USGBC considers factors like AV that have been left out so far. “As LEED evolves, the requirements may take into account some regional differences,” says Childress. “A white roof in Miami keeps the heat off, but LEED would also want the same thing in the Midwest and Northeast, where keeping heat is more of an issue. It makes sense for them to consider regional requirements.”

According to Walker, LEED is still an aspiration because it's not mandated by law, but that may change. “I believe the time will come that LEED is how you build buildings; the point system is just a way to keep score,” he says. “Most architects are deep into LEED, so it will be hard for an AV professional to work with architects who are not sustainable designers. Understanding LEED adds value to what the AV industry offers to the building community.”

Huff agrees. “As energy costs rise, energy management will be more important over the next five to 10 years,” he says. “Energy efficiency will take over and sweep the AV industry.”

HOW AV ROOMS COMPARE: THE LEED PERSPECTIVE

Attributes of a “typical” AV room are not conducive to energy efficiency. Usually the AV room is an interior room devoid of natural light and therefore needs artificial lighting. Heat generated by the AV equipment puts added stress on the room's HVAC system, which also consumes energy. The following examples illustrate good, better, and best AV rooms, as viewed from the LEED perspective.

 

GOOD

In this example, the room does have windows but the setup limits the use of the space. The blackout window coverings mean that artificial lights must be used in the room. The projectors are installed and operated in the room, so heat and dust impact indoor air quality.

 

BETTER

This room illustrates a better setup for an AV room. Dual-mesh shades over the windows provide options for obtaining optimal lighting conditions without using artificial means; however, light-colored windows produce glare on the presentation surface. The projector is installed and operates in the room so heat generation and air quality remain an issue.

 

BEST

The best example shows a room with flexible seating options for multi-purpose use, as well as darker window coverings that reduce glare but still let in natural light. The projector is installed in the ceiling and remains there even during operation, minimizing air quality issues.

(Source: Photos and Text From Infocomm Presentation “Green AV Rooms: What You Need To Know” by Clint Childress, LEED AP.)

Linda Seid Frembes is a magazine journalist and public relations consultant for the professional AV industry. Visit her at www.frembes.com.

 


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