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Green AV: From the Ground Up

Last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program published a new version of its requirements to include qualifications for gear such as audio DSPs and amplifiers.

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Though his firm has launched many initiatives involving sustainability, Audio Video Systems' Patrick DeZess warns of Green AV becoming "a tagline."

Late last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program threw its arms around what the pro AV industry has termed "green AV" by publishing a new version of its requirements to include qualifications for gear such as audio DSPs and amplifiers. Under Energy Star for AV 2.0, which was released in November 2009, qualified products must meet criteria for features such as standby power mode, sleep mode, and auto power-down, among others.

Significantly, large swaths of commercial AV products are excluded from this specification, including displays, lighting, video projectors, control products, whole-building audio/video systems, videoconferencing, and wireless microphones. (Energy Star for Displays is a separate program and version 5.0, released this year, stipulates requirements for displays 30 to 60 inches diagonal–right in pro AV's wheelhouse.)

Now, five months later, only four commercial AV products–all from Extron Electronics–have qualified under the Energy Star for AV 2.0 program.

"I believe some other vendors are now actively engaged and have started to submit products," says Steve Pantano of ICF International, who worked with the government on Energy Star for AV 2.0. "I have heard very little from the industry since the spec went final."

If 2009 was the year of green AV awareness–from InfoComm's establishment of a Green AV Task Force to new sustainability education at the association's annual expo–then 2010 is the year of "what now?"

"Green AV is like a tagline," says Patrick DeZess, engineering manager for integration firm Audio Video Systems (AVS). "It's a bunch of principles that encompass materials, process, sustainability, and reusability. Those factors are more important than just saying a system is green."

Reaching Critical Mass

The AV industry's adoption of green as a key initiative comes at a time when it is also trying to build stronger relationships with the overall design and construction team, including architects. And those peers, thanks to the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED program and others, are currently steeped in issues of environmental stewardship. So it's been incumbent on associations such as InfoComm, and advocacy groups such as Project Green AV, to try to articulate pro AV's definition of what it means to be green and how that fits into the overall process.

"But none of us can define it," says Scott Walker, president of AV firm Waveguide Consulting and a member of InfoComm's Green AV Task Force. "It needs to be a cultural shift."

Howard Nunes, CEO of programming and design firm PepperDash, says, "The definition of green is nebulous. Is it renewability? Sustainability? It's being conscious about your impact on the environment."

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Scott Walker

Credit: Chris Rank

Despite the challenge of defining green AV, the concept has built momentum. And as the push for sustainability has spilled over from the design and construction industry, AV practitioners have begun to heed requests for greener solutions.

"There are not many clients asking for 'green,' but rather how our systems can be more efficient," says DeZess. AVS recently handled the AV systems for the USGBC's new headquarters–and green wasn't the top priority (see proavmagazine.com/USGBC). "To the customer, green is about total cost of ownership and the cost of operating the system. For the integrator, it's about evaluating your processes and finding better and more efficient ways to do things."

And many clients don't know what green AV processes might be in the first place. "To make the connection [between green and AV], we need to focus on the basics," says Alex Moe, project engineer at AVI-SPL. "Like automatically turning off the equipment when not in use. Clients don't know to ask for features like auto turn-off."

For its part, InfoComm is focusing on some of the basics. Based in part on recommendations from the Green AV Task Force, the trade group has begun developing the Audiovisual Systems Energy Management Performance Standard. InfoComm vice president of standards and best practices Joseph Bocchiaro is quick to point out that the pending standard is not meant to be an equipment standard. It's being written to cover how an overall AV system manages power consumption.

"The InfoComm board very deliberately said, 'Let's do a green standard,'" says Bocchiaro. "And let's start with one of the biggest problems we'd identified in the InfoComm Academy, which is power management."

Bocchiaro says that in years of testing AV designers and installers for InfoComm certification, it became clear that most AV systems were never powered down. This came as a surprise to AV consultants, he says, but AV integrators knew it as a fact of life. "We had a norm we thought was wrong," he says.

Late last summer, a 12-member group began writing the energy management standard, which it will present it to a committee of 250 volunteers for review before sending it to the InfoComm board and eventually to the public for comment. What's critical about the process is that InfoComm is deliberately adhering to requirements from the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) so that it might eventually go before ANSI for approval.

"Part of the ANSI process is harmonization," explains Bocchiaro. "We look at what other standards are and try to build on them." For energy management, InfoComm is looking at work done by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, for instance, when it comes to defining system states such as "on" or "standby." Bocchiaro says the InfoComm standards group is also harmonizing with the ANSI/ASHRAE 189.1 Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, a standard created by the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

"We're harmonizing with ASHRAE 189.1 for monitoring," Bocchiaro says. "Because if I don't know how much power I'm using, how do I know I'm making a difference?"

The ANSI process has already proved successful. In August 2009, InfoComm's standard Audio Coverage Uniformity in Enclosed Listener Areas became an ANSI standard, giving it a measure of legitimacy in the larger design/build community. The goal is to apply the same diligence to energy management and other developing InfoComm standards to help further strengthen the AV industry's relationship with architects and other trades.

Because, so far, it's been an uphill battle gaining recognition for AV systems through other established green building programs–namely LEED.

Off the Radar

"There's so much recent activity at the USGBC that they probably won't incorporate AV for any named credits in the near future," says Waveguide's Walker. After several meetings with the USGBC, he laments that AV remains off the group's long-term radar, explaining that larger industries will earn recognition first.

In November 2009, the USGBC launched a pilot credit program in which applicants can hone metrics, measurement, and verification criteria outside of an active project before applying it in practice. According to the USGBC, the LEED Pilot Credit Library is a process that allows the participant to work with the green building organization to test and refine requirements before they're sent to a balloting process for formal inclusion in LEED credits.

Despite lobbying efforts, AV was not included in the inaugural credits generated by the pilot program. The first pilot credits available for use are: Life Cycle Assessment of Building Assemblies and Materials; PBT Source Reduction: Dioxins and Halogenated Organic Compounds; Medical and Process Equipment Efficiency; Innovative Ventilation; and Preliminary Integrative Project Planning & Design.

"But we can't turn our back on LEED because it is the dominant conversation," Walker says. "Still, over the past year, alternative paths to sustainability have emerged, such as ANSI/ASHRAE 189.1, which is the first ANSI green building standard."

Formally published in January in conjunction with the USGBC and the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, 189.1 was based on the ASHRAE's own Energy Standard 90.1. It is not a rating system like LEED, but provides minimum requirements for the location, design, and construction of green buildings.

While commercial AV systems are not specifically called out in the standard, it does stipulate Energy Star-rated electronics. But for those in the AV industry, that's just a starting point. Green AV proponents say AV pros need to educate the building trades on taking energy management that extra step. Focusing on products and Energy Star ratings misses the forest for the trees.

"Manufacturers want to talk about energy efficiency in devices. I want to talk about energy efficiency in the building," PepperDash's Nunes says. His firm has begun more granular control system programming and now routinely delivers energy management modules with its designs.

"We are creating software that predicts space usage and energy consumption based on past patterns, then adjusts building systems so that they don't turn on unless we expect them to be used in the immediate future," he explains.

For this to happen, the control system should integrate with the facilities' scheduling system. "The best scenario is when we can manage specific plug loads to trigger a device's built-in low-power sleep modes, or eco-off modes for maximum power savings," Nunes says.

Manufacturers' Role

Still, AV manufacturers will play a significant role in greening the industry. While consultants and integrators can design and program their AV systems to consume less power, the client's attention often returns to the equipment itself. And for manufacturers, the greening process entails decisions about which standards to adopt, which regulations to follow, and how to even start the process.

A few companies, such as Christie and NEC, are active in the green AV community, but they remain the exception, not the rule. Extron and others have had a hand in the formulation and adoption of Energy Star for AV 2.0.

Peter Pekurar, senior manager of integrated management systems at Christie, says companies don't turn green overnight. Christie's efforts began in the 1990s and led to the pursuit of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 14001 certification in 2007. ISO 14001 certifies a company's environmental management systems and encourages the use of best practices in decreasing pollution and manufacturing waste.

But manufacturers face ongoing challenges in their role as green AV stewards, chiefly as they relate to the energy efficiency of their products. To the untrained client, being green should be as easy as choosing products that consume less energy, just as they would appliances. But AV systems are used differently, and it can be hard to identify the most efficient ones.

"Energy efficiency claims are like the lumens wars of the old days," says Pekurar. "We need a third-party that will verify environmental claims."

UL Environment, from the Underwriters Laboratories (ulenvironment.com), and TerraVeritas (terra-veritas.com) offer a generic claims verification, but they are specific to individual claims and do not, for instance, extend to products such as commercial projectors.

"For a manufacturer, green AV relates to everything inside and outside of your product," says Keith Yanke, director of product marketing at NEC Display Solutions. "That means paying attention to the use of hazardous materials in manufacturing, to the use of recycled materials and eco-friendly foam fillers for packaging, to providing a digital resource for product manuals." NEC has worked with TCO Development of Sweden (tcodevelopment.com) on certification for two projectors. TCO Development certifies computers, printers, and mobile phones, as well as projectors and displays, although the displays it rates are primarily for computer use. Products are TCO-certified for low power consumption, minimal use of environmentally hazardous materials, and recyclability.

Midori Connolly, CEO of Pulse Staging and Events in San Diego and a Pro AV columnist, is often on the front lines of customers asking about green AV. She prepares a report for each client on the products used and the percentage of manufacturers considered green. The report covers everything from manufacturers' recycling efforts to their use of sustainable materials. She says they're as informative as possible, but they could use more detail. "Manufacturers are not understanding the demand and not understanding what it means to have a green product," she says.

Pulse Staging is currently pursuing British Standard 8901, which is a specification for sustainability management systems in events. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is developing a sustainable event management standard based on BS8901. "For a staging company, this is the only option we have for certification," Connolly says. Should Pulse Staging achieve BS8901 certification, it will be the first U.S. rental and staging company to do so.

The Search for Data

RTKL Associates is at the crossroads of green building and green AV. The Baltimore-based architectural firm also includes an AV design and integration division that is active in sustainability initiatives.

"When talking to people with purchasing power, it is all about the business case," says Tony Warner, CTS-D, LEED AP, and an RTKL principal. "Until there is a solid business case, there will be no additional awareness about green AV. It would be easy to show savings from videoconferencing, but quantitative data from across the industry doesn't exist."

Warner is chairman of the Green Building Technology Alliance, which draws members from InfoComm, BICSI, the Telecommunications Industry Association, and the Continental Automated Buildings Association. The group was named by the USGBC to develop and recommend Innovation Technology credits for the LEED standards.

However, Warner says he'd like to see people approach green AV the way architects approach sustainability–from a functional perspective. "Current regulations like ANSI and LEED are tangential to AV," he says. "We need to focus on our independence outside of current ratings systems."

InfoComm's energy management standard is a first step. The next step, say all involved, will be a crash course how to deliver on green AV's value proposition. Education–not only of why the standard is important but how to conform to it–will be a major part of its evolution.

"Some people think we're going to tell them how much energy an AV system should use," says Bocchiaro of the coming standard. "That's the knee-jerk reaction. This is about looking at a situation and saving energy where you can."

Before the new standard can go to ANSI, InfoComm must develop five real-world test cases. Bocchiaro says the standards group has already visited eight large AV installations and begun to produce tables detailing exactly how much energy integrated systems really use–the kind of information that so far has been hard to come by, either because AV manufacturers have supplied incomplete data on energy consumption or AV pros have been loath to measure.

"A lot of AV people are afraid of test and measurement equipment," says Bocchiaro. "They're not engineers. But conforming to standards will require it."

In other words, answering the question "what now?" will involve dedication on the part of the pro AV industry. It's one thing to promote green AV; it's another to define, understand, practice, and prove it.

"Green means new challenges and new problems to solve," says DeZess. "Definitions will constantly change and, like technology, become outdated. We're starting with small steps [at AVS], but there's so much potential to approach problems in different ways."

No matter what path an AV company chooses, being green will only become more important because of ongoing economic, environmental, and, in some cases, regulatory pressures. For AV to remain relevant, the industry needs to show it can be a responsible member of a movement larger than itself. The impact of green AV will only be as strong as its weakest voice.

Linda Seid Frembes is a freelance AV writer and frequent contributor. Editor Brad Grimes also contributed to this article.

 


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