I have been asked many times where one can locate greener AV products or with whom they can consult for greener designs and installs. Unfortunately, since AV equipment most often consumes large amounts of energy, are built using a variety of toxic materials and are often assembled overseas, many products necessary to an installation are not considered green. Clearly, it’s a more complicated answer than it seems. However, there are a number of points to keep in mind that can help make your AV requirements more responsible. Smart sourcing and procurement begins with understanding what to look and ask for from a supplier or manufacturer to determine what responsible options are out there in the audiovisual world. With a focus on three requirements of sustainability, Environmental, Economic and Social, we will review some ideas (products, processes and planning) to help keep sourcing AV equipment consistent with a campus’ environmental initiatives.
Products: Responsible and Reliable
AV systems are inherently greedy energy guzzlers. When sourcing responsible equipment, there are some manufacturers, however, which have taken significant steps towards making their products more energy efficient. Energy Star ™ and TCO certified products are a start but until recently (and in limited ways) they generally haven’t crossed into the professional AV world. Green AV products are energy efficient while in use, minimally pulling in standby and almost not at all when off. Green AV equipment, when applicable, should also be visible on the network and able to be controlled remotely, or scheduled to optimize the efficiency and minimize draw. They are manufactured using minimal amounts of toxic components. Many Green AV manufacturers are using recycled components or materials whenever possible, like steel in racks, floor boxes, etc without compromising performance. It isn’t smart if it has to be replaced twice as often as a competitive product. Manufacturers have also evaluated their shipping materials and methods, consolidating whenever possible, using less packaging or sustainable packaging.
"Made in the USA" Matters
As manufacturers are succumbing to reduced profits and pricing wars, some are finding that a commitment to social responsibility by keeping their manufacturing facilities domestic actually helps their bottom line. While labor costs may seem prohibitive (less so now than even 7 years ago), being able to oversee quality, respond quickly to client demand, work closely with R&D and keep shipping costs low are perks of a domestic manufacturing facility.
From a purchasing viewpoint, US manufacturers are typically faster on response time and lead-time while supporting local economy and reducing the carbon footprint caused by long distance transport.
Processes: Consistent Evaluation and Documentation
Environmentally conscious manufacturers, dealers and distributors implement sustainable practices within their own companies. Documentation is the key to achieving recognizable standards that the government will accept- for example, ISO environmental standards 14001 and 14066. Specifically, the most recent release from ISO environmental, 14066, was developed to “achieve consistency in the global carbon market and maintain public confidence in the GHG reporting and other communications.” ISO 14066 moves toward third party auditing to verify business claims, which leads to more credibility regarding the attainment of environmentally conscious goals.
Those which are “greening” their business processes also understand the need to evaluate their own supply chain to find those suppliers who are most economic, efficient, ethical and sustainable. Re-thinking manufacturing procedures, using alternate energy sources, harnessing excess in areas to replenish decline in others and creating innovative solutions to archaic and inefficient processes result in strengthening the overall stability of the company.
Instilling the desire for environmentally conscious behavior and thinking into a company culture is just as important as creating and documenting company-wide goals (maybe in a formal CSR). In order to make internal program changes effective, employees must buy into them and see the rewards. There are a number of AV manufacturers which have proven that employees are many times the initiators of inventive programs that enhance the profitability, efficiency and environmental responsibility.
Planning for the End
Also important when considering responsible procurement, is end of lifecycle planning.
Extend useable life — Find out if the product can be refurbished or repurposed. Many products can and some cannot. Extend their life by keeping them from becoming waste. However, as is common in the technology industry, some products become obsolete and unusable.
Product Reclamation — Research if the manufacturer has any type of product reclamation process in place. Electronics manufacturers are now required to take back a lot of CE products and may also have the capabilities to take back and recycle professional equipment. Knowing who these manufacturers are in advance of purchasing product will mean less work when it’s time to remove and return equipment.
E-cycling — If there are no reclamation programs available for the device, there are e-cycling companies that are able to break down all components in a typical AV rack (including the rack) plus other devices and pieces of equipment. Choose companies that keep all recycling and processing domestic, further cutting the carbon footprint and ensuring proper handling. Some are focused on zero waste processing, meaning ALL of the devices that are recycled are made into useable materials.
Donate! — Finally, one of the more emotionally fulfilling options is donating working equipment to not-for profits, inner city schools, community centers or other local facilities unable to purchase equipment due to financial constraints. Just be aware of potential liability issues that do, unfortunately, exist. Many times, the devices donated are of far better quality and technologically more advanced than anything they could afford. Additionally, there are many studies that indicate a correlation between technology in the classroom and increased assessment scores and knowledge retention. Tax deductable donations help more than those donating the equipment, it helps reduce waste and helps children, teachers and institutions on the receiving end by offering more learning opportunities than they would have otherwise been afforded. And who knows—if you open a child’s eyes to the wonders of AV, you may have a new addition to the AV workforce in 10-15 years. We all know new talent is hard to come by.