I’ve had conversations with well-known AV industry leaders who’ve told me they will pay attention to this whole green building movement once the U.S. federal government gets involved. Until then this is all just background noise, they say. While the 111th Congress and 44th president may pass legislation to incentivize, or perhaps mandate, green building practices, to play a wait-and-see game today misses the enormous movement already afoot among the direct customers of our collective AV goods and services
Numerous AV market surveys have shown that higher education is second only to the corporate market in terms of overall market size. And during economic downturns like the one the U.S. economy has entered, the higher education market has been a lifesaver for many AV businesses and the likely market leader during those leaner times. It’s probably no secret by now that colleges and universities were among the early leaders in the green building movement. However, how many in the AV industry are aware of the environmental commitment that a growing number of college and university presidents have signed?
The American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is a pledge signed by 547 (to date) college and university presidents to transform their entire campuses to become climate neutral. This pledge isn’t merely a piece of paper they sign and stick in a desk drawer. It’s a multi-phase, prescriptive plan to move toward climate neutrality as quickly as is practical. Within the first year the institution must oversee a complete campus greenhouse gas emissions audit, including emissions from electricity use. Within two years of signing the commitment the institution must set target dates and interim milestones to reach climate neutrality. Since many campuses now have hundreds of AV systems within their domain that they use heavily on a weekly basis, the campus emissions and energy audits will certainly have to address energy consumed by AV technologies.
So what will those energy audits reveal about the AV industry? Are we the undisciplined, unregulated, un-EnergyStar power hogs of the modern university campus? Will part of our clients’ climate-neutrality strategy be to buy less AV equipment? Let’s hope not.
The Presidents Climate Commitment lists several immediate steps signatories can take to move toward climate neutrality. The first recommendation is that campuses institute a policy that all new buildings obtain LEED Silver certification or higher. The second measure is that campuses purchase EnergyStar products for all equipments for which there is an EnergyStar category. Rather than look at this commitment as a threat, we should seize this opportunity to turn our specifications toward a more environmentally responsible and energy-efficient direction. Heck, the business opportunity of assisting these institutions with their energy audits alone should get many in the AV industry excited. Go to presidentsclimatecommitment.org to see if your favorite higher education client hasn’t already signed this commitment.
So what about the corporate market, you ask. Well, they are coming on strong as well. Many Fortune 500 companies have appointed new C-level executives (chief sustainability officers, chief environmental strategists, etc.) whose job it is to look at the company’s overall carbon footprint and take steps to reduce that footprint both internally as well as in the goods and services they offer to their customers. Many companies such as Microsoft, Bank of America, and AOL have adopted policies for all new buildings to be LEED certified. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has created the Green Power Fortune 500 Challenge to encourage corporations to purchase power from renewable sources such as wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal. Intel is the leader here, purchasing more than a billion kWh of power--46 percent of its total power--from renewable sources. PepsiCo, Whole Foods, and ING are among the many corporations who purchase 100 percent of their power from renewable sources. If these for-profit corporate giants are going out of their way to purchase their power at a premium from these renewable sources, don’t you think they are going manage their energy consumption to not waste a watt if they can help it? If you see your corporate sugar-daddy client on the list at epa.gov/grnpower, shouldn’t you design AV solutions that minimize power consumption and, in doing so, respect their investment in renewal energy?
If you view architects as your primary, direct client, go to architecture2030.org to see if your favorite client has signed on to the 2030 Challenge. Hundreds of the world’s leading architects and engineers have joined a global initiative to reduce fossil-fuel-emitting consumption by 50 percent in the design of all new buildings and major renovations by 2010. Signatories to the 2030 Challenge commit to incrementally decreasing carbon emissions in their building designs to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. If your business partners are knocking themselves out to achieve this momentous goal, are you going to stick your head in the sand and indiscriminately make their jobs harder? Are they going to keep coming back to you if you do?
We’ve got the whole AV thing figured out by now, right? We know how to make gorgeous pictures and fantastic audio, right? What we haven’t figured out is how to manage energy consumption in our buildings. We need to quit thinking of ourselves as the AV guys, the boardroom/classroom/auditorium guys, and see ourselves as what we are: a vital part of the building industry that can bring our experience and talent to the building automation and energy management efforts the rest of the construction world is embracing.
And oh, by the way, two federal agencies, 22 states, and 94 municipalities have established policies that all of their new buildings will be LEED certified. So while the current U.S. administration and Congress have dragged their feet, the clients who keep you in business have blazed their own trails and are inviting us to join the party.