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Setting a green standard

Pursuing green strategies can have economic as well as environmental benefits. But executive buy-in and customer demand are needed to ensure innovation in this area, writes Adrian Pennington.

Pursuing green strategies can have economic as well as environmental benefits. But executive buy-in and customer demand are needed to ensure innovation in this area, writes Adrian Pennington.

On a global scale, corporations are recognising that environmental responsibility is changing from an opt-in trend to a compelling business practice. The economic crisis has given the AV and installation sector its stiffest challenge for decades, one from which no company is immune. What’s more, it has come at a time when unprecedented environmental pressures are forcing everyone to think responsibly about their energy consumption.

The understandable temptation is to negate investment in green technologies and concentrate on short-term financial survival. But arguably that’s a short-sighted approach when a more positive response to both issues recognises the impact of one on another.

“The G8 Summit committed governments to an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050,” says Jaume Rey, Panasonic’s European director. “The only way to achieve that is through greater regulation which means that those who don’t have an environmental plan will pay higher taxes. This will have a huge impact on the profit and loss of all companies. For manufacturers it means re-examining the use of raw materials to produce products with longer life cycles, greater quantities of parts recycled and a return on investment absolutely justified.”

The electronic media industry in all its forms is a high consumer of energy and materials. The question being posed to company chiefs is what is the cost of not being green?

“What if we do nothing,” asks Rey, “what are the roadblocks to being environmentally proactive? In an industry that thrives on innovation, what can we do to ensure that design for the environment is top of the list? Perhaps most important, does helping the environment always mean spending money; or can it have its own return on investment?”

Autoscript’s worldwide MD Brian Larter thinks so. “An energy-saving strategy is not only ethical but one that can demonstrably shave zeroes from a company’s bottom line,” he asserts.

There seems little doubt we are entering an era of resource constraint. “We all have to do more with less,” says Julian Phillips, managing director, Impact Marcom. “For too long environmental issues have stayed in the green camp, associated more with corporate responsibility. Since we no longer have the sustainable resources to make businesses viable, economic arguments are coming to the fore and it is these that will really drive change.”

Pointing to the high-profile green flag-waving of Cisco, Phillips says that such concerns are high on boardroom agendas. “The AV industry has never had a strategic direction from the top or a champion for large-scale deployment of environmental schemes,” he says. “Cisco’s lead (notably its renewable building initiative Connected) has helped achieve executive buy-in and the enterprise-wide scale which green issues need in order to truly have an impact.”

Putting theory into practice

What does ‘going green’ mean in practice? Midori Connolly, an InfoComm lecturer on green topics, proposes that we view ‘green AV’ as a collection of ideas in which organisations and individuals share the goal of discovering how best to use technology with minimal environmental impact. “While efforts to develop green AV are still mostly unstructured, the passion for and belief in the cause have led to a gradual collaboration and a general consensus on the environmental factors to target,” she says.

Part of this momentum is the ‘green-collar effect’, the idea that as requirements for green technology, products and services increase, basic job functions will adapt to fulfil those requirements.

“Many universities and businesses have an individual whose sole task is to lower the energy costs and reduce the carbon footprint of the organisation,” says Jamie Blakemore, commercial sales manager, Crestron UK. “At the time of design one of the first questions to be asked is how the systems can be used to save the organisation energy costs.”

Power consumption data may not currently be part of writing a proposal or submitting a bid, but it probably will be in less than a decade.

“AV designers may be expected to source the best alternative energy for their plans,” suggests Connolly. “Clients might need their AV consultant to recommend the most responsible means of disposal for outdated gear. In other words, the scope of services offered by AV professionals will expand – and that should be seen as a bright opportunity in an otherwise dark economic forecast.”

Crestron says it is educating customers on how small changes can be made to a system design to include interfaces or motion sensors to help reduce power consumption. “AV dealers maybe need to work harder to design a system with power saving in mind and end users need to stress that this is of importance to suppliers at the time of install discussion,” says Blakemore.

Green AV isn’t just about energy consumption, but comprises issues of waste reduction and management, operational efficiency, and responsible manufacturing processes and materials. Although there are some calls for InfoComm, as the leading industry body, to take a more proactive stance – perhaps by setting universal green benchmarks – there are already a number of environmentally targeted standards.

In the US these include the Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, where different elements of a project count towards certification; and Energy Star, the international standard created in 1992 that has become so ubiquitous that there are calls for the qualification to be tightened lest it be rendered meaningless. European Union directives include WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment), which aims to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill, and the Restriction of Hazardous Substances, which does what its name suggests.

There’s also a series of voluntary ISO standards which task companies with placing environmental issues at the heart of their management and provide an objective basis for verifying a company’s claims about its performance. The key word, though, is ‘voluntary’.

Arguably the most ambitious environmental project in the world is the $22 billion Masdar complex in Abu Dhabi which, when it opens in 2016, is intended as the first zero-carbon, zero-waste city powered by renewable energy.

Ultimately, it is not state-sponsored projects, government mandates or industry regulations which will effect change, but market forces. “Despite the rhetoric from governments it will be at the enterprise level where real change is made,” says Phillips. “If the customer isn’t willing, or can’t be made to see the benefits, inertia rules.”

Awareness in the professional market is less developed than in the consumer market where ROI is the biggest driver for business customers, suggests Henrike Maschke, environmental and product compliance officer, Sony Professional. “Often this can be linked to energy savings which have an impact on the environment but this is more of a side effect.”

Avoiding greenwash

Fortunately there are signs that client awareness is on the rise. “There’s increased demand from clients although the decision remains a commercial one,” says John Saunders, MD, Anolis UK. “If you can get a competitive edge by claiming to be green, then you do it – everyone is guilty of that.”

Saunders highlights his experience of a number of festivals at which LED lighting and overall power consumption has been cut in order to market one ‘ethical’ stage while the rest of the festival site is as high-powered as ever.

‘Greenwash’ such as this is becoming an increasing problem, meaning customers can have difficulties making an informed decision due to the amount of misinformation in the marketplace.

“It is sometimes the case that companies that are genuinely striving to make improvements to the environmental credentials of their products can still appear less ‘green’ than companies using ‘greenwash’ messages in marketing collateral and PR,” says Maschke.

“Professional vendors are lagging behind in the development of more sustainable products in comparison to consumer products. The industry can do more to reduce energy consumption and change its production processes to use more recycled or re-used material/components. From this point of view there is a need for a change in business culture.”

It would seem that the industry does need much more education of its constituency at all levels. Even more importantly, according to Lab.gruppen head of marketing Tim Chapman, the AV industry needs to be educating various government agencies regarding the unique nature of professional AV systems, particularly in comparison to consumer-grade systems.

Efficient practices

“A case in point is the framework now under development in the US for Energy Star certifications of professional AV equipment,” he says. “It’s taken some effort to get the Department of Energy to understand that a system of power amplifiers cannot be evaluated using the same methodology as, say, a home refrigerator. The refrigerator functions as a single unit: it’s either off or on, and it has a predictable duty cycle. The same is not true of an installed system of amplifiers, as it will have widely varying duty cycles depending on specific applications, and current draw will vary among models depending on efficiency in both operating and standby modes.

“Consequently, the only meaningful methodology is total energy consumption of a complete system annually. This principle is included in the Energy Star draft specification, but realising it in practice will involve some rather complex calculations.”

Energy consumption is the key criterion of the residential custom install market. CE products are responsible for more than 25% of household electricity consumption (in the US, according to an Energy Star report) – a figure that’s only expected to rise.
“We believe technologies that can reduce the extent of wiring in the home, and as a result use fewer raw materials like copper, represent the way forward,” says David Rodarte, president and COO of whole-home audio specialist NuVo Technologies.

Recognising that wireless whole-home audio systems still need wires connecting the in-room amplifier to speakers and the amplifier to a power source, NuVo has spied a “big opportunity” to overcome this using existing power wiring.

“Using HomePlug technology we will soon be launching a system (Renovia) which runs audio and data over the existing electrical infrastructure within the home,” says Rodarte.

Lighting and heating account for the bulk of a property’s energy consumption and can be very wasteful. CE vendors are tackling this with products designed with energy usage in mind. New ultra-thin LED backlit screens use around one-third of the power of plasma and LCD screens and draw less than 0.1W in standby.

Sony has a range of TVs that incorporate presence sensors that switch the set into standby if no one is watching it. Plug-in power consumption meters with LCD displays of volts, amperes, and watts are best sellers. Even Greenpeace espoused the performance of numerous gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show last January.

CEDIA is playing its part by introducing an Eco CPD (continuing professional development) course to help explain to specifiers the energy-efficiency benefits that home electronic systems can provide.

“Unfortunately in the AV industry power is important – all products that we sell require power,” says Blakemore. “The key to making these greener is automated control. With a control system we can turn off any powered device and via a simple interface we can cut the power to the unit so it does not even burn power when on standby.

“If you take the prices of the interfaces used to produce the full power down of a product, or the cost of the lighting dimming system, we have been able to prove that it is possible to recoup most equipment costs over time,” he adds. “You can even have a Crestron Green Light control system reporting how much energy is used or how much saved by dimming lights by 10%.”

Extron’s case for its Energy Star-compliant XTRA amplifiers is that it can maintain a state of readiness for racks of AV equipment while significantly reducing the energy used until the hardware is actually needed. It claims that in a typical classroom, AV applications are under one-eighth power for 40 hours per week but a conventional amplifier will draw 345kWh per year, compared to an XTRA Series amp drawing only 55kWh. “So in this scenario, conventional amplifiers use over 500% more energy,” it says.

LED lighting has the potential to become the low-energy light source of the future. This development is being spurred on by the pressing need for a tungsten/halogen replacement in the home and cold-cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFL) replacement in professional use.
According to DisplaySearch, global sales of large-area 10in-plus TFT (thin-film transistor) LCD displays reached 10.6 million in Q1 2009, up a whopping 780% year on year. Autoscript is part of that movement, vowing to replace its existing fluorescent backlit TFT range with the new technology.

“Aside from the cost of safely disposing of equipment to accord with EU regulations, equipment containing the thin glass tubes of mercury vapour required considerable operational power, generated excess heat and, being fragile, were prone to break easily,” says Autoscript’s Larter.

Perhaps the product area with most green credentials is videoconferencing, where a VC facility in remote offices can cut travel time and carbon footprints. Here too, though, education is needed.

Cultural change

“Historically VC has been poorly implemented with older technology and badly integrated office environments,” says Wayne Stephens, Tandberg’s VP partners & alliances. “Once people have been trained properly they like using it and will use it more often.

“While all manufacturers can and are doing more in terms of recycling or using non-hazardous materials, what is needed most is a wider change in business culture which is more accepting of changed working practices.”

Stephens urges the industry to speak louder about the transformative capacity of AV. His call is echoed by Impact’s Phillips who believes the green wave will flush out many hardware vendors.

“AV is still a proprietary hardware industry with multiple standards and too many manufacturers. Too many manufacturers are building pretty much the same product and in some cases building product that shouldn’t exist.

“The whole AV industry will go through a green rationalisation. The green issue is wound up in the future of the industry and video communications in particular as a transformative solution.”