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Green AV special report: Getting serious about sustainability

Launched globally in Europe at ISE 2023, the SAVe Initiative is bringing some much-needed urgency to the task of making the pro AV industry more sustainable. Installation reports

The not insignificant challenge of how to make a notoriously carbon-intensive industry more sustainable – and, ultimately, put it on a firm footing to achieve Net Zero – has been preoccupying the more socially conscious participants in pro AV for some years now. But while this has led to individual companies and organisations enacting some very admirable projects, it’s not resulted in an initiative capable of bringing coherence and direction to the entire industry.

Until now, that is. Introduced in the US last year ahead of a European debut at ISE in February, Sustainability in AV (SAVe) is immediately distinguished by its focus on a very specific objective: to support the industry working together in order to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Adopted by all 193 member nations of the UN in 2015, and closely aligned with the same year’s Paris Agreement, the 17 SDGs define a series of critical actions to be taken by all countries in worldwide partnership. 

Encompassing everything from the ending of poverty and the reduction of inequalities to the encouragement of sustainable cities, the SDGs – in the words of the UN – furnish a “shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” From a SAVe perspective, the initial emphasis will be on SDG #12, which stipulates responsible manufacturing, reuse, repurposing, recycling and reduction at every stage of the product lifecycle.

Heading up SAVe is Christina De Bono, whose near three decade of experience in the industry includes her current tenure as president & founder of ClearTech, a commercial AV systems integration company based in California. First pondering the possibility of such an initiative before the pandemic, De Bono quickly discovered that knowledge of the SDGs in AV was – to put it mildly – rather limited.

“It was evident that a lot of people in the industry were not aware of the Goals – and in fact, there are many who still don’t know about them now,” says De Bono, who adds that a core element of SAVe’s initial phase is concerned with “raising awareness of the SDGs and explaining how they can be applied to our industry”.

If it’s a wake-up call that no one could exactly say they wanted, the dramatic events of the last three years have nonetheless provided it. On the one hand, there was Covid-19 and an ensuing supply chain crisis that prompted organisations everywhere to re-evaluate the way they work and interact with other companies – not to mention the world at large. Then there was an overwhelming surge in climate disasters and related research that underlined quite how rapidly climate change is progressing.

In essence, the point of no return is fast approaching – but, critically, not reached quite yet. Referring to the latest report by the UN IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), issued in March 2023, UN secretary general António Guterres said that the 1.5⁰C ceiling on global warming remains “achievable, but it will take a quantum leap. This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. In short, our world need climate action on all fronts – everything, everywhere, all at once.”

It is exactly this kind of urgency that SAVe aims to bring to the AV industry, whose environmental impact has actually continued to worsen in recent years. For instance, UN research reveals that North America and Europe alone created more than 50 million tons of electronic waste (e-waste) in 2019, with a considerable portion of it ending up on landfills or scrap heaps. With multiple sources indicating that less than a fifth of electronics are being officially recycled, the imperative for the industry to ‘fast-track’ its own sustainability journey is acute.

SAVe’s founding focus is on two primary initiatives: SAVe Certified and SAVe: A Second Life. The former involves the use of an assessment tool to identify which SDGs the business in question can advance, with SAVe then helping to develop an action plan that can be implemented immediately. The latter tackles the e-waste crisis head-on by providing customers and end-users with the opportunity to give legacy AV kit a ‘second life’ by donating it through a network that SAVe has established with an NGO called the Commission on Voluntary Service & Action (CVSA).

As well as highlighting these two projects throughout ISE, SAVe also introduced its official global Ambassador Programme, which aims to identify and provide liaisons at a country level to help establish and maintain relationships with key stakeholders in the AV industry, including manufacturers, trade and professional organisations.

“Ambassadors will be integral in bringing stakeholders together to achieve the 2030 SDGs,” says De Bono. “We’re looking for experienced leaders who are passionate about advancing sustainable development in the AV industry.”

There is no doubting the passionate commitment to sustainability shown by Debbie Williamson, president of Washington, US-based AV integrator & supplier Tempest Technologies. She tells Installation that the company had been seeking a more effective approach to recycling and sustainability when she was first approached by SAVe.

“We were striving to be good stewards of the earth by following practices to repurpose and reuse items so they were not going directly into a landfill whenever possible, and to responsibly recycle packaging materials and e-waste,” she recalls. “But with product life cycles decreasing, and the practice of sending every part you might possibly need in the field during installation in each package increasing, we were left with a mounting problem.”

Having known De Bono and her team for many years, Williamson “trusted them when they said they had a plan and could help my organisation create an actionable roadmap by going through the SAVe certification process. They delivered on that promise.”

With their certification complete, Williamson’s team also realised that alignment with SAVe presented an “opportunity to develop a focused
plan of action to combat other global issues addressed by the [SDGs], such as equality, quality education and zero hunger. 

During the certification experience my team identified the SDGs that most resonated with them and then collectively and collaboratively created a plan of action that is clear and concise, and will produce profound and measurable results as we implement our plan.”

Whilst Williamson is now a Board Member of SAVe, Tempest Technologies’ service manager, Iggy Lis, has joined the aforementioned A Second Life Committee – a role that entailed, according to Williamson, educating himself on what truly happens in the world of recycling/e-cycling. 

“Once he became aware that not all recyclers who claimed to be ‘certified’ were truly handling the materials responsibly, he shared the information with our team, then committed to finding resources who could live up to the high standards that we have promised to uphold when it comes to recycling packaging and equipment,” she says. 

“When a potential resource is identified we review their certifications and visit their facility to see what their operation consists of, and once they are vetted we work to establish a partnership with them.”

Wiliamson was encouraged by the reception of SAVe at ISE 2023, where the team was resident on a stand in the Impact Lounge. “Being Sustainability Partner for the show allowed us to bring our message and mission to a much wider audience than we had previously had access to,” she says. “The warm reception and sincere interest expressed by the attendees and show participants was beyond what we had anticipated. It’s clear that people are hungry for more education and guidance, and they want to learn how to develop their own plan of action.”

If this in itself is encouraging, no one should doubt that the current picture in AV is very mixed. Williamson observes: “I think there are pockets of brilliance, where entire organisations are built around sustainable practices and products, and they can provide you with their roadmap and measurable results for their model. 

“Then there are the organisations that talk the talk, but don’t necessarily walk the walk. [In other words] the greenwashers who appear to be doing something, but if you scratch the surface, they really can’t produce a plan, or a person to share their mission and vision with you when you ask them for it.”

The clear and coherent nature of SAVe’s activities to date suggests that the organisation has a strong chance of creating many more “pockets of brilliance” in pro AV. And as Williamson indicates, AV is inherently an industry where there are so many opportunities for improvement – from the sourcing of materials through to manufacturing, transportation and end-of-life.

“Whether you are a manufacturer, distributor, integrator or consumer, it is incumbent on all of us to become better educated so we can truly understand what role we are playing in contributing to the issues,” she says. 

“Education and awareness are the first steps; creation of an actionable plan to reduce our footprint is the next step; then putting that plan into action is the only way to affect real change. 

“Let’s face it, we are all busy and producing a plan on our own is a daunting task. Committing to going through SAVE Certification can shortcut the process and help an organisation get started with developing an actionable plan in a one-day workshop. In my humble opinion, that doesn’t seem like a huge commitment when you put it in the context of literally saving the planet.” 

For more information on the SAVe Initiative, please visit