Published in February 2005

Green Audiovisual Systems
By Joseph Bocchiaro III, PhD, CTS-D

The Harvard School of Public Health at Landmark Center. Green building considerations may extend into audiovisual-enabled spaces.


The impact of LEED.

      Every 10 years or so, when the price of oil rockets and people feel it in their wallets, we become energy and conservation conscious all over again. Each time we learn more, investing in far-reaching research projects such as fusion energy, fuel cells and advanced materials. This time, it’s particularly rough though, as we trade in our jumbo SUVs for hybrid vehicles. What’s that? Hybrids? You mean technology really can make a difference in fuel consumption—for real this time? How about in buildings? Can we decrease our oil bills the same way, and claim social responsibility as a bonus, all through embracing technology? The stakes are as high as ever: global warming, ozone layer depletion, natural resource depletion, pollution. How can audiovisual professionals make a difference?

Architecture as Culprit
     According to Architecture Week [February 2004], “When we think about the causes of ‘global warming,’ what commonly comes to mind are gas-guzzling cars and smoke-spewing industrial processes. But a lion’s share of the pollutants that cause global warming are attributable to architecture. … Residential and commercial buildings are conventionally thought of as consuming 38% of energy in the United States. But when he [Edward Mazria, an architect] adds in industrial building operation consumption and the embodied energy of building materials, he calculates that architecture’s share is actually closer to half the country’s total energy consumption. Similarly, architecture is responsible for 46% of US carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions” (“Architectural Global Warming” by Susan Smith). What about our presentation technologies in these buildings? Is the only thing green about audiovisual the amount of green that it costs?
     As part of the construction industry, we should all be aware of some of the energy efficiency and conservation trends now developing that will affect us sooner rather than later. There is a “win-win” end result for those who do act on these initiatives. As a marketing effort, there is much to be gained from joining the many manufacturers and designers who contribute to green buildings. As a citizen of Earth, there is a payback in the form of a cleaner environment. As we shall see, the benefits of a healthy building environment surpass the obvious, and contribute to a more humane and productive workplace.

Energy Star
     Perhaps the most prominent energy-efficient initiative, familiar to anyone who has purchased an appliance in the last few years, is “Energy Star.” A program from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Energy Star is defined as “a government-backed program helping businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency.” For businesses, the EPA’s Energy Star partnership “offers a proven energy management strategy that helps in measuring current energy performance, setting goals, tracking savings and rewarding improvements.”
     This program extends beyond the familiar appliances and furnaces to building management systems, and is a component of the dual benefits for businesses: cost reductions and care for the environment. To this author’s knowledge, there is no audiovisual equipment currently rated under this program, although there certainly are opportunities for many audiovisual equipment manufacturers.

  Green building criteria emphasize comfort and "soft features" as important components of human-oriented architecture.

     On a larger scale, we recognize that audiovisual systems are components of buildings. At this level, there is a broader initiative that considers the environmental impact of both components and systems. Officially, “The US Green Building Council (USGBC) is the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from across the building industry working to promote buildings that are environmentally responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work.” The concept of the “Green Building” stems mainly from this organization, wherein there are significant differences in design, materials and construction techniques that set projects apart from the status quo.
Beginning with many public buildings and now extending to a variety of others, this concept is becoming a movement, a trend and a standard. Architects and engineers are rapidly becoming aware of the ramifications that these standards are having on their design requirements, as clients appreciate the benefits that green buildings offer for the occupants.
     According to “Making the Business Case for High Performance Green Buildings,” the US Green Building Council’s booklet, “in April 2000, the Environment and Public Works Committee of the US Senate convened a roundtable of public officials, real-estate practitioners, academicians and other members of the US Green Building Council to educate members of Congress about building design trends. The first of its kind in Congress, the roundtable generated a rich dialog about the environmental impacts of the building sector, the barriers and opportunities it faces, and the role of the federal sector. …
     Ten years ago, the theory of high-performance ‘green’ buildings was hard to define and the practice even more obscure. All that is changing fast. In just three years, 3% of all new construction projects in the United States have registered for certification under the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System from the US Green Building Council.”
     This movement is not just about energy efficiency; it is about the entire internal and external environment of a building. Quoted in the booklet is Christine Ervin, president and CEO of the Council: “The best sustainable designs are not just environmentally responsible. They also produce buildings where employees can thrive and productivity can soar. We call those high-performance green buildings.”
     It is curious how we in the audiovisual industry often use the same language when speaking of the benefits of our systems, also claiming thriving employees and productivity gains. Two of this author’s current projects under construction will be LEEDS certified and will contain significant audiovisual systems. It will be interesting to observe the synergies of advanced systems in such an environment.
     A large part of LEED initiatives is the designation of “green products,” with goals similar to those of the already described ENERGY STAR. According to a BD&C White Paper Survey from Reed Research Group, “The green products market has exploded in the past decade, from low-VOC adhesives and energy-efficient lighting, to waterless urinals and recyclable carpet. Yet 55% of Building Team members state that they have trouble sourcing green products. This is usually because ‘green’ is not always clearly defined, say 81% of the Building Team.” BD&C provides educational resources that help the Building Team make sense of green-product certification and standards organizations. Awareness and education are the first steps toward a successful project-wide LEED implementation.

Goals of LEED
     The USGBC website ( explains that the goals behind LEED led to its creation, which is chartered to:
• define “green building” by establishing a common standard of measurement
• promote integrated, whole-building design practices
• recognize environmental leadership in the building industry
• stimulate green competition
• raise consumer awareness of green-building benefits
• transform the building market.
     This list appears similar to our own industry’s public-awareness campaigns, such as Avolution from the International Communications Industries Association, and has many parallels. More than 1615 projects have been registered as LEED to date.

LEED Guidelines

Residents of Loudoun County VA felt that having their new School Administration Building become LEED-certified was worth an additional month of design time to ensure conformance, and provide future cost-savings on energy.

     How, specifically, do these principles apply to projects that audiovisual professionals may be involved in? The USGBC booklet provides a 10-point guideline for project-by-project interpretation:
     1) Recover Higher First Costs - If Any: There is a perception that high-performance green buildings cost more to build. In many cases this is true, but there are many ways of looking at this issue. As it relates to an audiovisual system, for example, suppose equipment were utilized that cost more initially, but the energy savings paid for the differential in a short period of time. The energy savings would also continue to save the client money through the lifetime of the building.
     An example of the advantages and challenges of the use of energy-efficient equipment is given by Rusty Bennett, vice president of sales and marketing at audio amplifier manufacturer Carver Professional. “We have developed designs that allow us to build a high-efficiency power supply. This is difficult to manufacture and costs more, while adhering to our fanatical audiophile standards. The amplifier efficiencies of our traditional and spread spectrum designs are 50% and 80%, respectively. This 25 to 30% improvement was a factor leading to the use of a large number of our energy-efficient amplifiers in the Athens Olympics. We have been working with another client, a theater chain, whose equipment is on 24/7, and has calculated a significant cost savings on power over time.”
     2) Design for Cost-Effectiveness: The audiovisual industry has been shifting presentation technologies to more energy-efficient devices such as plasma and LCD screens, as opposed to CRT-based devices. Building designers realize the benefits of these technologies in ways besides decreased power consumption. For example, higher efficiency means less heat load, which allows designers to utilize smaller HVAC equipment. This, in turn, also uses less power and takes up less space.
     In turn, the building physical plant areas can be designed to be smaller. Although audiovisual technologies appear to be a small component of the building, if each building technology is considered, there is a cumulative effect. A shift in one area has a “trickle-down” effect on the entire project.
     3) Boost Employee Productivity: Productivity has both measurable and intangible aspects. Audiovisual systems in a workplace may impact many of an occupant’s daily activities that affect productivity. For example, information displays in public spaces, sound-masking systems, advanced presentation systems, television and music in relaxation areas, videoconference systems to decrease travel time, and collaborative meeting technologies all contribute to efficiencies if properly implemented.
The USGBC recognizes that there is still much to learn: “Does available research identify the cause and effect for many of these specialized design features? Not yet. But emerging data are compelling, prompting new lines of research across the country.” Clearly our own industry must continue its research in this area to become a recognized aspect of the Green Building movement.
     4) Enhance Health and Well-Being: In many ways, health and well-being are tied to employee productivity, certainly contributing to it. It can be argued that audiovisual and conferencing technologies promote less stressful environments if they are used intelligently and operated properly.

Natural materials, natural lighting and plants are incorporated into green buildings for health and environmental sensitivity purposes.

       A simple example of an audiovisual system enhancing well-being could be a display in an elevator. This device could show weather, traffic conditions, stock market reports, headline news and company information, all at a glance. The availability of this information during typically useless time spent in an elevator can be comforting and educational all at once.
     5) Reduce Liability: This Green Building advantage does not strictly relate to audiovisual technology, because it is intended to reduce the instances of cases related to “sick buildings” and health problems due to building con-ditions. Perhaps the use of audio-visual technology to make information on safety and health issues available to building occupants would be a useful strategy for green-building designers.
     6) Create Value for Tenants: According to the USGBC booklet, “High performance features translate into high value for tenants. For example, the annual rate of employee relocation within a building, or churn, averages 25% for most commercial spaces. At an average cost of $2500, this quickly becomes costly and disruptive. Flexible design features common to integrated green buildings can cut churn costs by 90%.” We have all seen the impact of “churn,” and many of us are familiar with some of the information technology equipment that minimizes the difficulty with relocating employees. The use of Voice over IP telephony, distributed audiovisual and videoconferencing networks, standardized conference and office space equipment, and other technology advances may contribute to lessening the impact of tenant reorganizations and space repurposing.
     Creative audiovisual infrastructure that allows tenants to retain equipment when moving out of spaces is another example of how buildings can be designed at the outset for flexible use. Ultimately, the cost savings that building owners realize from these efficiencies, and that are passed on to clients, creates the greatest value for building tenants.
     7) Increase Property Value: Audiovisual designers and integrators who are asked to implement and document green-building projects should be aware of the client’s motivations for development. Certainly, the occupants will benefit from all of these initiatives described here but, in the end, a building usually is an investment property, and there are business decisions at the core of its development.
     The USGBC explains, “An asset that maintains its value through higher occupancy and easier maintenance is easier to sell and may command a higher market valuation. There is growing confidence in the industry that a high-performance green building can either capture lease premiums or present a more competitive property in an otherwise tough market.” Once again, there is a “win-win” situation, with the building owner paying attention to commendable, perhaps altruistic, design aspects and profiting from the implementation.
     8) Take Advantage of Incentive Programs: Not only do building owners increase the value of their buildings, they may benefit from monetary incentives to create a green building. According to the USGBC booklet: “With the increase in private and public benefits stemming from high-performance green buildings, developers are eligible for even greater financial and regulatory incentives.”
     Many states and locales now encourage their own projects to be LEED certified. Private industry is also taking up this call for social responsibility. For example, the Kresge Foundation offers challenge grants for green-building projects, and is implementing initiatives “to support design, planning, and educational assistance for LEED certified buildings.” Perhaps our own industry would do well in competitive times to position itself as a component of the green-building package, allowing clients to take advantage of these financial perquisites.
     9) Benefit Your Community: Audiovisual professionals may appreciate the marketing leverage that results from working on LEED projects. Many of these buildings are recognized publicly and this recognition may be extended to subsystems such as audiovisual. Beyond marketing potential, however, lies the foundation of LEED philosophy: Better, more efficient and less polluting projects that benefit the communities they are built in.
     10) Achieve More Predictable Results: Audiovisual professionals, who work daily in challenging environments, will appreciate these comments from the USGBC: “Some of life’s surprises may be pleasant—but not necessarily those encountered during the design and construction process. Green-building design and construction emphasizes ‘best of class’ practices that reduce project uncertainty and risk, and enhance the final product for the customer. Green building emphasizes proven design and decision-making processes such as an interactive design, life cycle and value analysis, and energy modeling.”
     These are the goals of any design and integration professionals, and may be embraced on green-building projects. Green-building design and construction teams are interested in innovative ideas and techniques, providing further professional challenges and growth for forward-looking audiovisual companies.

LEED as it Applies to AV Systems
     LEED criteria apply to entire building projects, not individual components or systems. Only a project can be certified, and carry a LEED designation. However, design-, integration- and component-related companies can become members in the organization. Their products and services may draw the attention of project teams seeking out the “green” qualities that are represented. We’ve alluded to some of these qualities here, but others may be more subtle, open to interpretation and judgment, and are directly applicable to building projects.
     According to the USGBC website, “USGBC recommends that manufacturers familiarize themselves with the Rating System, make sure that they completely understand the credits that apply to their products, and communicate the details to their clientele.” The design teams are responsible for considering all aspects of a green-building design when submitting their project for LEED certification. This is a formal process, and is carried out by providing “LEED letter templates” in the various categories under scrutiny.
     The USBC provides these templates as part of the “Green Building Rating System” documents, downloadable at Interested parties become familiar with the many parameters that are considered when scoring a project, each parameter counting toward overall “credits.” These credits are earned primarily from directly documented and observable design criteria. However, many credits are judged on their merits, and it is likely that many audiovisual-related credits fall into this category. The merits are manifold, with some examples described here:
     • Example 1: The “Innovation & Design Process” allows credits intended “To provide design teams and projects the opportunity to be awarded points for exceptional performance above the requirements set by the LEED Green Building Rating System and/or innovative performance in Green Building categories not specifically addressed by the LEED Green Building Rating
     This blanket category could be applied to an audiovisual “metacontrol” system, for example, which would allow a centralized and automated audiovisual control system to be integrated with the building management system. The new oBIX (Open Building Information eXchange) initiative from the building controls industry is a possibility for this electronic interaction. This interaction could include oBIX’s features such as environmental monitoring, financial applications, human-resource systems, supply-chain management and CRM (customer relationship management). All of these parameters are applicable to audiovisual systems in medium to large enterprises.
     • Example 2: The “Innovation & Design Process” allows credits specifically that “Apply strategies or measures that are not covered by LEED, such as acoustic performance, education of occupants, community development or lifecycle analysis of material choices.” Again, audiovisual and acoustics technologies are directly applicable to this section. Specific technologies such as properly applied acoustic design and treatment, sound-masking systems, training-room systems, public-information displays and distance learning systems with community educational institutions fall into this category. The analysis of energy usage consumed by audiovisual systems, and how metacontrol may be used to wisely manage system power consumption is another up-front effort that could contribute to receiving credits for the project.
     • Example 3: The “Materials & Resources” category allows credits for “Recycled Content” used in building materials. Many audiovisual manufacturers are utilizing such materials already, particularly recovered heavy metals such as lead and gold. Documentation of the recycled content of these products could be made available to audiovisual system designers for preferential specification in LEED projects.
     • Example 4: The “Materials & Resources” category also allows credits for “Local/Regional Materials.” This category is intended to diminish the energy consumption utilized in the transportation of goods to the building site. There are guidelines that describe the calculations for the percentages of the materials utilized in the final products, but clearly there is a preference for final manufacturing near the green building.
     • Example 5: The “Sustainable Sites” category allows credits for “Alternative Transportation” initiatives. The use of videoconferencing and distance-learning technologies, used in place of transportation (such as with telecommuting) could arguably be used for LEED credit. There is significant data on the cost-benefit ratios of these technologies already, from government and industry sources, in support of the justification for their inclusion in building projects.
     There are many other possibilities and opportunities, open to interpretation; these are but a few of the obvious examples imagined by this author. The LEED checklist should be reviewed by the project designers to determine which categories apply to the specific project. The project must also be supervised by a trained “commissioning team” that is responsible for the identification of the credits and the application process. The availability of trained LEED commissioners on an audiovisual design staff may also be a marketing advantage for consulting and integration companies pursuing LEED projects.

Our concern for the environment, dependency on fossil fuels, and interest in creating productive and comfortable workplaces are strong incentives to become involved with the principles behind green-building initiatives. Because LEED is strongly endorsed by the US government, it is fast becoming a standard that cannot be ignored. New opportunities await audiovisual companies of all types that are attentive to this responsible and worthwhile program.

Joseph Bocchiaro III, Ph.D., CTS-D, is an audiovisual systems designer and educator, and a member of Sound & Communications’ Technical Council. He can be reached at

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