Published in October 2008

Demystifying Sustainability And LEED
By Tony Warner, CTS-D, CSI CDT, LEED AP
How important is LEED to AV?

Perhaps more than any other topic, green issues surround us today, both at work and at home. It seems that virtually all manufacturers are now weaving green text into their marketing campaigns in some form or another. It’s difficult to have a discussion about trends in AV without hearing the terms “sustainability,” “green” or “LEED.” Although elevating public awareness is undoubtedly positive for everyone, there continues to be a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding these issues in the industry.

All of these terms essentially refer to how eco-friendly a product or project is. Sustainability and green are both generic terms suggesting that which is environmentally friendly and conserves resources. In the built environment, “sustainable” tends to be used more formally and “green” tends to be more colloquial. The big misconceptions arise when we start to refer to LEED.

LEED stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design,” and represents both a certification and an accreditation. LEED certification is given to buildings; LEED accreditation is given to individuals and is indicated by LEED AP (accredited professional). Project certification is managed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), whereas professional accreditation is now managed by the spin-off organization, Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI).

Currently, there are four certification levels buildings can achieve: LEED Certified, LEED Silver, LEED Gold and LEED Platinum, based on how many sustainable elements are included in the design as recognized in the USGBC rating systems. There are about 10 different LEED rating systems specifically tailored toward project type. Some of the more common are LEED-NC (new construction), LEED-CI (commercial interiors) and LEED for Schools.

Individuals can earn the LEED AP accreditation by taking an exam for any one of the various rating systems, but there is no delineation once the accreditation is achieved.

There are several incentives to pursue LEED project certification. The first and most obvious is simply to be good stewards of the environment with building practices. Although often there are higher upfront costs to achieve some of the sustainable benchmarks, research shows that they can be offset by the long-term savings in efficiency and conservation. Additionally, today, many building owners and some municipalities require that all new buildings achieve a certain LEED certification.

At this point, little of the LEED rating system is influenced by the communications fields. There is a heavy focus on such things as site work and selection, water efficiency, energy conservation and indoor air quality. There are a few limited areas in which AV control systems could potentially contribute to a few credits, but they certainly would not be the primary catalyst toward achieving those credits.

Some may argue that control systems could be used to help automate a building’s MEP systems and contribute toward energy conservation credits, but it’s a stretch to explain why that would be a more appropriate choice than using one of the mainstays in building automation. Lighting control probably stands as the greatest opportunity in the current structure, but even it represents a small part of the rating system.

Choosing AV equipment that is power friendly can also be a contributor, but the energy conservation credits look at percentage savings across the entire building, so this can be difficult to quantify. Currently, two innovation credits are available for new ideas in sustainability, but there is no shortage of ways to achieve those. Providing an AV solution that can be used for one of those credits, although it may have sustainable value, really provides little value to an architect figuring out how to achieve the required number of points.

Bottom line is that, in spite of all the hype, in actuality, there is virtually little or no opportunity for AV systems within the current LEED rating system at this time. The next version of the rating system, LEED 2009, due out in several months, also does little in recognizing communications systems.

Unfortunately, there likely will not be another overhaul of the rating system for as long as two years. In the meantime, as an industry, we need to use that time to become better organized and focused with our sustainable message.

Although gaining formal recognition within the LEED rating system may still be a distant light at the end of the tunnel, there are many opportunities already available to us for incorporating sustainable elements into products and designs. As we adopt these, we will gain traction and begin to see formal recognition outside of our industry.

Tony Warner, CTS-D, CSI CDT, LEED AP, is responsible for managing RTKLís AV and acoustics practices within the firmís Special Systems Design Group. Warner has played an instrumental role in the development of the Audiovisual Design Reference Manual by InfoComm and BICSI, currently chairs InfoCommís CTS-D Scheme committee and has been a leading supporter of InfoCommís recent green initiatives. He is a member of Sound & Communicationsí Technical Council.
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