By Christopher Walsh.
It’s not easy being green, as the song goes. Happily, Kermit the Frog and the many artists who’ve covered this Sesame Street classic (check out Van Morrison’s swinging rendition on Hard Nose the Highway) realize that “I am green and it’ll do fine, it’s beautiful/And I think it’s what I want to be.”
Not surprisingly, “being green” has already been appropriated by at least one corporation–was it an oil company?–in its public-relations efforts at the dawn of what New York Times columnist/author Thomas Friedman calls the Energy-Climate Era. (Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How it Can Renew America [Farrar, Straus & Giroux] is a terrifying read about climate change and the potential impact of rapid development, particularly in China and India, on same.)
The alarming data scientists are regularly presenting has pushed the issue of climate change into the mainstream. It is impossible not to hear about it regularly, if not from the news media then in a marketing campaign. It can be difficult to determine what is genuine and what is simply exploitation of the issue du jour (how does painting gas stations green mitigate CO2 emissions?).
But clearly, manufacturers, builders, governments and individuals are thinking about and, increasingly, acting to develop and implement alternative and renewable energy technology. If Friedman is correct, the challenge is accompanied by enormous opportunity; in general, entrepreneurs are far ahead of government on renewable energy, and the urgency that Al Gore describes in An Inconvenient Truth is spurring many to seize that opportunity.
Thus, we introduce Green Audio at prosoundnews.com. Each month, we’ll speak with audio professionals about the changes they are making to address energy consumption, pollution and the carbon footprint of equipment, production facilities and tours. Manufacturers, designers and architects, touring companies–it seems that every sector of professional audio is beginning to address the pressures of climate change, limited fossil fuel resources and the mainstreaming of green consciousness. The Energy-Climate Era is reshaping our industry; we hope to present case studies, including your own. Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org with feedback, suggestions, tips, and, especially, solutions.
We begin with a conversation with John Storyk of the Walters-Storyk Design Group, who discusses how the greening of professional audio has affected his work.
John Storyk has designed over 3,000 recording studios, corporate conference rooms, broadcast complexes and audio-for-video suites around the world. His credits range from multi-million dollar facilities in Kuala Lumpur to New York’s Jazz At Lincoln Center complex, and studios in Brazil, Argentina and India. WSDG clients include: Whitney Houston, Bob Marley, Hollywood film composer Carter Burwell, Aerosmith, Tim “Timbaland” Mosley, Tracy Chapman, Goo Goo Dolls, Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen and Alicia Keys. Corporate clients include Hoffman La Roche, The Food Network, Interlochen Public Radio, CBS and New York City’s WNET.
Storyk has also designed distance-learning facilities for New York’s Hunter College, the experimental Ross School in East Hampton, New York, and high-end home theaters for such clients as Richard Gere and Clive Davis. He frequently addresses professional audio industry conferences and Audio Engineering Society (AES) workshops. With an international staff of over 40 designers and acousticians, WSDG maintains offices in New York, San Francisco, Beijing, Switzerland, Argentina and Brazil.
Pro Sound News: Has the growing “green” movement changed your business?
John Storyk: This is not an eight-hour-a-day phenomenon for us, but we have several initiatives in our office, which we’re doing. The most important is to make sure all of our specs and all materials that we use are as green as possible. This is not rocket science, nor is this unique to any designer, but it’s taken us awhile to figure this out. We use a lot of wood, a lot of insulation, and different kinds of paint. During the last three to six months, two people–one from our office in New York, one from our office in Brazil–have scoured all the materials that we use and specify, and have either modified brands that we use or changed our specifications to make them as green as possible. We’re pretty much done with that, and feel that we’re at a good moment right now. Now we have to maintain it.
The second big initiative is to always be looking at our energy, mostly in lighting. If someone wants an SSL console, they’re getting it. To be honest, nobody–I feel–is going to make a decision on equipment based on energy consumption, at least not today. Someone could take a different position, and that’s fine, but that’s not what I’m seeing.
PSN: Because it seems insignificant?
JS: It’s insignificant, and if somebody thinks that those are the speakers they need, well, “by the way, they use this amount of power.” Having said that, it doesn’t mean that we can’t have smart power-management systems, which we try to do. I think that what we can have, like a lot of buildings, is better, more efficient lighting, so we’re using more LEDs or color temperature-corrected fluorescents. We’ve been doing that for a while, but the LED lighting is extraordinary right now and has really taken hold in a nice way. Of course, they have 90 percent power reduction, etc.
Also, we have two big projects right now where we’re using geothermal for cooling. That’s a huge power saving. The biggest consumer of electricity in most studios is air conditioning. If we can be involved from the beginning in recommending a geothermal solution, over the long run there will be a tremendous energy saving. So we have two projects now with geothermal solutions, and I look to have more. I think we’ll be having more of that as people recognize that this is a very good first-cost initiative. They pay a little more on the first cost, and hopefully, with a little luck from Washington, our new President will give some good tax credits for thermal install, and that will make that kind of install a lot more plausible. Those are the fronts that we’re working on.
PSN: What materials are out, and what are you substituting for them?
JS: We are not going to use woods from endangered species–there’s an obvious one. And we try to use natural fibers in carpets and whatnot. We’re still in the process of examining our insulation and are trying to find products that use recycled materials that give us the same absorption values. We haven’t finished that yet, but that will be kind of cool. Obviously, studios use a [lot] of insulation. If we can find a product that had a high percentage of recycled material, that would be very good. Most of the lead on this is going to have to come from the manufacturers. We don’t really make anything; we specify and use. Most of the pressure is going to be on them. As they get the word out, the specifiers–the designers, the people who actually use the stuff–will specify accordingly.
PSN: What was the impetus for re-examining all your materials?
JS: It wasn’t so much pressure, but continued asking from clients, and just awareness. We’re acousticians, but we’re also architects and designers, and we’re also people that live in the same world that everyone else lives in. We have a lot of projects where LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] certification is part of the project. We are not LEED certifiers, but we’re working with firms that are constantly trying to get LEED certification. Most government projects, and most school projects, are looking for some kind of LEED cert, so right off the bat, everybody’s turning to everybody involved in the project asking how to get points: “Anything you can do to give us points?” Right now, there seem to be no hard LEED points for acoustical benefits–in other words, “if you make your space quieter, you get one LEED point.” There seems to be none of that right now, but it wouldn’t surprise me if something like that happened in the near future.
That pressure, and general awareness of the world we’re in, got us to take this on as an initiative. And it makes us feel good too–it’s what you’re supposed to be doing.
PSN: LEED certification is not very well known or understood outside the fields of construction and energy conservation–what’s your take on it?
JS: LEED is one certification. I’m not endorsing it, I’m not denying it. It has had its critics, and it does have some flaws. There’s a whole “eco-certification war” going on as to who should be the bastion of eco-certification. I’ll let other people play that out. I have no interest in being in the way; I do have an interest in reading about it. Right now, the 500 lb. gorilla is getting a LEED cert. We’ve studied the rules, and there are some problems. You can get a point for spending millions on an HVAC system, and you can also get a point for putting some bike racks in front of your building. There are some issues; on the other hand, it’s better than nothing. At least, when that started to take traction a few years ago, for the first time there was some uniform way of measuring ecology in your buildings and your environments, and until you can measure something, it’s hard to talk about it.
Is the measurement system correct? Not 100 percent. Can it be improved? Yes. Should we trash it? Probably not. We’re along for the ride, so to speak, but most of the things that we’ve signed on to, like endorsing certain kinds of materials, or changing our specs, we’re doing them, yes, because they could be part of a LEED program, but also because we just think they’re right. When you change a spec to use only woods that are not coming from endangered species, I don’t really have to care whether I get a LEED point for that. If somebody gets a LEED point for that, terrific; I just have to know that I feel good about that spec. Or, don’t use poisonous paints, that kind of stuff. Or, “let’s put in a lighting system that saves 50 percent of our energy,” or “let’s try to really promote a geothermal solution for our air conditioning.” Whether we’re getting tax credits or LEED points, these are business and political decisions. I just know it’s good, solid thinking.
PSN: It’s good to see that someone is actually doing it, and that awareness is clearly on an upswing.
JS: Yeah, and it’s happening in our small niche industry. I’ve tried to give you a few areas where we’re paying more attention to it than not.
Walters-Storyk Design Group
U.S. Green Building Council