By Christopher Walsh
It’s not all about electrons in this green thing. Consumption of electricity, and the means by which it is generated, is one thing, albeit a very large one. But as we’ve seen with some equipment manufacturers–government-mandated phase-out of toxic materials in their products, for example–the actual components of pro audio products are also significant with regard to pollution and waste.
The professional audio industry has begun to address this, assessing and adapting products to emerging green standards.
Auralex is one manufacturer that has taken the lead on greening its products. Last year, the company introduced a new formulation for foam development and the first green acoustical foam product on the market, StudioFoam. At last month’s Winter NAMM Show, Auralex introduced EcoTech, its first green acoustical panel.
Not long ago, I spoke with Tim Martin, Auralex director of sales, about his company’s green initiative.
“Our first real attempt at trying to be eco-friendly didn’t have anything to do with our products,” says Martin. “It was a company-wide thing we did here to save paper, not print stuff, and generally do the right thing when it comes to the environment.
“This allowed us to take care of the environment, because our foam products, which have been our bread and butter for a long time, have got a very high percentage content of petroleum. As gas prices went up around $4 per gallon, you can imagine what that was starting to do to our ability to compete in the marketplace with that product.
“So we went to a 65-percent-or-more soy-based formulation for our foam products, which allowed us to do two things. One, it allowed us to make a better product, which was a nice benefit, and it allowed us to lock in our cost-to-goods, and to not have to continue to give our dealers and end-users, ultimately, price increases.
“We really liked how that went, and started looking for other products and things that we could do to be more green. Most of our ProPanel line is traditionally made of fiberglass. There’s all kinds of problems with fiberglass: it’s got dust particles and stuff that make your skin itch; it’s not a good thing to breathe in. But we always have to be cognizant of our leadership position in the acoustics market. Whatever we bring to market has to be acoustically sound, so to speak.
“We started testing our formulation for the EcoTech substrate, and found that it tested extremely well, not only acoustically but also from a safety perspective–it does meet the Class A standard for flame and smoke development, so it’s a perfect construction material. There’s no particulate, and it’s 65 percent greener than anything we’ve used before.
“That’s the impetus, and those are our first two forays into the green initiative. In addition to that, just about all of our fabrics now are 100 percent recycled polyester. When you buy a ProPanel or one of our SonicPrint panels with the EcoTech substrate, you’re really reducing the environmental footprint by using those products.”
PSN: Is it just as effective as what you made previously?
“Yes, and in some cases more effective.”
PSN: Are you realizing any cost savings at this point?
“We haven’t. It’s not that significant in terms of savings for us, but we made the investment, and it cost us money to do the changeover. Before we’ll ever realize any real cost benefit, we looked in the future and said, ‘Hey, if we don’t make this investment now, we’re going to lose market share, and it’s going to be very painful for our end-users that have come to us for years, because our prices are not going to be competitive.’ So we made the investment up front before seeing any return on that investment.”
PSN: Are your competitors doing this as well?
“We know our competitors keep an eye on us, and if you’ve been watching the press at all, in our advertising you see that we’ve been pushing on the green angle and have been for the last 12 months.”
PSN: Do you feel there is a more positive perception of Auralex as a result of this, and that that will result in greater sales?
“There’s always a lag time, but I think it will. When you talk to some of the best and brightest consultants, architects that are out there designing the spaces that need acoustics treatment, they’re so used to spec’ing fiberglass that there’s a little bit of a lag time between the product introduction and really seeing that spike in sales. But that’s not to say we haven’t seen any; we have. The number of inquiries coming in for EcoTech is increasing every month. We’re not displeased, and we think 2009 is going to be even better.
“One thing on the foam, which is interesting, is we didn’t give consumers a choice: When we went green, we went green. We made the announcement at NAMM [in 2008], and by the middle of April we had our entire line turned over to the soy-based formulation.”
PSN: If there’s no downside, what’s to complain about if you’re a customer?
“Exactly, and you’ll start to see this February, March, April of ‘09 that it doesn’t cost any more to go green. That’s going to be a big campaign for us.”
Auralex Goes Green