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Sound Reinforcement Goes Green - ProSoundNetwork.com

Sound Reinforcement Goes Green

by Clive Young. Green is the new black. These days, there's few things more hip than being environmentally aware, and around the world, individuals, corporations and entire industries have taken up the cause, often to good effect. However, while production entities often aid rock stars and politicians in spreading the word about "going green," the companies themselves are faced with a particular challenge if they, too, want to adopt environmentally conscious practices.
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An event by Pulse Staging, a sustainable AV staging company.
by Clive Young.

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Green is the new black. These days, there's few things more hip than being environmentally aware, and around the world, individuals, corporations and entire industries have taken up the cause, often to good effect. However, while production entities often aid rock stars and politicians in spreading the word about "going green," the companies themselves are faced with a particular challenge if they, too, want to adopt environmentally conscious practices.

"If it's purely an altruistic reason for going green, then it doesn't belong in business," said Midori Connolly, CEO of Escondido, CA-based Pulse Staging. Having founded her company to be the first sustainable AV Staging company in the United States, Connolly has a surprisingly unsentimental view on the matter: "We really need to shift our thinking that sustainability is a philanthropic effort; giving to give is perfectly fine in our personal lives, but as a business, we have to consider the health of the environment and society in which we would like to do business."

While society creates a need for SR companies--we like to get together in large groups, after all--it's also a major stumbling block. "A full 85 percent of the carbon footprint created by a concert comes from the people who drive there," reported AES Education Committee vice chair John Krivit, who recently hosted an AES panel on green touring solutions. "I talked to a city planning engineer, and he explained that if you put four people in a car, it's the equivalent of putting 40 people in a bus because of the gas mileage. So there's little that you can do with the 85 percent, other than holding concerts in cities with effective public transportation. Sound reinforcement companies are looking at trying to cut a sliver off the 15 percent when we talk about green production."

With that dismaying news, it would seem that there's little reason for live sound companies to bother with an environmental effort--but that's not the case. The biggest benefit it turns out, is that it often turns out to be financially smart: Going green can keep you out of the red.

By their very nature, concert tours and large-scale events use a lot of energy. Trucks carry production gear, busses carry bands and crews, and the energy spent to keep a production running smoothly creates a massive carbon footprint. To offset their energy issues, some concert tours have taken to using bio-diesel to fuel their busses and trucks, and others have taken on using carbon credits, where they pay specialists to plant enough trees to offset their energy consumption.

Even without such efforts, one obvious move for live sound companies is to create tighter truck packs composed of smaller, lighter audio equipment. Recent advances in SR technology aid in that regard, whether they're compact line arrays, digital consoles where plug-ins replace racks of outboard gear, or modern networking systems that replace long, heavy copper cables with simple Cat-5 cables. Less gear and less weight means less gas consumption and vehicle wear.

"'Green' has more than one meaning," Krivit concurred. "If a sound company can send one less truck, they're saving money. In that sense, green isn't just be ecological; it's being economical. You can save the environment and money at the same time."

SR companies can also take their green mindset one step further by looking at the practices of the manufacturers they buy from. "The magic words right now are 'energy efficiency' and 'responsible manufacturing,'" said Connolly. "Look for manufacturers who have publicly made a commitment to sustainability by obtaining ISO 14001 certification (an environmental management system), sourcing green building materials (such as FSC wood or Canare's non-PVC eco cables) or are using alternative energy sources--for instance, it's not a pro audio company, but AV Stumpfl's factory is powered purely by solar power." Another consideration is to look at manufacturers whose gear conforms to European nations' environmental standards, which are often more stringent than those in the U.S.

One area where environmental awareness can help a live sound vendor is marketing--because not only can being green help sell services, it can help clients market themselves as well. "If you're going up against someone else for a job and you say 'we use green practices,' that's added value--it's something that people like, so it's a marketing tool," said Krivit. "For instance, let's say you build a solar-powered stage for an awards show: the network loves it because they can write up a press release about it, turn to their boss and say 'Look what we did--not only did we hire someone, but we got some added value, because it makes our corporation look better."

In a similar vein, while only 15 percent of a concert's carbon footprint is generated by the production, greening that effort allows the artist to lead by example. "The issue isn't so much the impact at the rock concert, but rather the impact people take away from it," added Krivit. "When rock stars and the entertainment industry start leading the way, the public may be more open to making changes in how they drive cars, turn off lights and use energy in their homes."

Fans are mercurial though, and artists--along with the causes they support--can come and go in the blink of an eye. Is green production--and by extension, "going green"--just a fad? According to Connolly, yes.
"I'm well-known for my prophesy that in the next five years, 'Green will go away,'" she said with a laugh. "It will simply become business as usual as we all gain knowledge and adjust our event practices to account for long-term growth and stability. With a wealth of standards coming our way in the next year, it won't be long before we all begin assessing our own systems and obtain the education we've all been searching for."

Pulse Staging
www.pulsestaging.com