August 2006
  
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“We’re ready, and we’re waiting! Which is it?”

  Thomas Hartman

  Thomas Hartman, P E
The Hartman Company

Contributing Editor

The setting for this year’s American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) Annual Meeting was spectacular. Located just outside Quebec’s Old City gates and starting on the day that Quebec uniquely celebrates independence gave a decidedly festive undertone to the meeting. It was with this spirit that I went to register and found a small card in my registration package that outlined the ASHRAE Strategic Plan, the first directive of which stated that ASHRAE intends to “lead the advancement of sustainable building design and operations.”

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I did a quick double-take because I thought that to be a most audacious statement. To me, ASHRAE is not at all prepped for such a role and I questioned whether the author(s) of that statement even understands what such a role entails. It seemed to me that our ASHRAE leadership was perhaps swept away by the almost magical setting of the Meeting.

Throughout the meeting, I spent considerable time in thought about this issue and discussed it with others. Most like me tended to view the ASHRAE community as a player, but an unlikely candidate to lead a campaign for sustainability. To us, ASHRAE is currently tied intellectually (and financially) to the more traditional elements in our industry. The income of the engineers, manufacturers and others that make up the ASHRAE community is directly linked to resource consumption. More iron, steel and copper translates to more engineering fees, manufacturing profits, and the livelihood of our members. Developing building comfort solutions that avoid the systems, equipment and methods we traditionally use makes us, well – uncomfortable. I remembered that just prior to my arrival, a public energy agency asked my firm for a second opinion about a chiller plant that the A&E firm recommends tearing down and replacing, ostensibly because it is not large enough for an expansion of the facility. The agency calculated (and we agreed) that the plant had sufficient expansion capacity and could easily be retrofitted to high efficiency operation. The A&E firm and their potential equipment suppliers applied very high redundancy factors to show otherwise. Then, during the Annual Meeting I attended a presentation about a central plant upgrade. Almost in passing, the presenter noted a decentralized direct/indirect evaporative cooling alternative to the chiller plant had been considered but discarded because its payback was something over 10 years. If we are to be the leaders in sustainable design, having a low energy alternative that would entirely pay for itself in the order of a dozen years might be the right answer. That thought was not addressed by anyone in the discussion that followed the presentation.

As ASHRAE members, we need to face the fact that these examples are not at all unusual. Throughout the last century our community has embraced tearing out old equipment and replacing it with new, and we have not worked to educate our clients on the reduction of risk that comes with investing in less energy intensive systems. At this time, our industry – and our organization – has few bold initiatives and only a very few bold members willing to truly embrace the goal of truly sustainable building design, construction and operation. And our involvement in such initiatives to date has too often resulted in systems and buildings that do not perform nearly as well as expected.

So it would be easy to be smug and chide ASHRAE for what certainly could be an unrealistic statement. Certainly some at the meeting were doing just that. But here’s another thought - in the Engineering for Green Buildings column in July’s HPAC Magazine, Arthur Schwartz, Deputy Executive Director of the National Society of Professional Engineers noted that the new code of ethics now requires P.E.’s to “strive to adhere to the principles of sustainable development…” This is a breakthrough. No longer can engineers claim that their employer’s or client’s wishes take precedence over their obligation to society to develop designs, products, and systems that are sustainable. Clearly, the times they are a changing. And our industry needs leadership to guide us through what will amount to a very substantial change in our industry’s direction.

CatNet Systems The ASHRAE strategic objective statement at the very least illustrates a commitment by ASHRAE to serve this role at this critical time with enormous environmental and resource shifts taking place. ASHRAE certainly has the clout to serve such a role. Engineers are now obligated to take responsibility for moving our industry toward a far more efficient future and it would be most beneficial to have ASHRAE help us in this momentous task. So here’s what I think ASHRAE members need to do. Let’s tell ASHRAE emphatically to count us in! And then, let’s challenge ASHRAE to provide the genuine leadership necessary that will help us make our industry uncomfortable with the status quo and push it toward a much more sustainable future. ASHRAE has the resources to provide enormous assistance to this goal, but it first needs to reinvent itself to do it effectively. Specifically, here are some of the initiatives our ASHRAE leadership needs consider taking right away to prove they are serious about this goal of becoming the leader in sustainable design.

  1. Rethink and lead ASHRAE in the revision or addition of our energy standards to change the focus from merely setting minimum efficiency levels to developing effective targets for system and building energy use that are graduated over time to achieve a sustainable future. And redevelop such standards to be performance oriented with integral performance measurement as a component of building system designs – so we know when we succeed and when we don’t.

  2. Initiate a review of all ASHRAE standards to ensure they are compatible with sustainable design, construction and operation objectives. In some instances this will require a move away from prescriptive and fixed requirements, and permit more flexibility for design teams. Such a direction may be a reversal in the recent direction of some standards and will require strong leadership to accomplish.

  3. Take steps to widen the scope of ASHRAE’s focus to include more attention to materials selection, disposal and recycling, water, and other resource issues that impact sustainable building design and construction.

  4. Develop partnerships with communities and planners to better understand and more effectively incorporate the issues of land use, transportation and other energy and resource issues that are growing concerns of communities working to plan and accommodate the buildings and systems our industry designs and constructs.

  5. Work toward changing the financial equations that presently reward our members for resource consuming design, construction and operation practices. And reach out to potential members who have experience in designs that employ alternative comfort system concepts.

  6. And most important of all, lead our membership toward far more innovative, resource and environmental friendly (rather than resource consuming equipment) focused future as a matter of professional ethics.

With the simple statement on that registration card, ASHRAE has put its prestige on the line. It was easy to say but it will not be easy to do. If that statement were simply a gratuitous move or part of organizational or inter-organizational politics, it was a poorly taken gesture and will surely weaken ASHRAE. But if it is a genuine desire to lead our membership and society as a whole to a truly sustainable future, those of us who support such a direction need to get on board, recognize the vision it incorporates and work to assist in the execution of this bold initiative. Fortunately, it’s going to be easy to know whether self-satisfaction, politics or true vision was the motivation. The next step is most certainly up to the ASHRAE leadership. If this statement is followed up with further bold initiatives that seek to reinvent our organization for the new realities of the 21st Century, then we need to support ASHRAE and really help see this through. However, if over the next few months we see business as usual, then it is clear that finding a true champion for a more sustainable future will continue to be a goal and we’ll need to pursue it elsewhere. Note to ASHRAE leadership “We’re ready, and we’re waiting! Which is it?”

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