ARLINGTON, Va. — The different sectors of the HVAC industry oftentimes are criticized for not working together. And while that may be true in some cases, close to 30 HVAC leaders team up each year in Arlington, Va., to identify solutions for some of the industry’s biggest problems.

The group, recognized as the Joint Futures Committee, was created in 2002 to improve communication and interaction between contractors and manufacturers. The group has since blossomed to include contractors, distributors, manufacturers, associations, builders, and members of the trade press.

“The genesis was after a contractor-OEM exchange where OEMs lamented that contractors are not well positioned to implement newly introduced technologies and contractors observed that OEMs pretty much keep new development concepts under wraps until the equipment hits the streets,” said Glenn Hourahan, senior vice president, technical, accreditation & educational policy, Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), who organizes the annual gathering.

“It was recognized that successful rollouts of new technologies requires some advance preparation of the marketplace to ensure that those applications can be successfully adopted.”

The Joint Futures concept quickly expanded beyond just new and evolving technologies and methods. The focus branched out to include all issues that could impact the HVAC and building sector including energy availability and security, codes and standards, and public policy.

“Now, the committee acts more as an industry think tank. The committee reflects on current and future implications/trends relating to the HVACR community. The real work is left to the participating associations to ascertain which recommendations are germane to them and how best to run with these ideas — whether that’s done individually or in collaboration with others,” Hourahan said.

Long-Term Planning

The group primarily focuses on identifying and solving problems that are likely located further out on the horizon — typically three or more years in the future. Each member of the group emails up to five problems or issues that they see coming in the future to ACCA a few months prior to the meeting. ACCA staff examines the 50-80 issues and consolidates the thoughts into one single document. At an all-day meeting, the committee reviews the list of items, prioritizes them, and then selects two or three pressing issues to expand into specific recommendations for consideration by the respective associations’ board of directors.

This year’s chosen topics included developing a consensus public-policy position, developing open communication protocols, and the creation of a standards body specifically for the HVAC industry.

Contractor Laura DiFilippo, vice president, DiFilippo’s Service Co., Paoli, Pa., has served as the committee chair for the previous two years.

“At my first meeting I was amazed at the group assembled. It was cool having the manufacturers and distributors in attendance, but I was surprised to see homebuilders, IAQ representatives, and others there as well,” DiFilippo said. “The meeting itself is eye opening; from all the items we receive, to the whittling down process, the breakout group brainstorming, and the end presentations. I was amazed at how many items (we get an average of 30 per meeting) were submitted. But the most fun part was sharing opinions and ideas when we broke into the brainstorming groups. It was beneficial to work together as partners and devise an action plan.”

Only time will tell if the ideas that came out of this year’s meeting will be implemented, but the Joint Futures committee has a pretty good track record. In the past 10 years, more than half of the recommendations from the committee have been embraced by industry associations. Of these, eight are complete and seven are underway.

“Several recommendations focused on improving industry interactions and fostering better communications and involvements among contractors, equipment distributors, and equipment manufacturers,” Hourahan said. “These resulted in the creation of the HVACR Industry Alliance and the HVACR Workforce Development Foundation. A related Joint Futures Committee recommendation resulted in ACCA, AHRI [Air-Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration Institute], and HARDI [Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International] meeting frequently to coordinate and promote industry public-policy positions. Arising from these, yet based on another specific Joint Futures recommendation, is a joint ACCA/AHRI/HARDI action to develop coordinated consumer outreach and educational materials.”

Early recommendations were the impetus for ACCA developing and releasing the ANSI-recognized, industry-developed standards related to quality maintenance (ACCA 4 QM), quality installation (ACCA 5 QI), and quality home audit/improvement (ACCA 12 QH). Additionally, AHRI has undertaken its Alternative Refrigerants Evaluation Program (AREP-2) after a Joint Futures recommendation to explore alternative refrigerants to HFCs (under potential future pressure due to environmentalist concerns with global warming impacts). Another recommendation currently in the evaluation pipeline is related to improving the responsible use and management of refrigerants in the field.

“Participating industry associations have welcomed the input from the committee,” Hourahan said. “Board members from each of the associations, as well as senior staff, serve on the committee. That means that the recommendations are easily introduced into the decision-making process of each organization.”

While most in the industry are unaware this group exists, it continues to produce groundbreaking results. “The Joint Futures committee is an amazing opportunity for us to come together as an industry and work together to be proactive on issues that will affect us all in the future. And it is an essential piece to help organizations identify courses of action they need to take,” DiFilippo said.

Publication date: 6/17/2013

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