Trying to go green — or even stay green — in tough economic times is a challenge. This became especially apparent to me during the month of September when I traveled to a couple of quite diverse industry events.

One was the Food Marketing Institute Energy & Store Development conference in Atlanta where hundreds of refrigeration folks from farflung places met in Atlanta for four days. The second was a two-hour event near where I live hosted by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The latter was called “Going Green and Paying for It: Green Tools for Municipalities,” which drew about three dozen area engineers, architects, and developers to the engineering building on the campus of Northern Illinois University.

Within those two events there was a common theme: Going green is still a good thing for the environment, for coming across as environmentally correct, and for reducing energy costs in everything from homes to office buildings to supermarkets.

But there were a number of economic dynamics.

First there are construction decision makers who simply do not have the money to invest in anything more than the most basic, bare-boned structures.

Then there are those who have the money to be more green and want to do so either to be environmentally responsible or because of municipal codes requiring green technology, or both. But at the same time, they do not have the money or want to invest in the added certification costs required to earn some level of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) recognition.

That in the broadest brushstroke is some of what I learned at the FMI event.

From the local USGBC function, it became clear that funding sources are a challenge. They can be as basic as securing a bank loan, to the complexity of trying to get “free” government money, to trying to secure government-based bonds or loans.

Back to the HVAC Basics

I’m going to be writing about what went on at these events from the HVACR perspective in more detail. But for now, the most interesting part of all this is that while there are those trying to wade through the funding issue, one thing became clear at both events: Energy-efficient HVACR remains a high priority both because it lowers energy costs for those concerned about barebones and it certainly contributes to green buildings.

At the FMI conference, one presenter talked about cutting refrigeration leak rates by maintaining tight systems and making sure they are running as efficiently as possible. At the USGBC event , all those architects, engineers, and municipality officials were told that HVAC needs to be efficient, utilizing outside air, employing setback and reset controls, using economizers, variable-speed drive, etc.

Aren’t those things we in the industry have been talking about forever?

Here’s the thing: HVAC and R are critical aspects to most every structure going up these days regardless of issues related to funding. Decision makers can opt out of greening up the building or they can opt out of any sort of LEED recognition. But they cannot choose not to add HVAC in a building where there are people and/or computers. And they certainly cannot choose to not use refrigeration in places where medical supplies are stored and where food needs to be kept either refrigerated or frozen.

Sometimes HVACR contractors can feel like just a small part of the mix whether the project is getting a building up and running or whether it is going after the highest level of LEED. HVACR contractors know how important what they do is to the successful start-up of a new building or the overhaul of an existing building. They know what an efficient, well-running mechanical system means to the long-term bottom line of that building.

If the decision makers don’t know that, then the HVACR guys need to make decision makers know that.

Publication date: 10/31/2011