Me and My Acronyms: ASHRAE, IgCC, STEP, and an Update on Sustainability

A lot has happened on the sustainability front the first two months of the year. I’ll break down the acronyms that anyone interested in sustainablility should know and explain why they’re important right now.


ASHRAE, formally known as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, has decided to follow the path of Cher, Prince and Madonna and will now be known only as “ASHRAE.” The organization’s members recently got together (appropriately enough in Chicago in January) for their winter meeting and trade show.

The good news? ASHRAE’s trade show was packed, which suggests optimism for the recovery of the commercial building sector. The less than good news? ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Standard 189.1-2011, Standard for the Design of High-Performance Green Buildings, currently in its third revision, has been adopted by only one entity: the U.S. Army.

But don’t assume this means ASHRAE sustainability standards are unknown, unused or unimportant. Their five-year effort has established a baseline for the building and HVAC design communit,y as well as an alternative compliance path in the International Green Construction Code (IgCC).

More interesting for the AV industry, 189.1 has spawned ANSI/ASHRAE/USGBC/IES Draft Standard 189.3, Standard for the Design, Construction, & Operation of Sustainable High-Performance Health Care Facilities. This draft will soon be ready for review and consideration for approval within the year.

Designed to address the unique sustainability needs of hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities, the 189.3 document recognizes the unique environmental and lighting conditions for patient care and the requirements for handling the emissions, effluents and other hazardous discharges that stem from the special systems, equipment and conditions that occur in these facilities. It also includes a chapter on designing for waste reduction, a large sustainable step forward.  In my opinion, this standard will see greater adoption than 189.1 and will provide a real opportunity for the AV industry to showcase its skills with sustainable designs and intelligent building technologies.


The aforementioned International Green Construction Code (IgCC) was approved by the International Code Council (ICC) in October 2011 and should be published and ready for adoption any day. I will do a full analysis soon, but for now, let it be known that the District of Columbia will be the first jurisdiction to adopt the 2012 ICC codes, including the IgCC. For those with the interest, you can obtain a copy here.


What is ARPA-E and why should you care? The first part is easy. The America COMPETES Act, signed into law in August 2007, established an Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy (ARPA-E) within the Department of Energy (DOE). ARPA-E’s objectives include the following:

  • To bring a freshness, excitement, and sense of mission to energy research that will attract many of the U.S.’s best and brightest minds—those of experienced scientists and engineers, and, especially, those of students and young researchers, including persons in the entrepreneurial world;
  • To focus on creative “out-of-the-box” transformational energy research that industry by itself cannot or will not support due to its high risk but where success would provide dramatic benefits for the nation;
  • To utilize an ARPA-like organization that is flat, nimble, and sparse, capable of sustaining for long periods of time those projects whose promise remains real, while phasing out programs that do not prove to be as promising as anticipated; and
  • To create a new tool to bridge the gap between basic energy research and development/industrial innovation.

Why should we care? This is the organization that uses U.S. tax dollars to seed advanced energy projects. In their words ARPA-E Programs are programs that “… explore creative ‘outside-the-box’ technologies that promise genuine transformation in the ways we generate, store and utilize energy. Unlike conventional DOE research, ARPA-E funds concepts that industry alone cannot support, but whose success would dramatically benefit the nation. Its high risk, high reward programs aim to substantially reduce foreign energy imports; cut energy-related greenhouse gas emissions; and improve efficiency across the energy spectrum.”

In case you’re wondering, Solyndra was one of those “high risk, high reward” $535 million loan guaranteed programs that didn’t turn out as well as anticipated.

ARPA-E’s 3rd Energy Innovation Summit was held recently with more than 3,000 in attendance. A stellar list of presenters included: Lee Scott (former Walmart CEO), Fred Smith (FedEx President & CEO), Lamar Alexander (Senator, Tenn.), Steven Chu (DOE Secretary), Jeff Bingaman (Senator, Minn.), Susan Hockfield (MIT President), Ursula Burns, (Xerox Chairman & CEO), Nancy Pelosi (Rep, Calif.), Bill Gates (Microsoft Chairman) and Bill Clinton, (42nd President of the United States).

Some information snippets from the conference:

  • 30 million smart meters are already installed and operating in the U.S. We will be drowning in data if we don’t maximize the value of the data coming out of smart meters (EPRI).
  • Rare earth materials continue to be a concern – we can not substitute one foreign commodity (rare earths) for another (oil).
  • It’s not energy innovation that’s needed – its energy storage innovation.
  • The U.S. will exceed Russia as a net energy producer by 2020 (shale gas, in case you’re wondering). Read that one again and let it sink in a bit.
  • Geoengineering, large-scale engineering of the environment to combat human impact, is an untapped resource. Examples include cool (reflective) or vegetative (green) roofs, on the small scale, and re-forestation, on the very large scale.
  • Although this was labeled as an “energy innovation” summit, the most common term used in all the presentations was sustainability
  • And the winner of the “pithiest comment at the ARPA-E summit” goes to Bill Gates: “If your design requires a human to do something, that’s not a very good design.”
  • Not to be outdone, President Clinton wins the “How to annoy the Secretary of State in 100 words or less” award for his comment on the Keystone Pipeline project: “One of the most amazing things to me about this Keystone Pipeline deal is that they ever filed that route in the first place since they could’ve gone around the Nebraska Sandhills and avoided most of the dangers, no matter how imagined, to the Ogallala [aquifer] with a different route, which I presume we’ll get now, because the extra cost of running is infinitesimal compared to the revenue that will be generated over a long period of time.”


The Sustainable Technology Environments Program (STEP) continues its development since its founding in June 2011. Four sustaining member partners, BICSI, CompTIA, InfoComm, and TIA, are advancing the program through their volunteer members’ guidance, support and sweat equity. The vision for the STEP Rating System includes validation of the core credits through 2012 pilot project initiatives while developing additional “channel” rating system components. The intent is to have a very flexible and comprehensive rating system that can accommodate any and all information communication technology systems installed in any new or renovated commercial building.

Follow the STEP Rating System and its partners at

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