New Technology Rating System

One of the challenges educational planners and facility managers face is making sure that existing and new buildings operate in a sustainable manner. With today’s buildings packed to the brim with cabling, IT equipment, audiovisual technology, and telecommunications, it is hard to ensure that a green building, once occupied, remains sustainable.

Educational institution managers have a new tool that can be looked to for providing sustainability guidelines — STEP. The Sustainable Technology Environment Program is a voluntary system for rating the sustainability of information communications technology systems in the built environment. But just as importantly, STEP is a framework for bringing together professionals from separate but related industries in a unified effort to design, implement, and operate greener AV, IT, security, and other building systems.

At the heart of STEP is the STEP Rating System, which guides all stakeholders in a project down the path to a sustainable result by awarding them credits for following agreed-upon practices, depending on their role in the project. The STEP system is broken down into five phases: program, architectural and infrastructure design, system design, systems integration, and operation. Each phase has credits associated with it; the more credits a projects earns, the higher its eventual STEP rating.

As the green movement gained momentum over the last decade, technology providers — AV professionals, IT integrators, security installers, etc. — grew interested in sustainability, too. Many wanted to do their part. And when the USGBC started its LEED program to rate the sustainability of institutional, commercial, and residential buildings, some saw the opportunity for the AV and other technology industries to contribute. After all, a new facility with well-integrated telepresence systems, for example, could reduce a school’s carbon footprint by reducing travel and generating other sustainable benefits.

USGBC was unable to recognize the critical role technology systems can play in greening the built environment. But it doesn’t change the fact that technology systems can be designed intelligently, energy-efficiently, and sustainably to the overall benefit of buildings and their owners. So there had to be another way. That other way was STEP.

STEP emerged from a pair of task forces established by InfoComm. It was written by a diverse group of industry professionals, including several LEED-Accredited Professionals (LEED-APs), to help promote sustainable technology where no similar program exists and to answer the call from technology professionals who have been looking for a way to play a role in the green movement.

The STEP Rating System was conceived by InfoComm International, the trade association representing the commercial audiovisual industry. However, the concept was enthusiastically received by other technology associations and is now under the jurisdiction of a new, separate, nonprofit organization called the STEP Foundation. The STEP Foundation started with InfoComm and CompTIA, the Computing Technology Industry Association, but the organizations have since been joined by BICSI and TIA.

“One of the most significant challenges LEED has faced is that you have building owners who thought they were promised X amount of efficiency and they weren’t achieving that,” says Raymond Kent, CTS, LEED-AP, who works for architecture firm Westlake Reed Leskosky and is co-chair of the STEP Foundation Technology Task Force. “But the fact is, you can design someone a Ferrari, you just can’t teach them to drive it. In other words, you design them a very energy-efficient building, but if they leave all the windows open and the lights on 24 hours a day, it’s not going to be an energy-efficient building.”

STEP, as a complement to LEED, introduces ways of using technology to manage building systems, such as HVAC and lights, in order to make the building more energy-efficient during operation. Moreover, the existence of STEP stands to spur major end users of technology — particularly those with significant sustainability goals, such as schools and universities — to request its use by contractors, subcontractors, and others, causing a domino effect of STEP adoption.

For more information on STEP, please visit www.thestepfoundation.org

Allen Weidman is sustainability officer for InfoComm International and Executive Director of the STEP Foundation.

InfoComm International is the trade association representing the commercial audiovisual industry. For more information, please visit infocomm.org.

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