Turning Green

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Green is the buzz-word du jour and is proving to carry valuable marketing currency. It seems like every advertising campaign mentioned green, biodynamic, or organic this past holiday buying season. Subsequently, mainstream consumers are requesting these products and services more frequentlyfrom clothing to electronics to transportation. Despite the U.S. governments anemia on environmental progress (refusing to ratify the Kyoto Protocol and maintaining its opposition to the UN proposed cuts in greenhouse gas emissions), most people are waking up to the reality that whats good for the environment is also good for business.

The technology industry is a critical contributor to the greening of tomorrow, and custom systems manufacturers and installers stand to benefit. The Consumer Electronics Association has set plans in motion to reduce its carbon footprint at the 2008 International CES this month in Las Vegas by partnering with Carbonfund.org on several energy-saving measures during the large show. Further northwest, the computing and information heavyweight Google is promoting a radical green revolution. The company is investing millions in R&D and encouraging a wider dialogue about the topic, just like another computing colossus, Dell. Dell is also dedicated to becoming a truly green computer manufacturer, according to Dells director of worldwide environmental affairs, David Lear. Lear created a $25,000 prize for the most environmentally friendly computer design and is adamant about tripling the companys recycling efforts by 2009.

Offering tools for energy conservation in the home makes economic sense and philosophical sense, believes Jim Raras, COO of InPower Systems in Carbondale, Colorado. InPower has created its own software program called PowerView to meet the growing demand for renewable residential energy solutions. It allows clients to monitor their photovoltaic systems performance from anywhere in the world through a personalized webpage. PowerView also charts its clients home or businesses energy production and consumption on a daily, weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Green Business Increasing
Raras says that energy-efficient home systems business is taking off. Both the number of InPowers monthly bookings is increasing as is the dollar amounts of signed contracts, he explained. Raras and his colleagues are also enthusiastic about the broader market potential of this category. When we first looked at the market we thought our main customer would be the typical CEDIA client, the ultra-high-end, he added. Raras was therefore surprised to learn that not the billionaire but the dual-income couple in their 40s and 50s would comprise the main bell-curve for potential clients. Its no longer the clich of the greeny hippie who wants this investment for their home and family, Raras added. It makes economic sense.

There is another benefit to offering energy-efficient productsthe provider can partner with the client as a trusted consultant. Raras sees the comparative advantage of this type of customer service: The consumer used to be confused about conservation in their home, he explained. Peripherally, they knew that it was the right thing to do, but couldnt make the right buying choice. He adds that by helping consumers understand the available options and giving them the tools to intuitively interact with their systems, they connect emotionally. In terms of justifying the investment, its a no brainer. Think of a kitchen remodel vs. NetZero or an energy-efficient electronics system, Raras suggested, the actual price of an InPower system pays for itself.

A Marketing Advantage
Offering environmentally aware products can also be a valuable marketing advantage, distinguishing your firm from competitors and illustrating to potential clients an agile business model. Convergent Living, another Colorado manufacturer, recently deployed its Companion smartscreen touch panels in O Bel Sole!, a 41-unit green/solar community in Southern California. This is the first development in the California Energy Commissions new Solar Homes Partnership. Convergents Craig Slawson said that the opportunity was a great match for Companion screens since each device draws only 10 percent of the energy of a standard PC or server-based solution.

Xantech, a California-based manufacturer of problem-solving distribution products, will package its ERGPS: Energy Efficient Regulated Power Supplies, with all of the companys IR Kits. The ERGPS energy efficient power supplies are every bit as reliable and robust as our power supplies have always been, but in addition will reduce electricity costs, and with so many Xantech installations being done, the environment will benefit from the lower energy consumption, said Thu Le, brand manager at Xantech.

NuVo Technologies concurs. Another leading CEDIA manufacturer with a growing global business, NuVo is passionate about the personal and corporate responsibility and embracing sustainable R&D. NuVo is including green innovations into its business strategy.

There is a natural business value to reducing materials, said NuVo Technologies president, David Rodarte. By reducing packaging materials and heat output for its electronic components such as digital amplifiers, and developing more efficient manufacturing methods, NuVo believes it is doing its part to combat climate change while simultaneously giving its dealers significant profit potential. The impact for clients is significant, Rodarte enthused. When we address the size, heat, and ease of install for our multi-zone products, for example, or power-hungry audio applications, we solve pragmatic concerns while making them eco-friendly, he said.

NuVo is also a big supporter of the Energy Star efficiency compliance, as well as its growing international adoption. According to Energy Star, international partnerships are intended to unify voluntary energy-efficiency labeling programs in major global markets and make it easier for partners to participate by providing a single set of energy-efficiency qualifications instead of a country-by-country patchwork.

Educational Initiatives
Lighting control manufacturer Lutron Electronics is an architect of CEDIAS long-term vision for energy efficiency. In September, Lutron enhanced its commitment to energy savings by educating its customers on energy-efficient lighting control solutions. The Impact of Lighting Control on Green Designan educational seminar designed for Lutrons residential system providers was expanded for CEDIA EXPO and Lutrons core training curriculum in 2008.

Lutrons Melissa Andresko says that attendees will learn valuable information about eco-friendly designs and how lighting controls can save clients on electric bills and maintenance costs. Additionally, in the Autumn, Lutron and Cherokee Investment Partners, promoter of sustainable revitalization of environmentally impaired properties, built the National Homebuilder Mainstream GreenHome in North Carolina. GreenHome is a demonstration property designed to showcase sustainable living in a traditional, suburban setting.

GreenHome also proposes a new paradigm; perhaps the home of the future is green, and every day actions such as turning off the power, dimming lights, and moving away from power-hungry technology can make a difference. This is a quality of life issue, Rodarte added optimistically. Each of us can have an impact.

Margot Douaihy is the contributing editor of Residential Systems magazine in New York City.