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The Greening of the Industry
by Bruce Merley

Bruce Merley is general manager of Howard Schwartz Recording in New York City and a past president and board member of SPARS.

AUDIO NIGHTMARE #23 No, not a new digital multitrack format without a synchronizer. Imagine all of the audio tape you have ever used in your life dumped off the reels and hubs and left in heaps in your front yard. Are you a successful recording engineer? Then how about tape in your front yard, back yard, basement, spilling out of your attic, billowing like piles of synthetic seaweed over onto your neighbors' yards and into the street. Are you a studio owner? Consider truckloads of old tape being dumped in ever growing mountains of plastic and oxide, covering acres and acres of once fertile farmland. What if you had to be personally responsible for all the audio tape you have used in your lifetime? For its entire lifetime? Where would you put it?

AUDIO NIGHTMARE #23 V. 2.0 Imagine a world in which every electronic device you ever purchased stays with you throughout your life. Every stereo component, every Walkman, every VCR, every television, every computer, every telephone and answering machine following you around wherever you go. Burned-out CRTs, corroded, sand filled boomboxes, speakers with gaping holes in their cones-the electronic wastes of a lifetime. You try to leave them at dumps and landfills, but they are all closed, filled to capacity. You try to fix them to sell to others, but there are no replacement parts-or worse, the device has no more use.

AUDIO NIGHTMARE #37 What if there were a world where you could never turn down the volume? Where no matter what you did or where you went, the ambient noise or sound level was always at least 60dB SPL. And what if you could not regularly distinguish noise from program, music from auto engines, speech from air conditioner noise, music from speech, sound from thought? Whole lives would be spent in a constant listening struggle as people try to discern meaningful communication in a world of sound chaos.

These Kafka-esque images from a pessimistic mind are hardly believable. But they are not so strange, and they could be only all too real in the not-so-distant future: This week, our office building instituted mandatory in-house trash separation. All our trash cans and wastebaskets have been labeled by type of materials. But every single receptacle in our facility was labeled "Paper Only." We're not allowed to generate any other garbage. What about the banana peel from your lunch? Too bad, we have no containers for organic matter. Take the banana peel home with you. Perhaps you can swap it for some paper trash with one of the other tenants on your floor. A bureaucratic snafu in the name of environmental responsibility!

In all seriousness, we tend to think of our industry as environmentally benign and that the toxic avenger need not look to the audio industry for a pound of flesh. After all, didn't our industry help Sting save the rain forests, help the pygmies defend their culture, help Greenpeace to save the whales, help Native Americans, help farmers, help...Well, sort of. At least some folks did. But in general, we're not very good at looking in our own backyard and asking tough questions about ourselves. Just how innocent or benign is the audio industry? Are we toxic offenders? Are we polluters? Do we, as a group, contribute to the global environmental problems we all face today? And what can we do about it?

According to the scientific community, we have two fundamental global problems that dwarf every potential war, economic disaster or political catastrophe possible on this planet. They are overpopulation and environmental destruction through pollution and depletion of resources. It has been clearly demonstrated that at the present growth rate, our planet will not be able to feed the human population by the end of the next century. There will be massive starvation. There likely will be widespread warfare as nations struggle to control productive farmland. Our lives, and certainly our children's lives, will be fundamentally changed for the worse.

Assuming we are able to successfully stem the population explosion, we must still face problem number two, the destruction of our environment through resource depletion and pollution. Without dramatically altering the way human beings use planet Earth we might survive through the next century, but not without staggering consequences. Crop failures, famine, economic disasters, new illnesses and diseases, loss of natural environments lowered standards of living, higher death rates-all will begin to take their toll on Homo Sapiens' ill-fought war to control and abuse the earth. Without major changes, you will begin to see these things happen in your lifetime. Indeed, you already have. Every day we read about polluted lakes and rivers, about unsafe air alerts in Los Angeles, about toxic waste dumps contaminating drinking water, about increasing skin cancer rates from ozone depletion. Without change, it will get worse. And it will directly affect you.

So what does all this gloom and doom have to do with audio? Well, as the man said, "If you ain't part of the solution, you're part of the problem." To save our lives and our children's lives, it is not enough to send a check to Friends of the Earth. We must change the way we do things everywhere. We must stop as much pollution and resource depletion as we can, and that means we all must contribute. So, is the audio industry a polluting and depleting one? Are there things we can do in our profession to change the impact we have on our planet? Will the meager contributions of one small industry in an educated and aware country make any difference?

Professor Will Moylan at the University of Massachusetts Center for Recording Arts, Technology and Industry asked some of these questions of Earth Day president Bruce Anderson. In April, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell hosted the first conference on environmental responsibility in the audio industry, with Anderson as keynote speaker and Moylan presiding. Entitled "Preparing the Recording Industry to Adopt Environmentally Responsible Production, Packaging, Consumption and Manufacturing Practices, and to Support the 25th Anniversary Observance of Earth Day," the meeting included representatives from the scientific community, manufacturing, production facilities and "record" companies.

This "Environmental Task Force" began formulating a plan for examining the pro audio industry from the perspective of environmental impact. The objectives of the meeting were to begin the process of identifying environmental issues related to the recording industry; to establish a core working group to solicit the involvement of the entire industry; to seek out leaders and role models; to engage in studies and planning for an open invitation working conference on "Environmentally Responsible Production, Packaging and Manufacturing Practices for the Recording Industry"; and to cultivate industry-wide support for Earth Day 1995. That April meeting, held in a famous old mill town symbolic of the industrial heyday and environmental ignorance of this nation, brought to light some interesting issues.

What do we, as electronics purchasers, know about the environmental practices of the manufacturers from whom we buy? Do they use fluxless solders, or are they still washing PC hardboards with CFC solvents? What about the health and safety practices of their manufacturing facilities and those of their subcontractors? With so much of electronics manufacturing done overseas, what can we do to encourage environmental responsibility?

Do we really need Styrofoam spacers and peanuts in our packaging? Some manufacturers have replaced such materials with recyclable and degradable cellulose-based materials. BASF has developed an entirely reusable packaging waste. Can this be a model for other manufacturers?

What about the energy we consume in studios, with literally dozens of power supplies and computers? And what about the resulting increase in air conditioning loads? This is largely energy supplied bu utilities that use nonrenewable fuel sources such as coal and oil, or already taxed hydropower. Craig Anderson shared with the task force the wonderfully encouraging story of a performing arts venue in Northern California that has been able to generate all of its own power through a new technology solar generating system.

And what about sound? Are we environmentally responsible in the ways we audio professionals deal with sound? Are we careful about our own and our colleagues' hearing? Are we concerned about noise pollution? Do we have sufficient and accurate knowledge about the dangers and risks of exposure to various kinds of sound environments? Do we have the necessary tools for measuring such exposure? Do we have the practices in place to use such tools? What do we know of the long-term physical and psychological effects of exposure to unnaturally high ambient noise levels?

In addition to exploring potential issues of concern, the task force also heard from several representatives of the scientific and engineering community- particularly the University of Massachusetts Center for Environmentally Appropriate Materials, Center for Industrial Competitiveness and Toxic Use Reduction Institute- on the wide range of new materials and methods available to our industry to dramatically improve environmental performance.

On November 13, the 1994 AES Convention will present a panel entitled "Environmental Responsibility and the Recording Industry" as part of its regular program schedule. A number of the task force members will be present, and several will serve as panelists. The broad aspects of this topic will be discussed, and the panel will offer some practical solutions and actions you can undertake immediately to improve your own environmental report card. And there will be information on the proper disposal of a variety of recording byproducts, such as old tape, junk equipment, solvents and other chemical substances. Attendance will be open to all convention participants, and active participation is encouraged!

The AES panel foreshadows the Bay Area meeting of the Recording Industry Environmental Task Force on Monday, November 14, a major gathering of all interested individuals and organizations of the audio industry. At this meeting, the task force will formally launch its plans for the observance of Earth Day 1995 and begin traveling the long road toward an environmentally green audio industry by the year 2000!

Major audio industry figures, performing artists, manufacturers and businesses will lend their brains, brawn and heart to greening our little patch of the Earth as soon as possible, so we can move on to the next chapter in the global struggle to save the planet from destruction. Earth Day's Bruce Anderson will attend this meeting to offer insight and perspective on how our industry fits the global environmental problem. Information on the time and location of the UMass-Lowell booth in the AES Convention exhibit area.

The Recording Industry Environmental Task Force needs your help. It needs your ideas to find better, non-harmful ways of doing things we do in audio. It needs your time and energy to help spread the word, educate our colleagues and share the means of improving our industry. It needs your connections and influence in the right places to help launch the programs and build the alliances necessary to make environmental progress on a large scale. And it needs your commitment to personally run your business and your life in as environmentally responsible a fashion as possible. Remember, no earth = no people = no audio industry.

For information on the Recording Industry Environmental Task Force coordinator Barbara Blezard at (508) 934-3850, or Dr. William Moylan, Director, Center for Recording Arts, Technology and Industry, University of Massachusetts at Lowell (508) 934-3850. You can also obtain information by calling SPARS, the Society of Professional Audio Recording Services at (407) 641-6648.

Articles from Winter 1994

  Reflections on the Tenth Anniversary of the NSS

Ambisonics: The Art Of "Being There"

Editor's Note - Conservation

AAAS Concert

Tenth Annual Field Workshop

The Oakland Museum Concert: Music With Birds, Frogs and Other Creatures

The Greening of the Industry

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