Don’t get greenwashed

The notion of planning and building “green” structured cabling systems today is like the Wild West.

by Patrick McLaughlin

The notion of planning and building “green” structured cabling systems today is like the Wild West. There are very few rules, and there’s no sheriff around anyway. And some alleged acts of lawlessness within our industry have tried to take advantage of the situation.

For many green projects, the common denominator is the United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Construction projects can accomplish LEED certification by documenting the USGBC’s detailed process. The extent to which structured cabling systems are part of that process is minute.

So, do not believe anybody who tries to tell you about a LEED-certified cable, patch panel, or cabling product of any kind. There is no such thing. LEED certification is a complex process and a significant undertaking. Any claim that LEED certification is as simple as choosing one brand over another is a shameful manipulation that preys on the good intentions of product purchasers who want to be environmentally conscious but do not fully understand the process.

Yet while cabling systems’ impact on LEED certification is minimal, the choices you make concerning product types and system design can affect your environmental friendliness. That statement sounds contradictory, I know, but the LEED program covers an encyclopedic group of building materials and systems. It simply doesn’t pay much attention to structured cabling systems. But still, look at it from the vantage point of the structured cabling system, considering its impact on other building systems and, ultimately, on the environment. Ask yourself two questions: 1) Do I want to achieve LEED certification? 2) Do I want to be environmentally friendly? The answers to both questions do not necessarily have to be the same.

In data centers, for example, it’s possible to achieve the former while snubbing the latter. Like the data centerthat got LEED points by installing a bicycle rack so employees could bike to work, yet took no action to cut down on the enormous amounts of energy consumed by its everyday operation.

This example shows there are blindspots in the LEED certification process. I’m sure the system will be refined, and in the future it will more holistically evaluate a building’s environmental impact. But for now, understand you’re facing the proverbial double-edged sword. You’re likely to hear bombastic claims of LEED-compliant products that are, at the very least, misleading. You also may implement system designs that can improve airflow and thereby save energy, but won’t get you any LEED points.

Far more important than my opinion, is yours. Let’s hear it.

Chief Editor

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