Green AV and Noise Pollution


By Midori Connolly

A few months ago, a good friend of mine reached out to me with the most interesting dilemma. She was overseeing a study on a new amphitheater project in a pristine area of Central America. She asked me what I knew about noise pollution, and the potential implications of such a project in this fragile ecosystem (yep, just another day in the inbox of Midori). I thought it would be interesting to share what I discovered about the environmental impact of our ProAV activity beyond the usual energy consumption or waste management.

As many of you probably already know, the United States Environmental Protection Agency established the Noise Control Act in 1972. This Act is largely why building codes around noise exist, and each state has a general reference somewhere in a state statute about noise abatement. These statutes can range from the state of Arkansas, which only pertain to the use of mufflers in vehicles, to Oregon, where the Department of Environmental Quality continues to innovate on new research and regulation around the impact of sound. However, the findings from these government-funded projects are, in fact, still what many of the readers here use when providing acoustical consulting services for their clients. This is probably in large part due to the fact that nine years later, in 1981, the U.S. government ceased funding for the federal noise control program.

I found a few key points most interesting about these studies and regulations. First, they largely center around noise created by industrial products, construction projects and (mostly) transportation. Second, they are meant to consider the impact to humans as it pertains to preservation of hearing and the human right to a comfortable level of noise, in both a personal and work setting (the latter regulated by OSHA). Third, building codes are meant to mitigate the impact of noise both from the perspective of the inhabitants inside as well as limit the impact of the noise they make to the environment around them. Lastly, the ability to enforce regulations is actually quite complicated. Although at one time there was a professional association for noise enforcement officers called NANCO, “National Association of Noise Control Officials,” now most government agencies charged with enforcing such regulations don’t have staff qualified to do so.

As I thought more about the implications of a new amphitheater, my curiosity was piqued by how the ecosystem would be affected by the introduction of noise, and this was the most fascinating part of my research. In New Mexico, a study on piñon pine trees showed that scrub jays (an important distributor of this tree’s seed) avoided the trees in noisier areas. Compared to loud areas, the researchers counted four times as many piñon pine seedlings in quiet sites. The conclusion is that noise could be a major factor in how these trees survive from generation to generation. I went on to discover several similar studies, such as birds calling in a different range to overcome noise, which didn’t attract the females of their species in the same way as their natural voice.

I think most of us in this business will agree that the average human isn’t aware of the value of audio in creating an audiovisual experience. But now I begin to wonder if perhaps we, as Green AV professionals committed to sustainability, should begin to consider how unmanaged sound (as it transitions to noise) could possibly dictate the survival of a species…

So what do you think? Is noise control something we need to start including in our Green AV repertoire, or is it just needless worry?

midori-connolly-0810Midori Connolly is the founder of AVGirl Productions in California. She wrote the first-ever set of Sustainable Staging best practices after discovering none existed. She was the co-chair of the AV committee for the ASTM Standard for Environmentally Sustainable Meetings and is a speaker, writer and consultant for green practices in live events and meeting planning. Reach her