More Than Just Earth Day: What SAVe Is Teaching the AV Industry About Sustainability and E-Waste

save 2024 leadership team
The SAVe leadership team at the organization’s 2024 conference.

To those of you reading this, Happy Earth Day (April 22). Every year, Earth Day reminds us to take care of the planet. After all, how long have the terms “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” been drilled into our brains? If you’re like me, you make sustainable choices as long as they don’t inconvenience you at all. Maybe you recycle all your plastics and cardboard. Maybe you dispose of batteries the right way. Maybe you even donate all your old clothes instead of throwing them away. But that’s only scratching the tiniest surface of the biggest problem. What can we do?

As it turns out, AV companies can do a lot. Electronic waste (e-waste) is a bigger deal than many of us can even comprehend. As of 2019, there were 50 million tons of e-waste produced globally, but only 20% of this was documented as being formally recycled. SAVe 2024, a conference put on by the organization of the same name, is all about teaching and building sustainable practices within our industry. From panels to presentations to group work, I learned a lot last month about what we can do to turn this thing around. Earth Day has inspired me to share this with all of you.

SAVE 2024 Workshop Debbie Williamson Julie Legault
Debbie Williamson and Julie Legault during the SAVe Certification Workshop.

First of all, a little bit about SAVe: This 501c3 organization (full of volunteers) began a couple of years ago in reaction to the sustainability crisis happening around the world. SAVe champions the United Nation’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and aims to help AV be part of achieving them. To be quite honest, AV has been part of the sustainability problem due to e-waste. But if we recognize and learn more about this problem, we can start to correct it.

One of SAVe’s most interesting programs is one to help recycle technology. It’s called SAVe a Second Life. This program helps manufacturers, integrators and end users recycle old technology by giving it to a non-profit, charity or organization that will still be able to use it.

John Thomas from SAVe explains a little bit about that here:

The organization has spread since it began (about a year ago) now, including ambassadors in Canada, Colombia, Mexico and more. Juan Carlos Medina is SAVe’s ambassador in Mexico and tells me a little bit about what that program entails:

Let’s talk more about the conference. I was nervous before attending — I’d never written much about e-waste and sustainability practices before, although I do care about making the planet a better place. I was worried I wouldn’t know enough or — worst nightmare — I’d be called on to answer a question I didn’t know the answer to.

But as it turns out, I wasn’t alone. Many of the (around 100) attendees were in the same boat. They wanted to learn more about protecting the planet and what they could do as a mix of manufacturers, integrators and end users. But what were the steps that they could take?

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Well, first, we learned a lot in the different sessions, from how we can control AV electronic waste (a talk led by Carlos Hernandez, LATAM coordinator of the UNIDO/GEF Program) and a workshop on measuring carbon footprints from Heather Galvin, Prem Sundharam and Ray Kent from DLR Group).

I spoke with attendee Matthew Naughten from Avidex about what he’s learned and how he plans to take this information back to the integration company.

But, as I’m sure you’ve gathered, this goes beyond the integrator. SAVe already has some sponsor organizations, like Legrand AV, who help to push SAVe’s message at the manufacturing level. Legrand’s Kathryn Gaskell told me about her role as director of eco-design and regulatory and how that fits in with all the work that SAVe is doing.

I also caught up with brand-new SAVe sponsor Crestron. Mike Rogers is the company’s senior sustainability specialist. He attended the SAVe conference and has since helped develop a partnership with the organization, along with a plan for Crestron to help curb e-waste and package its products more sustainably.

I will say I was impressed to hear from the manufacturers at the conference who were already doing a lot to make their organizations more sustainable. The last talk I was able to attend was a panel discussion about AV’s role in achieving the 2030 SDGs.

sustainability is the future panel

The panel (above) featured:

The manufacturers above are all taking steps within their companies to become more sustainable and I found it interesting to hear from their discourse with Hernandez, someone working for the United Nations, and who can help give context to meeting the 2030 SDGs.

So, while we have a long way to go before we can consider our industry sustainable, it’s refreshing to see how many companies and organizations are taking action. Even attendees from companies from Meyer Sound to Exertis Almo mentioned that they were taking what they learned back to their respective companies.

Change is slow. And we’re only producing more waste each year. That’s why it’s exciting to see organizations like SAVe start to build some momentum. I will be excited to see all that SAVe can do by 2025, and I am very grateful to them for inviting me to cover their conference and all of us at rAVe are very proud to be their media partner!