ATLANTA - The prevailing theme at ASHRAE's winter meeting here was difficult to miss. The word "environment" or a variation of it occurred nine times in president James Wolf's two pages of remarks to the press on opening day.

This goes hand-in-hand with another pervasive theme: energy efficiency. According to Wolf, "The Kyoto Protocol has established a U.S. target of 7% reduction of global warming gas releases from the 1990 level during 2008-2012. We are currently 13% above our 1990 level and growing at a rate of over 1% a year."

Using less energy will be more important than ever, as the victories of the past are mere stepping stones to what will form a blueprint for the future. As in architecture, apparently, less is more. "Since buildings use a third of the energy in the United States, we need to find better ways to reduce building energy use. I believe that we must change the way we conduct our business," said Wolf, who is vice president of government affairs for the Trane Company.

Not all of it will come from more efficient equipment. Cost effective, energy efficient designs will be emphasized, as ASHRAE takes on an increasingly visible role in not just how buildings are heated and cooled, but the overall envelope including lighting and fenestration, as well as operation and maintenance.

There will be an increasing stake in all of this for building owners, and it won't just be in energy savings but in the form of carbon credits, as empowered by the Kyoto Protocol.

But Wolf also said that ASHRAE is reaching out to contractors. In fact, Wolf said he has personally visited with several over the past year to ask what contractors need from the association. "In some cases we have been told that what we have proposed won't work, and why." Wolf said it will be more important than ever to design systems that work as they are supposed to, as installed in the field, and not just under laboratory conditions.

Wolf said it continues to be a problem finding qualified operators for the equipment, as well as documentation on how the equipment should be operated, particularly after a building changes ownership. Often that original equipment documentation and operating instructions are lost in the real estate transaction, he pointed out.

Larry Spielvogel, chairman of Standard 90.1, known as the Energy Conservation Standard, concurred, adding that the standard would be simplified to "make the resulting buildings more operator friendly." He also said that future plans call for publication of a revised standard by November 1, 2001, and setting goals for the next published version in 2004. "The standard will now be published on a strict three-year cycle, to coincide with the deadlines set by the major building code organizations. The revised 2001 standard will be proposed for adoption in the 2003 International Energy Conservation Code," he said.

ASHRAE has started to actively participate in the model code process "and advocate ASHRAE standards where they are relevant."