Is High-End Audio 'Green'?
Is audio 'green'? After recent dire proclamations about the ongoing impact of climate change by the United Nations, it's something that should be of concern to all, and it's hard not to question the green credentials of audio in a wider context when what passes for a heatwave in the UK coincides with trying to review two hot-running tube/valve power amplifiers. The traditional stance toward ecological concerns and high-end audio has often been little more than 'get off my lawn!' but even that is changing, and not simply as the result of enforced legislation.
In fairness, audio doesn't score that badly. Any product's environmental credentials can be viewed in terms of its impact in manufacture and distribution, its impact in use and its impact in disposal. This last is where hi-fi does well, as high-end audio devices can be effectively immortal by consumer electronics standards; while audiophiles crave the latest version of a product, the outgoing model rarely becomes landfill and is instead bought and sold second-hand several times. In fact, it's not uncommon to find someone in their 40s or 50s owning a system that contains components made before they were born. This compares favorably with something like the mobile phone industry, where the combination of its use of rare earth metals and a short product life cycle weigh heavy on the planet.
However, it's not all rosy for audio. The environmental impact of building and shipping heavy products is high, and the running costs of some products during their life cycle has a significant impact on our individual carbon footprints. That impact is offset somewhat if an audio enthusiast prefers to travel the musical highways of their mind rather than fly around the planet, but I suspect it's in power consumption (both in use and especially in standby) where the next big changes in audio will manifest. There is already legislation in many countries regarding 'ghost load' of a piece of consumer electronics in standby mode (often in terms of fractions of a watt), and while most audio electronics brands strive to make products that meet or exceed these environmental demands, others honor this figure more in the breach than the observance.
The high-end audio world is small enough to fly under legislative radar, but I can't help but think this can't last. If we keep ignoring the environmental impact of our audio equipment, don't be surprised if that ends up being the reason we aren't allowed to play with nice things.