By TIM WENTZ, PE, FASHRAE, HBDP, Faculty Member, Durham School of Architectural Engineering and Construction, University of Nebraska–Lincoln, and 2016-2017 President, ASHRAE

ASHRAE’s theme for 2016-2017, “Adapt Today to Shape Tomorrow,” has as its symbol a simple slide rule. It seems odd, doesn’t it? One of the world’s premier HVACR engineering organizations using as iconography a tool that hasn’t been in wide use since the advent of the hand calculator in 1972.

Of course, that is the whole point. For many of us, the early ‘70s doesn’t seem that long ago (trust me on this, it wasn’t). How far we’ve come in such a short span of time is a sobering thought. Even more sobering is the thought of where we will be in 20 years, or even 10 years. The mind boggles if one isn’t careful.

Instead of being intimidated by the rate of change, ASHRAE is committed to adapting to change because we know that unlocking the power of adaptation is the key to transforming lives, organizations, and communities. So, what changes will our industry need to adapt to? We foresee three driving forces of change impacting our industry in the near future.

The first wave of change is yet another technology revolution. These revolutions occur so frequently they are an expected part of every industry. A good example is the evolution of driverless cars. Ten years ago, if I had said a blind person should be able to drive a car anytime anywhere without a license, I would have been laughed out of the room. Today, it is an obvious conclusion. I think our discipline is at the same tipping point as driverless cars. Growth in hardware and software capability and sophistication will allow programs such as building information modeling to give a whole new meaning to the term “design assist.” ASHRAE is preparing its members for this change by increasing educational offerings in areas related to modeling and design, creating a technology portal linking members to cutting-edge research, expanding its library of apps so changes in technology can be made faster, and more.

New technology will set the stage for a second wave of change by creating an environment more conducive to integrated design. ASHRAE is preparing its members for this change by working with groups such as the Mechanical Contractors Association of America and APPA: Leadership in Educational Facilities to create the networks necessary for the development of truly integrated design and construction processes and standards. Additionally, ASHRAE is writing integrated-design compliance paths into many of its products.

The combination of new technology and integrated design will allow us to focus on building performance as our design and construction standard. Historically, our industry has used a very prescriptive process to design and construct buildings. Imagine a future in which, working in concert, we can optimally design and construct buildings meeting our clients’ expectations, producing comfortable, healthy, and productive spaces while minimizing impacts on our environment. Here again, ASHRAE is hard at work preparing its members for change. Many of ASHRAE’s new standards, for example, contain alternate compliance paths based on building performance, and ASHRAE has greatly expanded its research efforts in many related areas, including refrigerants with low ozone-depletion potential, low global-warming potential, and better energy efficiency. ASHRAE’s new energy-management tool, Building EQ, meanwhile, accurately measures energy performance, a necessary step in controlling energy use.

The exciting part of this conversation is our role in the process. We can create our future with respect to human comfort, indoor-air quality, and energy efficiency. More to the point, we must create this future; it is the legacy we will give our children and grandchildren.