Mitigate Sound, Maximize Efficiency
Our second podcast episode of “Cannabis is a Good Neighbor” has launched! This episode focuses on the role sound mitigation plays in the cannabis space. Our principal, Brian Anderson, is joined by Andy Carballeira, Principal Consultant of Acentech. A common concern amongst communities is the sound disruption a cannabis factory could potentially cause. Andy provides an in-depth explanation of how he ensures that facilities will not disturb the communities. We have created a list of key takeaways of this podcast below and included a transcription of the episode. Listen to the full podcast here!
- Massachusetts has a regulatory framework to protect the public from noise and has taken a science-based approach. Fundamentally, an acoustician or sound engineer must identify the existing conditions and determine how building something would change those conditions. If you are changing those conditions to a certain degree, it is a violation of the law. This framework is notably good and would translate well to other states and countries. Andy states he often uses the Massachusetts framework and applies it in other states.
- Towns must work towards adopting specific by-laws as they are not consistent throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts like they are not consistent throughout states across the county. New ventures coming to municipalities to build new facilities will be up against the town planning officials. They will need to answer and discuss how what they are doing will alter the sound profile.
- Our central focus is “How are we going to be a good neighbor?’ not just ‘what is the law?’ Our primary focus and fundamental job as engineers is to protect public health before we do anything else.
- Yeah, I have kind of a framework – that framework is ‘how are you going to change things?’ People respond to change in the environment,
- Andy identifies ‘how will we change things?’ people responded to change in the environment. An ambient is established in the area, identifying what the sounds are like before the project has begun. They recognize this objectively and subjectively. First, an extensive survey takes place in various places around where the facility will be located – measuring every day for a week collecting data. You cannot understand the environment solely from these statistics, so someone must go out into the field and experience what the area is like at all different hours and days of the week. ‘I want to say if that was my house, what does it already sound like, like factory noise, or are crickets the only thing I hear – do I get startled by a car going by because that’s really loud in my context? What we want to predict at the end of the day is not just can we comply or just squeak by but are we a good neighbor.’ We don’t just look at the numbers to see how they compare. We consider it from a conservative, personal standpoint – would this bother me if I lived here?
- There are two main aspects of sound people experience. First, the temporal aspects – how does the sound change over time. Then the frequency plays a role, a lawnmower may run for 20 minutes a day, creating a high level of noise, but it will be for a short period making it less detrimental.
- The big question about sound is how are humans going to experience it?
- When running tests comparing the ambient and the signal, it is essential to compare it to various numbers, from the loudest thing you can hear to the quietest. How noises interact with each other depends on their frequency – for example, if a fan produces noise at the same frequency as someone speaking, it will become harder to hear the person speak. If the fan produces noise at a different frequency than someone speaking, these sounds will not affect each other because of the difference in frequency bands.
- Highways provide masking for factory operations during the day, but at night, traffic does not create noise to mask the factory sounds, making the factory seem louder. Bugs also create a masking effect – the problem with bugs is that they are seasonal, so measurements taken with and without bugs vary drastically. Bugs provide a masking effect but not as much as a highway because the mechanical sound and factory sounds are in the same frequency, so the response is less drastic. It is a well-recognized technical fact that insect sounds artificially pollute measurements. ANC standards provide information on species of bugs in certain regions requiring specific decibel reconfiguration. It becomes vital to visit the communities and observe the environment.
- We aim to predict the community response.
- The fan noise and equipment noise is measured and then compared to the ambient to identify if the fan and equipment noise is louder and by what percentage. This is done by discussing with the equipment vendors how loud the equipment is, they will then stand a certain distance from the equipment with a sound meter. These numbers are then inputted into a computer system to identify ‘if the equipment is this loud at distance x, what will it be at distance y?’ We can determine how loud it will be from various locations, and ideally, the noise level will not be disruptive.
- Sound is scientific, therefore we can prove that these facilities will not disturb the environment noise level with science.
- A more energy-efficient system is a quieter system. When you hear something such as a mechanical belt screeching, all that excess sound is wasted energy. Sound and mechanical energy are related. Sound is fundamentally energy that expands outwards into the environment via vibration via pressure vibration in this field, the atmosphere. A more elegantly designed system will make less noise, making it more efficient as sound mitigation will not be needed. It helps to understand the bigger picture of the project – it is an integrative process by understanding the end goal.
- For new entrants, there is a misunderstanding about engaging with acoustic engineers because they do not see the value in it, they only view it as a cost. This is not the case because system noises mean an inefficient system. The benefit is embracing noise adjustment as a way of saving energy or identifying lost energy. The advantage of adopting noise adjustments is saving energy, lower energy cost means higher production value. Engaging with an acoustic engineer helps create a good relationship with the community, ensure energy-efficient systems, and increase production value.
- It is imperative to be able to speak credibly to the fears and concerns communities bring up in public meetings. It is important to recognize that some people are there at community meetings because they are worried about how this facility will change their environment. Running these extensive studies and tests in the area helps to say I understand your concerns, but you have nothing to worry about. The role of an acoustic engineer is to study the site, collect data, but then boil this data down to where the public can understand it. There is a mutual benefit for the community and the cannabis operators—the cannabis operator benefits by being quieter because that means a more energy-efficient operation. A quiet operation is an energy-efficient operation, both the operator and community benefit. That is a point that every planning board needs to hear is that this is a mutual benefit – they are not opposing forces.
- “I would really suggest that a town retains an acoustic consultant just to say, ‘what is the expectation established by your laws right now, how might we change them in anticipation of cannabis coming in, and what are the concerns that the community has brought up?’ ”
- “By having good, clear regulation, you can limit that risk without missing a lot of the benefits that cannabis cultivation brings.”
- When creating a cannabis business plan, it is vital to make a 5-year narrative. It is important to think long-term, not just short-term. Working in the mindset of a short-term plan and short-term savings, louder equipment is usually cheaper, but then one must implement noise control. Over time all that noise control and added energy would have justified a more expensive but more energy-efficient system that is quieter. The idea is that incurring these costs on the front end can create a long-term cost-efficient operation.
- An interesting study took place in Germany and stemmed from a community upset about the noise disruption from a newly implemented railroad track. So, they did an extensive survey, studying statistically, psychologically, objectively, and subjectively. People were put into a headphone environment and played the exact same train noise with a visual cue of a red train and a green train. People said the green train was acceptable in terms of loudness profile, but the red train was too loud, but it was the exact same sound. This study went to show that it was not just about sound but the perception of it. The study was an integrated study with psychoacoustic research studying how people respond to acoustic signals. Harboring this idea of how to turn a red train into a green train – the noise is the same, but the perception is different. Leading to the question – are there visual cues that we can give as a cannabis community that transmits to the neighborhood that the facility is a green train, not a red train.
- “When I go to a stadium rock show, and they build this entire wall of speakers that’s 40 feet high and 40 feet wide. It’s the perception of sound. It’s not necessarily how many decibels that thing is pushing out it’s the reaction of wow that MUST be loud.”
- “You have started to describe a wall of speakers, and you made me kind of come full circle on the cannabis space to think about the Grateful Dead and the great engineering they did for The Wall of Sound. If you let an acoustician on this podcast and say that The Wall of Sound was just for visual looks, boy, I would not be doing my job. Those guys did such cutting-edge research on audio engineering and sound perception and the kind of distribution of sound through a stadium. They kind of came up with an early microphone like this – just because they wanted to all stand in front of the speaker stacks but like if you do that, the microphone feedback. So, some crazy person in The Grateful Dead ensemble said, ‘well, if I take another microphone right next to it and flip it in reverse and add that back into the original singer’s microphone, all the other noise will go away. So, they accidentally invented noise cancelation at like a Kesey Party.”
Cannabis is a Good Neighbor – Sound Mitigation Transcript:
Below is a transcript of the podcast episode, which you can listen to in full here, edited and trimmed for clarity and brevity.
BRIAN ANDERSON: Hello, Welcome I’m Brian Anderson. We have Sarah Janowicz with us, and today we have Andy Carballeria from Acentech. Really excited about this talk! We’ve been working with Andy for years now and his company, and we are very happy to have you on Andy. Tell us about your background, acoustics, why does it matter, and what you did before coming to cannabis.
ANDY CARBALLERIA: Brian, thanks again. My name is Andy Carballeria. It’s been so fun to work on these cannabis projects. One of the things that I was into from the get-go was sound in all its different forms – music was my initial draw, but I’ve always loved to go sit by a stream and have a sensory experience of sound and enjoy the natural sounds. So sound was sort of a central feature of my education, but I also was interested in engineering and electricity and 3D drafting and just got a really good rural elementary school and high school education. So, I kind of said how do I put these things together, this idea of mechanical engineering and music, and luckily, I took a class when I was at school in Boston called acoustics. I had no idea what it was, but it was a requirement for my engineering major. And what I found was it was a really cool combination of all those things together, it involved critical listening, and listening to people like your client for example and understanding what their needs are, it involves aesthetic to a certain degree, sort of seeing what you’re doing as part of a larger team. So, like music and sound have been a central organizing principles for what I do kind of professionally and personally. I have this terrible affliction with being a jazz organ player, so I have 20 years’ experience driving around the country in a van playing a 700-pound Hammond organ, and again that’s a very like old instrument with no transistors or IC or tubes it’s all manual – it’s just again a sensory experience of sitting next to the speaker making music with the band for people in a particular place. So, I come at this from a couple of different angles, and I know how important sound is to people.
B: Then let me ask a really leading question, and I know the answer to this question, but I know our audience tuning into a podcast about cannabis are wondering why would a sound engineer or a Hammond organ player be involved or invested in the cannabis industry? I know the answer to this, but I want to pull it out of you because it’s incredibly important to this subject at hand of how or why cannabis is a good neighbor – sound is massively important and something overlooked by every customer until it comes to the planning board.
A: Well, I will put this in sort of a rural context – I do not want to hear your darn air conditioner. You know I really cherish my community, the natural environment around me. I cherish the ability to have an easy conversation with my daughter outside, for her to build her cognitive systems by experiencing the environment and having that experience not be polluted by unnatural sound. Noise control engineering was actually one of those places I could make a difference in that regard. For us, that really begins with, in Massachusetts in specific – how do we protect the public from noise? I got to say I think we are one of the best states in terms of taking a reasonable science-based approach to doing that. In mass fundamentally, what we do is say what’s here now, what are the existing conditions like, and then we ask someone who’s going to build something how are you going to change that. If you propose to change that over a certain amount, that’s a violation of the law – you’ve really created this condition of air pollution that I was ranting and raving about and giving you reasons not to create over a few moments ago. So, we have a really good regulatory framework in mass. Brian, that’s kind of some of the work we’ve done together is what exists today and how are we going to make this intervention into the site and community that’s going to change it – then how are sensitive people like me going to respond to that.
B: So, let’s talk about that for a second – so we know that the towns and municipalities, the towns in Massachusetts, have zoning by-laws they have adopted or not. So a town needs to, if they haven’t already, adopt certain by-laws – and they are not consistent throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and they are not consistent throughout states across the country, and as states come online, as cannabis laws come online, and applications for new ventures and applications come to municipalities to build new facilities – they are going to butt up against and meet these town planning officials and have to answer for and talk about what are they doing how are they altering the sound profile and how can they do that to the benefit or the detriment of the community. And that is not an undue responsibility for a cannabis operation. We are not brewing – moonshiners brewing in the backwoods – this is now a fully legit industry. It happens in industrial parks and commercial districts.
A: This is pharmaceutical grade horticulture, and it needs all the environmental and mechanical conditions that would support that design goal. And I know your podcast is named ‘Why Cannabis is a Good Neighbor,’ not how can cannabis just barely squeak by existing regulations and cram these projects into communities. I think that’s a really central focus of our work together, it is not just ‘what is the law?’ but ‘how are we going to be a good neighbor?’ And one of the good things about the framework in Massachusetts is that it would translate well to other states and countries – it is similar to the framework Canada has now on a federal, national scale. So one thing we do when we work in another state, some states, Colorado is a good example, they don’t have a lot of centralized or stabilized noise regulation so to your point it falls to this patchwork of regulations from town to town and county to county. One of the things we do often is, even though it’s not a law or regulation, but we will use the Massachusetts framework and use it in other states just to say, ‘Are we being a good neighbor?’ Because that’s the neat thing about the MA laws, we will generally be a pretty good neighbor if we comply with the law. So that’s our focus – our central focus and fundamental job as engineers is to protect public health. Before we do anything else. Brian, you are an architecture licensor, I have a credential that really demands we protect the public, so before we do anything before we serve our shareholder or our client or anything, that’s kind of our duty. And taking that really stringent – it feels like an important role – I feel comfortable using the Mass DEP policy to say, ‘am I being a good neighbor?’
B: So break it down for us, give us some of the nuts and bolts describing how we are a good neighbor, and that sound is important, and that we don’t want to disrupt, and how we as an industry can enter a community and feel un-disturbed, it will bring good things and opportunity to the community. How do we do that technically? What is sound? How do you measure sound? Why do we talk about pressure? Give us some engineering background give us a detailed picture of how sound works., I don’t know if you want to start with the macro and go to the micro because there are just these really neat stories I know from working with you about how you measure sounds and crickets chirping and frogs at 3 am. But give us a picture of how that all plays out.
A: Yeah, I have kind of a framework – that framework is ‘how are you going to change things?’ People respond to change in the environment, right? If you live next to a factory and you’ve lived there for 30 years, you aren’t going to have the same response to that factory’s noise if you just move from, say, a quiet area to next to that factory. So, I try to establish an ambient – what does it sound like here before our project goes in, and we do that in a couple of different ways. The first is really data-based, really objective, and then the other is subjective, experience-based, and person-based. At first, what I really want to do as a data nerd is say, ‘for all of the different places people can hear my facility, what does it sound like there?’ and I’m going to do an exhaustive survey – measure for 7 days every second and take some statistics of those things – and I’m probably going to generally throw away most of the statistics because I’m a conservative engineer. I’m going to say, ‘it’s good that at 3 pm on Tuesday it was noisy but doesn’t really matter for cannabis because we are going to operate our facility on Sunday at 2 am when it’s really, really quiet.’ So generally, I want to set some goals, and that goal-setting process is a place where our judgment really comes in, and our professional engineer judgment and our judgment in MA and some other places is to say let us find the lowest value? Let’s say someone wants to go out at 2 in the morning on their deck and have a conversation – it’s like their right to do that, and it’s also their right not to be exposed to noise pollution. So let’s be really conservative and protective, and from that – now we have this big survey of the ambient, and I keep talking about Sunday at 2 am, and I kind of want to go to that community Sunday at 2 am. I want to say if that was my house, what does it already sound like, like factory noise, or are crickets the only thing I hear – do I get startled by a car going by because that’s really loud in my context? What we really want to predict at the end of the day is not just can we comply or just squeak by but are we a good neighbor. And something a good neighbor would do is they wouldn’t disturb the environment. They would keep their noise generally to themselves. That doesn’t mean they have no right to produce any noise, but they would be reasonable about how they do it. They wouldn’t offend the sensibility of an average person. That is psychology. So that’s a cool part of my gig, I do not just see how the numbers stack up. I want to be there at 2 am and think, ‘what would I think about this?’ I, a musician who lives in the middle of the woods – ‘would I like the sound of this facility?’ And if not, I’m going to be a pain to work with Brian.
B: Give me some examples. Help me paint the picture more clearly. Now that you have given that perspective, help this audience what sound is – what are we talking about? Like crickets or a lawnmower, what is the decibel? Something we can expect but has a short duration, like the trash trucks driving by my house in the morning. So, then what is the sound level generated by a 24/7 cannabis operation that’s running during my Fourth of July picnic? Or my porch conversation at 7 pm on a Sunday? Help us put it in context.
A: I think there are two main things that we experience from sound – like its temporal aspects like how does it change over time? Like there is a lawnmower that gets run for 20mins a day, but it’s not that big of a deal even though its level might be high – so there is this kind of idea of how frequent it is. What are its durations, what’s its temporal profile, there is also this idea of what is its frequency content? One of the things we go to when – say how are we going to predict you in responses in this idea of masking? So when we say, ‘how is a human going to experience this, what’s the ambient, what’s the new signal?’ We don’t do that for just 1 number, but for example, 43 numbers that go from the lowest thing you can hear to the highest thing you can hear. There is this interesting phenomenon like if you put on a fan and that fan produces a sound in the same frequency of my speech, you are going to have a harder time hearing my speech. But then, if I put on a sound wave that just puts of a low pitch hum, that is not going to have an effect of interfering with my speech because those are such different frequency bands.
So, the problem we run into a lot of times and is why we do such detailed measurements is that we might go out in August and measure like 50 DB in the middle of the night, and then you’ll go out during the day, and its 40 DB and you’re like, ‘is the clock on my meter is wrong what’s wrong with my data?’ And when you look at frequency data, what you see is that it did get quieter – like all the masking provided by highways and factory operations goes down at night and comes up during the day. But do you know what goes up at night and down in the day? BUGS.
So, if you did not go to these communities and measure and observe, you would think that bugs were the background noise, that bugs had the same masking effect as highway does. The thing is, if we have more highway sound, we will respond less strongly to a mechanical sound in a factory because they are in such a similar frequency range. If I have bugs going and a fan going, those sounds are in such different frequency ranges that they don’t interact. So, one thing we do when we predict community response, to predict if we will be a good neighbor is we say, ‘ok not just what is the level of sound and not just how does it change over time but what’s the frequency content of sound?’ and we get into all kinds of groovy ANC standards about if you have this species of bugs in this region then you should subtract this many decibels and this band, etc. It’s kind of a well-recognized technical fact that insect sounds artificially pollutes our measurements. I have become kind of a bug guy. Because I know that when I hear a factory and I hear a cicada, the cicada could get louder, and I won’t be more or less mad about the factory. SO, I am kind of trying to model what people are going to say. Not just am I going to go measure numbers I like. Because say I measure an area and it is 50DB even though it’s 30DB without bugs and I’d say, ‘Brian, we don’t have to build any walls. We don’t have to do anything!’ And then, in the winter, it would be a horror show in the community. So, what I would have done is set the wrong criteria on the upset, and we would have made the community angry about noise and then implement a solution after the fact. That is like the worst of all the worlds in the design progress.
B: I see how this is a complete joy for a data nerd. But how can I make this accessible – this information accessible for someone who does not know what DB is? Like an ‘if, then’ scenario. You just used a lot of technical jargon and terms – how do we simplify that. What I heard is you measure the sound at multiple different times in a day and at multiple frequencies – and what we do successfully for communities is we play that back – not audibly but visually, we describe it in terms. And then what do we do? We measure the fan noise, equipment noise, and we compare those two things. And we show ‘is the fan and equipment noise louder than, by a percentage, the ambient?’
A: You got it exactly right! I am going to see if I can put it even simpler. I am going to go out there at 2 o’clock in the morning on a Sunday, and I’m going to measure the quietest thing someone might experience. Brian, you and I did a project where it was 23 DBA when there were bugs, it was 50, but with no bugs –23. That is really, really quiet.
B: Yeah, that like a February night it’s frozen out there and there are no bugs because it’s February.
A: There is nothing happening – all the children were snuggled up in their beds, and the whole nine yards, there’s a blanket of snow on the ground. It’s not going to get much quieter than this. We measured 23, so we would say we never want to be 10 above that, so let’s say our equipment is going to be no more than 33 – so we say, ‘how are we going to do this?’ So we are going to ask the people who sell us this equipment like the fan vendors and equipment vendors, and we will say, ‘how loud is your equipment?’ And maybe they’ll stand 50 feet away from their equipment with a sound meter and say, ‘ah our equipment is 100 decibels at 50 feet.’ And I’m going to prepare a big fancy computer model that basically says, ‘if this thing is 100db at 50, what’s it going to be at 1,000 feet?’ And then we are going to say, ‘ok, so we know how loud this fan is going to be in this person’s backyard, we know how loud it should be, and ideally, we are less loud than it should be.’
B: Right, and that’s where these bylaws and zoning and these regulations in the community play an important role.
A: That’s exactly it, they define the goals for noise control.
B: We must measure the distance from the source, such as a fan noise and the distance to the property line. What I have learned as a non-engineer is that sound decreases over distance.
A: And there are some good kinds of rules that help us predict that. Like if we are in a big parking lot, we have really good rules for predicting that, basically it says that every time you double the distance from the sound source, you are going to go down about 6 DB. So, in my example, if I measured 100 Db when I was 50ft away, let us double the distances from 50 to 100ft, so that’s 6DB down so add 50 ft to 100 it’s going to be 94BD because it’s reduced by 6DB every time you double the distance – now let’s double it again, go to 200ft, so it goes down to 88DB, and so that is called the inverse square law. That is kind of a really simple model of sounds and light and spherical – I am nerding out right now. Thank you for this invitation – how do all of the phenomena ideally expand throughout an environment? Fundamentally that’s the nerd definition to sounds – its energy that expands outwards into its environment via vibration via pressure vibration in this field, usually called the atmosphere. You know our friends that work underwater do it in the sea. But we just kind of have this energy which manifests this pressure vibration through the atmosphere.
B: Do you know what I find here absolutely fascinating – the way I geek out on this stuff? Because in so many aspects of what I do as an architect and so many aspects of applying science to cannabis – I find benefit. Cannabis grew out of a passion for people who grew the plant and were told, ‘no, you can’t grow the plant.’ And so, what happened in the early days of the industry is it was a slow, slow process for science to creep back into the production of cannabis. Why I love working with you, Acentech, and engineers, in general, is because of the ability to bring science back into the equation and show that cannabis is a good neighbor. It’s scientific, you can prove it. You can prove that there is no deleterious effects of this industry on the neighborhood – it’s scientific. You can measure it. Decibels are pressure, you can measure it, distance, frequency, bandwidth, all these things are provable. So many of the stigmas that are attached to cannabis are because science didn’t inhabit the same space – it wasn’t allowed to. The 2 things didn’t go together – cannabis and science? No. And today it is, and that’s why I’m fascinated.
A: I am right there with you. The other thing that fascinates me about the industry and why I enjoy working in this space is a lot of the owner-operators have a sustainability focus. I think that a lot of the work we do with you, Brian, is state-of-the-art mechanical systems, and the goal is energy efficiency, climate control, and stability for the system and redundancy. What we usually find is a more energy-efficient system is a quieter system. When you hear something that is noise and screaming, and the belts are slipping and squealing, all of that excess sound is wasted energy. Sound and mechanical energy are the same things. When you hear sounds – that could have been improved with the proper lubrication of a fan, causing it to spin more efficiently. So, one thing we love to do with engineers is learn about energy efficiency. We’ve often taken brute force strategies and acoustic, like let’s put up a really tall sound barrier wall which maybe embodies a lot of carbon, there is a lot of ways to look at a sound barrier wall. We’ve also said let’s put sound attenuators in duct paths to reduce sound before it leaves the duct and goes into the community. Well, that’s great for noise control engineers, but I’ve now just taken the pressure in that system and increased it. I’ve made the fan work hard. So now I’ve made it quieter, but I’ve made the fan work harder, so I’ve used more energy. A more elegantly designed system from the get-go will make less noise and thereby need less of that stuff. So, elegance and engineering and integration of engineering – if I understand what you’re doing, and I understand what our friends at BLW are doing, we can all work together kind of with a central goal of being a good neighbor – because that’s an integrative process. If you give me a noisy thing to start with, I can put walls up and silence it and choke it off and raise your energy bill by 20%. That’s not the way I like to work – and that’s what your team DOESN’T do, which is what I like.
B: I want to drive this point home. For groups that are starting out, for enterprises that are coming new to the market or even multistate operators who are already operating in the market – there may be fear in the industry about engaging acoustic engineers because they see that only as a cost to them. And what you just described is the opposite. Noise systems mean inefficient systems, so mechanical and efficiency drive energy and efficiency. Which means the benefit is embracing noise adjustment as a way of saving energy. And understanding fully how their systems work and how they work both internally in terms of lower cost of energy means higher production value, which means more money in your pocket or your investors – unless complaints from neighbors. So, then there’s the opposite, which is true, which is don’t be afraid of acoustics as an engineering field – embrace it. It’s going to help you get into a community, provide good relations with that community, and be more energy-efficient.
A: You just hit on this huge point: beyond energy efficiency is community relations, which is so important. This is advice I would offer to anyone, it’s so important to be able to speak credibly to the fears and concerns communities will bring up at public meetings. The worst thing you can do as a proponent of a project is say, ‘we are going to be quiet enough we did it here in this town and this town, and it was fine.’ I think the first thing you want to recognize is that that person is there because they are worried you are going to change their environment. So, you need to be able to speak to that and say, ‘I’ve been on your street at 2 am, I’ve measured for 7 days, I care about your environment, I am sensitive to your concerns.’ Establishing that community relationship early on and in a credible way is really important – and we are costly, there is a real cost to having us do the diligence that we feel is required scientifically and then boil all that data nerdiness down to a narrative that is true but sufficiently simple to be understandable. One of the things I could do, which is disingenuous, is give people so much information and nerd stuff they miss the actual point of it. So as an engineer, it is a role to distill all these things down and then explain it to the public so that if they had a concern, they could understand that concern – I would be helping them to strengthen their concern, not be an advocate of the project. So you establish that relationship, and then everything is much easier.
B: To bring that previous point up, once you’ve established the relationship, and you’ve made it clear that both parties benefit from the same result.
A: Mutual benefit.
B: Mutual benefit, the cannabis operator benefits from being quieter because that means more energy-efficient operation. A quiet operation is an energy-efficient operation. That is a point that every planning board needs to hear is that this is a mutual benefit – they aren’t opposing forces.
A: I think that is exactly right. You need to put yourself in their ears, as you might say. What would someone be afraid of? What would you like in your backyard?
B: So, what would you tell someone planning a facility from a noise perspective? What type of advice would you generally have? I’ll ask two things – what advice would you have for a potential entity looking to place a facility in a location? And what advice would you have for a community considering opening their zoning laws to allow cannabis to come in? So, both sides of that coin – from the folks who produce the noise to the folks that want to think about how that might affect them.
A: Let’s talk from the regulatory perspective first because that kind of sets the stage for where the proponent is going to come into the scene. So, I think that as a town is considering this, they are going to have to recognize that people are going to be potentially nervous about this. And the town is going to receive ideally a lot of technical information from an expert like me if they do their work right. How is a town going to review that credibly? How is the town going to make sure their noise bylaws make sense and are modern and current? So, at the outset, I would really suggest that a town retains an acoustic consultant just to say, ‘what is the expectation established by your laws right now, how might we change them in anticipation of cannabis coming in, and what are the concerns that the community has brought up?’ I would say I am an old school believer of ‘good fences make good neighbors – and by establishing clear, measurable, object, and current criteria, I think that just helps everyone understand what the rules are. It helps the proponent, it helps the community and the planning board what they are going to get out of this. There is a risk to it to any new idea, right? You haven’t done it before. You don’t know what’s going to happen. By having good regulation, you can limit that risk without missing a lot of the benefits that cannabis cultivation brings. There are real market benefits from this as an operation. That’s why people are in the business. So, let’s talk about those people. What are they looking for? Clear regulation. I think the best thing that they can find is a seat where they know what their obligations are. You and I have worked on a couple of projects, Brian, where I could give you a 0-foot wall or 30-foot wall, and I don’t really know which one I have to give you because the criteria is written in such a way that I would have to go to the Smithsonian to buy an instrument to read their criteria which were written in like 1926. So, one of the main things someone wants, the proponent wants, is clear regulations. The next thing that they want is to be kind of as far away as possible from residential receptors and people who they might disturb, you know, hospitals, nursing homes—things like that. Just be as far away from those people as possible. They want to think about the 5-year plan of the business. This is not to give the hard sell to Anderson Porter. But I think a lot of time, people are tempted to get a plan from architects and say, I need drawings, I need drawings for my facility. They miss out on the real value architecture can be, scratch that, the real utility architecture brings. It’s that 30,000ft plan and saying, ‘I can build this for you in 2 days no big deal, it’s a metal building. What are you going to do in here? And how do I optimize the building and systems in it? Not just to support you on day 1 but day 300.’
B: Right, you’re talking about integration. Integration of all the disciplines produces a better outcome.
A: And make that narrative, that 5-year narrative in advance. Because what you may find is there are short-term savings to cheaper louder equipment that you do noise control on. But maybe if you add it up over the course of two years, all that noise control you did and added energy cost would’ve justified your quieter, more energy-efficient system, that probably gave you better thermal regulation in the first place. Like these big cooling tower systems we are doing with you with interior chillers, they just have so much capacity and reserve. You are going to have a 100-degree night with 80% humidity. What are you going to do? Well, you can either keep the environmental conditions or not. I think these systems are really robust and really elegant. They meet that 5 years, not that 1-year operational design.
B: So, one of the pressures on cannabis operators is the feeling of being squeezed, that the market is moving quickly, they need to get in and begin operations in order to catch up to the speed that this market is moving in. And we know because we are both, you know in the northeast region, that land is increasingly hard to find, and that’s going to be true in every region of the country, land is increasingly hard to find. Whether you are proposing to build new or renovate existing facilities and the first regulation people cross the hurdle of is the zoning. Is this allowed use in this district? Are we in a cannabis zone that our municipality is going to let us do? And then we cannot be outside of that zone – it is not like a farmer who can simply say I’m farming, and it’s an as of right in many communities. But cannabis production, because of its classification as an industrial group and by zoning bylaws, is forced into certain neighborhoods.
A: You are exactly right – and managing your community relations really managing your neighborly profile with the people you are going to live and work next door to. Did I ever tell you that red trains are louder than green trains?
B: No, I did not know that I’ve never heard that.
A: Well, it’s not really true – but it is true. I think it’s a really good example of perception, like how perception relates to noise. And why I’m such an advocate for establishing good community relationships. In Germany, in the EU, more broadly, they really look at the noise as an environmental pollutant that they want to regulate, so they do a lot of study on noise and its impact on people. The Germans were putting in a new rail line, and they did an extensive sound and vibrations study – I kind of best-in-class study, I would love to work at the firm that did this kind of study- really nicely done work, and they make predictions that this train is so far away and is sufficiently quiet it’s not going to be an issue. They did the same kind of work me and you do together, Brian, they said, ‘what’s the ambient? How loud is the train going to be, and how is that going to compare?’ And you know they said, ‘this is going to be just fine, let’s build the rail line.’ And they did it, and there was uproar. Pitchforks and torches sort of community response to this project, and people expressed really significant harm, they showed real anxiety, the physiology suffered from harms from the noise, the environment they were in. The German government was like, we got to get to the bottom of this, we can’t make this mistake again, what are we going to do? So, they brought in mostly psychoactive physicians, you know, people who study the interface between acoustic and psychology, how does the brain operate on acoustic data that enters the ears. And they were kind of puzzled. They couldn’t figure out why this is happening. And then someone said – I’m not sure exactly how this part of the story – but someone said what about the visual element? So, they did a really silly study, they went into photoshop, and they changed the color of the train from being red, which was the color it was painted in real life, and made it green. And they put people in this headphone environment, and they played the exact same sound of trains going by with a visual cue of a red train and a green train. And the green train was absolutely acceptable in terms of its loudness profile, and the red train was really just too loud. It was the exact same sound, and this was established with statistical confidence, this is a German psychology study, this was a rigorously done study that establishes that people’s perception of something, that their visual perception, or their perception associated with anxiety, like ‘I’m in a threat environment that may harm me’ those have radical significance for how you rate an acoustic stimulus.
A: So, if someone feels they are not being heard, and you’re going to change your environment, and you didn’t even like do your resource, and who is this guy presenting, and they don’t even know what a decibel is, that’s a red train. We need to go into his thing with green trains all around.
A: I’m going to give you a train – but how the community sees it is a really significant part of their experience.
B: What was the field of study? What was the term?
A: Yes so, they input people doing psychoacoustics research – people studying how we respond to acoustic signals. But they also brought in other researchers. That was what was so neat about the study, is that they had this very integrated study. If you just had an acoustician at the table, they’d say, ‘well, look at the numbers? What’s everyone complaining about?’ And then obviously everyone knows red train vs. green trains, the only difference is the color. Well, that’s not the experience of people. What you are ultimately asking me to predict is people’s experience. And I know that is such a multimodal kind of thing. So, you go all the way back to music, and sitting in the woods by a stream, I don’t want to hear your darn HVAC, and there’s kind of good reasons that most people feel that way and there are really things that you and I can do about it that makes it beneficial.
B: Wow. That’s inspiring. As an architect, I think about color, I think about perception, right? What generates form is from the interior, it’s the necessities, it’s the mechanical systems; how do we grow a plant indoors? And now I wonder, are there things that we can do to the exteriors of building, in particular, that would change them from red trains to green trains? Are there visual cues that we can give, as a cannabis community, are there visual cues that we can transmit to the neighborhood that turns this from a red train to a green train? I know the things, working with you, that we do physically from an acoustics perspective. But there may be things we could do collaboratively, as an architect acoustician team, that can begin to anticipate a psychoacoustic response. How do we physically reproduce this photoshop exercise, where the building presents in a way that it is a green train and not a red train. Now that is fascinating.
A: We had a great example of that on a project that we did with you guys. We have a cooling tower that has a big inlet from down below from about 0 to 6 feet up, and it’s got a big, big, slow-moving fan at the top.
B: It’s an evaporative cooling tower.
A: And the blades on that thing are specially designed to be low noise, and they kind of go through all this aerodynamics research, so they move really slow and scoop a lot of air. So that fan up top looks like a big noisy thing, I mean, look at that thing? It’s a red train. But what is actually happening is all the noise is generated below where the motor is and where the inlet is. So, we built our fancy computer models and said, well, Brian, you only need to make this wall 7 feet tall, but then people are going to look and see that big red train there. So, we often recommend that you are not able to see the source, just for that psychoacoustic opponent. If I can see it, it’s louder. For example, I can take a loudspeaker and play a sound for you, and then drop like a black cloth in front of the speaker that has like no reduction to sound, and you’ll tell me that thing is quieter.
B: Just because you can’t see that big bass speaker drum looking at you?
A: Yep. Your perception of loudness is not just an auditory perspective. It’s this multimodal perception that you integrate that says – I think that’s hearing. That is so many things at once, its vibration on your skin, movement of small hairs on your ears, but you say, oh it’s hearing it’s something you do every day you’ve been doing it your whole life.
B: So, when I go to a stadium rock show, and they build this entire wall of speakers that’s 40 feet high and 40 feet wide. It’s the perception of sound. It’s not necessarily how many decibels that thing is pushing out its the reaction of wow that’s got to be loud.
A: You have started to describe a wall of speakers, and you made me kind of come full circle on the cannabis space to think about the Grateful Dead and the great engineering they did for The Wall of Sound. If you let an acoustician on this podcast and say that The Wall of Sound was just for visual looks, boy, I wouldn’t be doing my job. Those guys did such cutting-edge research on audio engineering and sound perception and the kind of distribution of sound through a stadium. They kind of came up with an early microphone like this – just because they wanted to all stand in front of the speaker stacks but like if you do that, the microphone feedback. So, some crazy person in The Grateful Dead ensemble said, ‘well, if I take another microphone right next to it and flip it in reverse and add that back into the original singer’s microphone, all the other noise will go away. So, they accidentally invented noise cancelation at like a Kesey Party.
B: Wow. Alright drop the mic, lets end the podcast on that note. That’s unbelievable.
A: Full circle, right?
B: Full circle. Awesome well this has been really cool.
A: Man, it’s been fun thank you so much for having me.
B: ANDY Carballeira from Acentech, who helps us to make facilities in cannabis a good neighbor, everywhere we design them. Thank you, Andy. I have learned a lot today this has been really cool. Installation number 2 of cannabis is a good neighbor. Thank you this is awesome.
A: Brian, Sarah, thanks for having me it is fun to work with you guys, have a great day!
This is a podcast series brought to you by Anderson Porter Design. Brian Anderson is joined by cannabis industry experts to discuss concerns of cannabis in the neighborhood. Our goal is to provide industry experts with information regarding sustainability, best practices, and challenges they may face with communities while working in cannabis. We also hope industry experts will use this podcast as a resource to share on a local level to educate communities and lawmakers about what they can expect by having cannabis as a neighbor.