IIAR Focuses on Year-Round Education, Prepares for 2021’s Annual Meeting

IIAR has several educational offerings available for its members, ranging from online training classes and webinars to technical seminars at its annual meeting, and the association is continually working to improve and enhance all it offers. The past year put a spotlight on how content is delivered, and IIAR is engaging members and reviewing its past success as it plans future content.


Member feedback is a critical component of IIAR’s educational programs. To increase member communication, IIAR President Gary Schrift has formed virtual discussion forums that launched in November. “With COVID, I have had no opportunity to personally meet with new members at conference, meetings, or other venues,” he said.

Even with the larger online seminars IIAR offers, everyone is muted, so there is no forum for back-and-forth conversion. “So, my idea for our ‘talk it out’ sessions was to have small online conference calls with 20 members or fewer where everyone can speak,” Schrift said. “Secondly, rather than me or IIAR determining the topics, I wanted to know what interested our members, and thus all topics are based on member input.”

There will be no planned presentations during the discussion forums. “It will be an open forum, hopefully generating good discussions providing instantaneous feedback,” Schrift said.

The first topic was on member dues. “The plan is to use this feedback to shape future member rates and benefits,” Schrift said, adding that other discussion topics could be used to shape the conference or other educational offerings.


IIAR’s annual meeting is one of the association’s most extensive educational events. The 2020 conference scheduled for March 15-18, just days after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and President Trump declared a national emergency. IIAR quickly reacted, canceled its inperson conference, and jumped into action to create a virtual event. The virtual event ran live May 18-June 5, and the recorded sessions are available on-demand until March 25, 2021.

“We didn’t know what to expect as the timing put IIAR as one of the very first organizations to have a virtual conference,” Schrift said.

Dave Schaefer, chief engineer of Bassett Mechanical and IIAR chairman, said going virtual was unchartered territory for IIAR. “The staff did a fantastic job pulling this together from scratch,” he said.

IIAR focused on delivering its technical sessions, workshops, and technomercials. The virtual sessions had as many people in them as during IIAR’s live, face-to-face conference, said David Sainato, director of education for IIAR. “The top eight of them had over 100 participants, which is a good size,” he said.

The best gauge of success was the number of requests for professional development hours. “If you’re on-site somewhere, there are only so many hours in the day, so there isn’t as much opportunity to hit up multiple sessions,” Sainato said.

Schaefer said because the virtual conference was spread over three weeks, he could attend all of the classes he wanted and earned even more continuing education credits than usual. “In the past, I would have to look at the tech papers either before or after the conference. That was a positive,” he said.

The virtual conference’s two most popular topics revolved around ammonia safety and energy efficiency in industrial refrigeration. “They are two very strong trends in the industry, and it is not surprising that in 2020, those topics came up as the most popular based on attendance. It looks like the same thing will follow suit for 2021,” Sainato said.

Industry vendors who took part in technomercials got good “bang for their buck” during the virtual meeting, Sainato said. “Five of those were in the top 20 most popular programs. Folks aren’t only coming for the big issues we propose. They’re coming to look at our vendor offerings and get some questions answers,” he said.

Despite the last-minute change to an online conference, the event was a financial success. “Thanks to the registrants who paid 35 percent of their original in-person conference registration fees to attend the virtual conference and sponsors and exhibitors who paid a reduced amount to be recognized during our three-week virtual event, we were able to cover 100 percent of our hard costs. Those consisted of the software and vendors needed for the virtual production and the many costs already spent and non-recoverable for the in-person conference,” Schrift said.

Schrift said the biggest takeaway from the virtual event was that IIAR can successfully deliver technical content virtually with some advantages over in-person events. Those include having content available to those who can’t attend in-person or attend the in-person event but have scheduling conflicts at the time of a live session.

“The pandemic provided us an opportunity to review the conference structure to determine what is important to members during the conference, and what future changes we could make to in-person conferences,” Schrift said, adding that the changes made to go virtual provided some ideas for use in future hybrid models. “However, at this point, it is too early to tell what future changes will improve future conferences.”


IIAR is planning for its members to meet in-person for its next conference, scheduled June 20-23, 2021, in Palm Springs, California. “Face-to-face is ideal because you get to see colleagues and friends,” Schaefer said.

IIAR has already received proposals for the 2021 technical sessions at its annual conference and has accepted 18 technical of them. “Occasionally, we’ll get some drop out from people who are overextended, or the research isn’t finished by the time we get the materials,” Sainato said, adding that of those 18, five will be delivered in Spanish.

IIAR is continuing to provide information on industrial systems and is adding sessions focused on commercial refrigeration systems, Sainato said. “It is a slightly different audience. We’re finding that our members are dabbling in that area and want more information about energy efficiency and system design of commercial refrigeration establishment,” he said.

The opening Sunday education program will be getting the most out of the IIAR piping handbook, which was just revised, Sainato said. “There is some interesting software with that we want to show people who to use,” he said.

to show people who to use,” he said Schrift said some virtual content for 2021 and beyond seems like a good idea for those who can’t attend an in-person conference. “The biggest feedback was it was nice to see every session they wanted to see. Because we spread it out over three weeks, most people could see every session live, and if they couldn’t, they could watch it streaming,” he said.

IIAR is still determining what type of hybrid virtual features to offer. “There is a cost to providing virtual content, so we are looking at how we can provide these virtual hybrid features while having additional revenue to cover these costs. Thus, we are evaluating what virtual offerings provide value at a justifiable cost,” Schrift said.


As part of its offerings, IIAR is also looking at increasing collaboration with its partners, such as GCCA, RETA, IRC, and ASTI, to grow its educational offerings and develop joint training sessions. “I want to avoid duplication of effort with multiple organizations developing training on the same topic and to create a single source for each topic of training that all of our members rely on for quality information,” Schrift said.

What’s more, the Academy of Natural Refrigerants is growing, Schaefer said. “We’re adding classes all the time,” he said.

IIAR offers regular webinars and aims to have them monthly, Schaefer said. He added that IIAR’s committees have continued to work virtually. “In actuality, a lot of the committees work virtually,” he said. “Process safety management and code compliance groups meet quarterly.”

IIAR is also continuing to move forward on updating existing standards, including IIAR-2, IIAR-4, and IIAR-8. “A lot of progress has occurred despite not being able to get together in person,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer said IIAR is looking at ways to become less dependent on the conference revenue in the future. “We’re still a financially sound organization, but it is always good to say, ‘Is there a better way to do this?’” he said, adding that IIAR has a task force that focuses on lowering costs and increasing revenue.

Some of that comes down to increasing membership. “I know our name is IIAR, but a better name would be all-natural refrigerants because we cover CO2 , hydrocarbons, and ammonia, and we have been moving in that direction for quite a few years now,” Schaefer said.

IIAR has a CO2 standard and a hydrocarbon standard that is coming out. “I suspect that will bring in more members because it involves different types of equipment in some cases. Use of those other natural refrigerants is also growing,” Schaefer said. “Adding to our membership makes the industry safer and improves and increases educational opportunities.”