Why care for indoor air?

Can we afford to say no to better health and improved performance?

The construction process, with its different steps and phases, is quite complex. In addition to all these steps and procedures there are many stakeholders involved, as well as numerous requirements to keep track of and risks to be minimized. These requirements range from environmental issues to laws and regulations, certifications, functional requirements, etc.  

Planning, project management, communication, and coordination are essential for the project to be finished according to the time plan. Then comes the budget constraint. To my knowledge, it is quite common to see compromises compared to the original requirements when the tenders are faced with the financial reality.

Some questions that come to mind when I take on a birds-eye view of this process are:

  • Who truly puts on the glasses of the end users and their interest in this process? Who ensures that the tenants, preschool children, students, production- and office workers get a healthy and productive indoor environment?
  • How’s the situation in existing buildings, which were built many years ago when the laws and regulations where not on the level they are today?
  • How often is a true life cycle perspective and a total cost consideration taken, for an operating period of 50 years in relation to the construction cost?
  • With the opportunities that digitization and connected products give us today to create more efficient processes, visualize buildings, rooms and even the indoor climate – why is it so slow to digitize the construction process?

Studies and research

As pointed out in a previous blog post, most of us spend as much as 90% of our time indoors. Here in the northern parts of Europe we also know that indoor air can be up to five times as polluted as outdoor air. This alone should motivate us to want to create a healthy indoor environment as much as possible.

Numerous studies and research indicate that indoor environment is very important for our health, comfort, as well as for performance and productivity.

Massachusetts field study

  • Those who worked in spaces where only the minimum airflow requirements were met had a 50% higher sick leave than those who worked in spaces where the airflow was twice as high.
  • The annual loss in productivity for those working in the poorer environment was estimated at $ 400 per person. The reason for lowering the air flow is almost always to save energy and heating costs. This research showed that the loss in productivity was significantly greater than the savings made on energy.

“This research suggests that the health and productivity benefits far outweigh energy costs and environmental impacts can be mitigated through a variety of readily available strategies. It is time we move away from ventilation designed for merely acceptable indoor air quality and move towards design for optimal indoor air quality. We have been presented with the false choice of energy efficiency or healthy indoor environments for too long. We can – and must – have both.”

Joseph Allen, Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Director of the Healthy Buildings Program at the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Chan School, Principal Investigator for the study.

These studies also showed that employees’ cognitive performance scores averaged 101 percent higher in green building environments with enhanced ventilation compared to a conventional building environment.

Cost perspective for a tenant

When it comes to the cost perspective for a tenant in commercial buildings, one rule of thumb is 10 – 100 – 100. Where 10 represents the cost of energy, 100 the cost of renting premises, and 1000 the cost of staff. The cost perspective also speaks for itself: focusing on the indoor climate and environment is extremely important to contribute to the staff staying healthy and productive.

All in all, the combined benefits of improved health and comfort, lower sick leave, and improved performance in my opinion speaks loudly – we really can’t afford buildings with bad indoor environments.

Do you agree?

Do you want to continue discussing the construction process, digitization, or healthy indoor environments? Or perhaps you want to collaborate with us in our mission to improve indoor climate? Drop us a line or give us a call!

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