The increasing focus on Health & Wellbeing of building occupiers requires companies to consider how best to manage their workplace environment. Well-known benefits from healthy indoor environments include employee or occupant wellbeing and increased levels of productivity, among others.
The Importance of Indoor Air Quality Monitoring
Most people know that the air we breathe outside can be polluted with harmful particles that affect our health. What is less often considered, is that this is no different and sometimes even worse in indoor environments. In closed spaces, air quality can be compromised mainly due to poor ventilation that leads to a build-up of CO2 or other contaminants stemming from various sources.
Worsened by the fact that some air conditioning systems are not equipped with appropriate filters, meaning that pollutants from the air outside are simply being distributed inside as well, indoor air is often 2-5 times more polluted than regular outdoor environments.
This is a problem, as air quality influences the productivity, thinking and general wellbeing of the building’s occupants with links to people – especially those working in indoor office environments – reporting fatigue or drowsiness in the afternoon. This is backed by several studies such as the one conducted at the Technical University of Denmark, finding that “poor indoor quality can reduce the performance of office work by 6-9%” which is further “accompanied by negative effects on general symptoms such as headache and concentration.”
A study from EHP (Environmental Health Perspectives) furthermore finds that green building strategies can alleviate these effects, observing that less volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the air increase the cognitive functionality of occupants in indoor environments by 61%. Add a high ventilation rate to that and this increase mounts to 101%. That’s doubling human performance rates, just by improving air quality conditions alone!
So, it comes as no surprise that many corporates are keen to provide the best working environments for their employees, and it is clear how effective air quality management can play a significant role in this endeavour.
Air Quality Matters Beyond Health & Wellbeing
Seen from the landlord’s perspective, this makes air quality monitoring a key subject as well. If landlords are able to demonstrate high levels of performance of their assets in this respect, they can use it to attract and retain the best tenants. Vice versa, it is also important for risk management. With the increasing ubiquity of personal devices that measure an ever-increasing number of environmental metrics, landlords are well advised to ensure their environments are healthy and demonstrate low levels of e.g. pollutants on an ongoing, operational basis (i.e., not just at the design stage).
Health & Wellbeing Certifications as a Starting Point
The WELL and RESET standards provide specific thresholds for a variety of air quality parameters typically found in indoor environments, such as the ones shown in the table below. These official standards provide a useful benchmark for understanding which levels of certain pollutants are considered acceptable.
However, it is to note that time plays a crucial role in this context. A short-lived spike of pollutants is less of an issue than continuous exposure of occupants to concentrations near or above the upper limits shown above. Thus, ongoing monitoring, real time analysis and alerting are key to ensure long-term sustainable environments.
This requires the right amount and right type of sensors, installed in the right places of the building to get accurate measures, and ideally a system that provides access to all the available data from a holistic monitoring perspective.
AQ & Environmental Monitoring – Sensor Examples
Air Quality Monitoring in Practice
In summary, to understand and manage air quality in the workplace, it is necessary to acquire data at granular intervals from reliable sensors, process it in real time and flag any values above certain (time) limits. All this data needs to be available to the relevant stakeholder for further analysis and reporting in order to identify and manage problematic spaces.
Naturally, there is more to healthy buildings than air quality alone, as outlined by the World Green Building Council. But with our holistic approach to air quality monitoring, we are actively managing the first three listed features and that way making a coordinated effort towards healthier and greener buildings and spaces.