Welcome to part four of our four-part series on the impact that poor IAQ has on occupant wellbeing. In the final article we consider the opposing forces of energy and health, and how we can change the way we think.
If you missed part- one, The Impact of Poor IAQ on Wellbeing, part -two, The Current Standards for Workplace IAQ, or part three, Measuring What Matters, we highly recommend you read these articles first.
The opposing forces of energy and health
There is one significant complication for building owners and managers when it comes to actively improving IAQ to improve health and comfort. It usually requires an increase in energy consumption. This has an economic impact and is at odds with attempts to lower carbon emissions and improve sustainability.
The tension exists because low energy consumption relies, among other things, on minimising outside air when it is not suitable. For example, the temperature of outside air in mid-winter or mid-summer needs more energy to regulate it. On the flip side, building health benefits from maximising the use of outside air for ventilation purposes. Modern heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems could for instance be programmed for either an ‘Energy Bias’ or a ‘Health Bias’ depending on the prevailing environment. The challenge is finding a happy medium that balances health and energy consumption imperatives and delivers great IAQ results.
Changing the way, we think
To improve IAQ in a scalable way, and allow our buildings to meet their purpose well, requires a shift in mindset. It is relatively simple; but it takes a commitment to making changes and sticking with them.
The steps are simple. First, we need to measure what we are trying to manage. Then we need to automate responses to that data, in real time, so action happens quickly and effectively. This can be achieved most easily via a Building Management System.
The next step is to record and publicly share the results, ideally using a recognised measurement and certification system. This helps to create an environment of accountability and compliance, where IAQ is valued by building owners, managers, and occupants.
Ultimately, it comes down to priorities. Over the past decade, green building standards have made significant progress. However, in many countries, including New Zealand, strategies to enhance human health in buildings have not advanced at the same pace. If organisations are serious about making their people their priority, improving IAQ needs to be on their radar, and they need to understand its importance within a business-focused framework — it’s about achieving the balance between productivity, wellbeing, and energy consumption.
Education is needed to improve awareness and understanding of IAQ. The Environmental Protection Department in Hong Kong introduced their voluntary IAQ Certification Scheme in 2000., updating the scheme in 2019. Their approach is inclusive and is aiming to educate from an early age with an interactive, kid friendly version available. It’s a smart, sustainable, and long-sighted approach.
Certifications also help embed awareness and compliance. There are various building health and wellbeing certification programmes who have made their platforms available internationally.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on worker wellbeing in shared environments. For facility managers, IAQ is no longer a niche conversation — it’s central to creating fit-for-purpose buildings. Air quality shouldn’t hold back your efforts to do better for business, for people and for the planet.
A white paper on the entire four-part series can be downloaded here.