Indoor Air Quality: Why it’s time for commercial building operators to act

Clean Air Day

15th June 2023 is Clean Air Day, the UK’s largest campaign on air pollution.

We caught up with BGES Group’s London & South Regional Director, Lewis Locke, to discuss the importance of indoor air quality – and why building operators should take note.

What’s behind the increased focus on indoor air quality?

We’re seeing calls for healthier buildings coming from the ground up – employee wellbeing is rightly a big priority for many organisations and they want best-in-class workspaces to meet that need.

In a competitive market, building owners need to do what they can to win tenants. So, we’re seeing more building owners adopt The WELL Building Standard™ – which, among many things, sets requirements in buildings that promote clean air and reduce or minimise the sources of indoor air pollution.

What are the benefits of better indoor air quality?

The Covid pandemic obviously accelerated action on indoor air quality, but the benefits to tenants and occupants go way beyond infection control.

It’s been proven that higher ventilation rates deliver an uptick in employee performance, for example. Another study linked improved air quality to a 58% reduction in staff sick days and a 27% reduction in staff turnover. If people want to understand the return on investment, I would point people to a recent research review by the International Well Building Standard – it highlights a stack of independent studies that prove investing in healthy buildings pays back.

From a building owner’s perspective, research by US university MIT showed that health-certified spaces earn between 4.4% and 7% more per square foot than their neighbouring peers.

How are you helping building owners and operators improve the air quality of their indoor spaces?

We start with monitoring – using our IAQ One – which accurately detects 11 indoor air factors which are harmful to human health. We also link the IAQ ONE with ventilation equipment or integrate it with central air conditioning. So, should indoor air quality turn poor, IAQ ONE immediately alerts the Building Management System (BMS) which introduces fresh air to replace the bad air.  There are clearly efficiency benefits to this intelligent automation – you don’t have to run plant full whack all the time.

By linking to the BMS, we can take a whole building approach to interpreting the data. We can create a dashboards and league tables comparing different buildings and different zones.

We can use it to make other recommendations, such as retrofit improvements on air handling units (AHUs) to ensure they are filtering out harmful pollutants.

What is your advice to building operators wanting to get started?

If I can first give advice on what not to do! I would be wary of “plug and play” air quality monitors – I’ve seen these in reception areas, and they might give you a snapshot of the air quality in that one room, but what about the rest of the building? And what do you do with that information?

I’d urge building operators to invest in monitoring technology across all your spaces, and link it to your BMS so that positive changes are automated – and you can use the data to drive even greater healthy building improvements.

Having said that, you don’t have to start big if budgets are an issue. With some clients we are working on a five-year plan; with another client we are working on full turnkey project which includes IAQ improvements, a BMS upgrade, and new metering. We welcome conversations with building operators to understand their healthy building goals and barriers to action. We always take a tailored approach – great things can be achieved with collaboration.

If you’d like to chat to Lewis and the team about your healthy building requirements, get in touch