Paul Scialla, founder and CEO of Delos. Paul is an expert in the field of indoor environmental quality and healthy buildings.
The growing demand for healthier buildings in a post-pandemic world is driving improvements in technology and data collection. This will transform commercial real estate and benefit owners, office workers and residents.
As the founder and CEO of an indoor environmental quality (IEQ) solutions company, I believe that emerging technology has the potential to make any building a smart building while providing a steady stream of useful data on IEQ. The insights gained from metrics and monitoring related to occupancy, ambient noise, temperature zones, humidity, pollutant levels and energy use can make buildings healthier, reduce energy consumption and reduce operational costs.
How data can optimize workspaces
As hybrid working models become the norm, knowing exactly how and when a space is used offers the opportunity to optimize operations and spend in a more focused and efficient way. Data can lead to design and usage upgrades and give employees options to work where they feel most comfortable. It also accommodates local solutions that directly impact the health, well-being and comfort of residents, rather than more expensive, large-scale adaptations that may have less impact on the users of the space.
For example, it may be more cost efficient and effective to apply local air purification in huddle rooms and other high traffic areas rather than installing a new HVAC system for the entire room. Similarly, detecting temperature differences at desk height versus ceiling height can point the way to energy savings and more comfortable and productive employees.
In addition, even older buildings can make significant upgrades that make them healthier, without the cost and disruption of a complete infrastructure overhaul.
Why owners and operators should care about building health
Owners and operators of office and residential buildings are under increasing pressure to meet tenant expectations for healthy buildings. The pandemic and recent scientific research has increased awareness of the link between indoor air quality (IAQ) and other indoor environmental factors on physical and mental health, as well as productivity and cognitive function.
The increasing demand for health and wellness features in office buildings and other work environments is also in line with the increased focus on corporate compliance with environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards. Recognizing that health and wellness fall entirely within the “S” category of ESG motivates action on multiple levels.
The UN Sustainable Development Goal for Healthy Lives notes that even small businesses “contribute to a healthier society.” The World Health Organization says that “all employees have the right to a safe and healthy working environment.”
Financial regulators are also raising expectations. The European Union is new Corporate Sustainability Reporting Guideline, which took effect in January, requires reporting companies to disclose information about labor conditions and their impact on human health. The Securities and Exchange Commission is working on similar requirements, and SEC Chairman Gary Gensler has suggested that the requirements may include standards related to the health and safety of workers.
How to measure the quantitative benefits of ESG compliance
Quantifying the social aspects of ESG can be challenging, but I believe the benefits are well worth the effort.
If you measure IEQ accurately, you can provide data to support sound construction claims to attract and retain employees. It’s not enough to claim you have a healthy workplace; employees want proof. Building owners and operators can provide that proof by providing full transparency on workplace conditions and providing real-time data on various aspects of IEQ.
Measuring IEQ can also guide future innovations, because what is measured can be improved. You can’t decide where to go if you don’t know where you are. Try to spot air quality problems early so they can be addressed quickly – an advantage that can be especially important given the well-established link between poor indoor air quality and the transmission of viruses and other airborne pathogens.
We still have a lot to learn about the link between health and indoor environments, but we know enough that there is no excuse for inaction. I believe that the future of healthy buildings – and the health and well-being of the people who inhabit them – will be greatly enhanced by technology and measurement. The time to embrace that future is now.