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Buildings need 'breath of fresh air' approach

To mark Clean Air Day, Mark Bouldin, healthy buildings expert at Johnson Controls explains why the UK needs a new approach to clean air in buildings.

Mark Bouldin, healthy buildings expert at Johnson Controls

If you had the choice of breathing clean air for 90% of the time or 10% of the time, which would you choose? Well, currently, the emphasis is firmly on the 10%. From governments, campaigners and businesses, there has been a huge push to clean the air we breathe outside. And there’s no denying the importance of that. However, given the average member of the British public spends 22 hours of their day indoors, it seems negligent not to place the same level of attention on indoor air quality (IAQ).

The importance of this has never been more magnified than in the last 18 months, where the world has been poleaxed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now of all times, governments, businesses and landlords alike need to take action to improve indoor air quality. For governments, that means introducing regulations for IAQ and, for businesses, it means getting ahead of those regulations and implementing the necessary clean air solutions to safeguard their buildings and the people inside them.

While the pandemic has, of course, been an exceptional circumstance, it doesn’t change the fact that, as a society, we were caught far more unprepared than we should have been. Things we once took for granted were completely taken away from us for extended periods of time. Going to the gym became impossible; eating inside a restaurant was out of the equation; and working inside a building was only justified for the most critical of workers. For those very people – the people who look after the sick and elderly; the people who educate the children of today; the people who ensure shelves are stocked with food and medicine – a lack of IAQ regulations put them at risk.

We’re not saying that, with clean air solutions in our buildings, the pandemic would have been avoidable. However, for the buildings and organisations that had to remain open, even during the toughest lockdown measures, clean air technology would have allowed them to do so in a safer, more controlled manner. In fact, a third (34%) of organisations installed clean air technology in their buildings, providing them the opportunity to monitor and improve indoor air quality through data driven insights. During the pandemic, this allowed them to protect their employees and customers. A large majority (87%) subsequently said that they would have found it more difficult to keep their buildings safe without smart technology, such as clean air solutions. That’s the impact clean air technologies can have on your buildings and your organisation.

Even outside of a pandemic, though, clean air is essential. Without the correct clean air technologies in place, the quantity of CO2 can rise above recommended levels, viruses can spread more easily, and particulate matter, from outside pollution, will invade indoor spaces. With people spending 90% of their days indoors, clean air solutions represent an opportunity to create healthier environments and, ultimately, to improve the health of the nation.

For businesses, there might still be an element of ‘what’s in it for me’? Well, excessive CO2 levels lead to fatigue, while allowing viruses to linger in the air increases the chances of employees getting ill and, therefore, having to take days of work or to work through illness. In contrast, buildings with clean air allow their employees to be more productive. Research has shown that productivity can increase by up to 11% if buildings have a constant flow of clean air. Your employees don’t have the power to make that happen, but you do.

The good news is that the number of organisations using clean air solutions in their buildings is rising. While 34% used the technology to help them adapt during the pandemic, more businesses have now recognised its importance. Over half (52%) of UK organisations now use the technology in their buildings. For the other 48% that have yet to act, clean air technology is the only way to achieve truly clean air indoors. Air quality needs to be constantly monitored and the air itself filtered, disinfected and temperature controlled. There is no shortcut to achieving this: businesses need clean air technology, especially if they’re going to navigate their way through the post-pandemic world.

Governments and, by proxy, businesses are now taking outdoor clean air seriously, and that’s important. However, people only spend 10% of their day outside. Therefore, in terms of people’s health, 90% of the challenge is within the indoor environments that these organisations and businesses operate out of. And, compared to the environment, there’s a much quicker and easier fix to this problem. Organisations that invest in clean air technology today will improve the health and productivity of their staff and customers immediately. As we strive to improve the health of our planet and the people on it, getting a head start by addressing the places we spend most of our time is not just smart – it’s essential.

17 June 2021


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