Solutions & InnovationArticle
Making the Invisible, Visible
April 05, 2021
In the realm of healthy spaces, making the quality of air people breath visible is the biggest opportunity to build occupant confidence.
4 min read
As the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more widely available, we are anticipating a return to gathering in indoor spaces with a mixture of excitement and worry. It’s an especially interesting time for our work at Trane Technologies where we focus every day on making indoor environments better for people – and improving their overall performance for the benefit of the planet.
As the host of our podcast, “Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies,” and leader of our Center for Healthy and Efficient Spaces, I have the opportunity to hear from industry experts about the future of the built environment and what it means for public health and global sustainability. I’m happy to report that we have reason to be optimistic on both fronts.
A key theme is emerging from these conversations and in the public sector: the importance of making the invisible visible. Public health experts, atmospheric scientists and architectural engineers I’ve spoken with all agree that in order to solve the complex challenge of improving indoor environments, first we have to help people “see” the air around them.
In Episode 2 of the podcast, I spoke with Memo Cedeno Laurent, associate director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University. Memo and his team are leading a lot of great work to study and measure the health of buildings.
In our conversation, Memo reminded us of the old adage, “you cannot understand what you don’t measure.” With the recent explosion in technology to gather data on what we call the “Four Pillars of Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ),”—air quality, lighting, acoustics and thermal comfort—we can begin to “see” the air and environment around us.
As Memo put it so well, “transparency is the new green.” Just like sustainable solutions have increased in consumer demand, so will air quality performance visualization and management tools. With visibility into this data, we can more clearly see the impact of indoor atmospheres on our health, productivity and wellbeing.
More importantly, with metrics made more available, we can take action. Some of those actions can be individual and immediate in smaller spaces, such as opening a window or ventilation, or installing a better air filter. And some might be bigger picture and more comprehensive, like providing building managers with the data they need to manage and improve air quality and experiences in more complex spaces like offices, schools and hospitals.
What I am most excited about is the potential for increased visibility into indoor environmental performance to help improve the health of spaces for the long term. Research shows excellent IEQ can improve cognitive function up to 150 percent. We can use this moment to help people see the potential of well managed indoor spaces to not only help reduce the spread of airborne pathogens, but also to improve the overall health, productivity and wellbeing of people.
And those buildings where we are spending so much time represent 35% of global energy consumption and 16% of greenhouse gas emissions. As we work to enhance the indoor experience for the benefit of public health, we have the added responsibility of doing it in a way that also increases the sustainability of our planet.
Our challenge today is not to let these twin crises of COVID-19 and climate change go to waste in terms of applied learning. If we are going to improve indoor spaces and environments, let’s make sure we do it right.
By sharing data rich insights with multidisciplinary partners, policymakers, business leaders and community organizers, we have the opportunity to make significant positive change in the design and infrastructure our built environment overall.
I’m especially excited about the potential of recently announced technology partnerships, like Aircuity. By integrating with a building’s HVAC and control systems, Aircuity enhances air quality management and visibility solutions for building owners and operators, with automated monitoring solutions that help reduce airborne pathogen and contaminant spread, and simultaneously manage energy efficiency for more sustainable operations. It’s another step toward the transformation of buildings’ as an asset to both operators – and the people inside.
As we prepare to gather again, solutions like this can help provide peace of mind. And in the long-term, these are important tools to help everyone see the potential for creating better indoor spaces.
Public health experts, atmospheric scientists and architectural engineers all agree that in order to solve the complex challenge of improving indoor environments, first we have to help people “see” the air around them.
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This article originally published in Forbes Tech Council.