Clean air is set to be a legal requirement – is your building ready?

good indoor air quality monitor
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Mark Bouldin, Clean Air Expert at Johnson Controls, on air quality legislation.

Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) has fast become a priority for many businesses. Current ESG legislation ranges from corporate sustainability reporting and legal requirements to monitor Scope 3 supply chain emissions to equality and fair pay acts – but soon another law could be added to the list.

New air quality legislation is nearing its final stages in the UK Parliament and is likely to pass into law. Yet, many businesses and occupants are unaware of what will be required. This pending legislation, coupled with the energy crisis, and air pollution getting worse in the winter months and impacting occupant health, puts increased pressure on leaders to ensure that their indoor air quality (IAQ) and building safety strategies are up to scratch.

At their core, buildings are supposed to protect their occupants from the elements but they should also protect them from getting sick. By investing in building health and IAQ, businesses can reduce the risk of Sick Building Syndrome and legal action. So, why is IAQ so important, what will be required to satisfy the new regulations and how can businesses improve IAQ for good?

ESG goes internal

When it comes to ESG strategy, some businesses and facility managers tend to focus on external factors or elements that they can measure and act on easily, sometimes overlooking a crucial element – internal air quality. This can be due to the fact that many organisations simply don’t have the technology or expertise in-house to assess, monitor, and analyse IAQ. However, poor indoor air quality is linked to lung diseases like asthma, COPD and lung cancer, and the World Health Organisation has reported that household air pollution was responsible for over 3 million deaths globally in 2020 alone.

Health impacts aside, the benefits of improving IAQ also cover occupant wellbeing, productivity, comfort, and sustainability, and are even proven to boost productivity and ROI. For instance, improved IAQ reduces respiratory infection cases by 10-14% and avoids up to $2.7bn in lost productivity due to sick days. Better IAQ also powers better quality of work, with the cognitive function of office workers showing as much as a 61% increase in a green building versus a conventional building and a return of $750 – $800 per employee per year. Not only does prioritising IAQ help organisations towards ESG and net zero goals but also helps to boost employee engagement and retention.

Soon, however, monitoring and improving IAQ will become a legal requirement and core element of any ESG strategy – not just a nice to have.

Clean air as a legal right

In the UK, the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill is currently making its way through Parliament. If passed, this Bill will set minimum standards for air quality in workplaces, homes, and public spaces in an effort to reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution. The Bill is also set to encourage parliament to publish a strategy that includes targets and measures for air quality and to report on this annually.

In addition to the Clean Air (Human Rights) Bill, the UK government is looking to replace the EU’s air quality laws as part of 2021’s Environment Act. There will be two new legally binding targets added to the Act requiring public bodies and private organisations to reduce levels of one of the most harmful air pollutants, PM2.5. This is particle matter – everything in the air except gas that is less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. It is comprised of a variety of chemical compounds and materials, some of which can be toxic. Existing legal limits for PM2.5 are two times weaker than guideline levels established by the WHO, and are set to be replaced with stricter requirements in the amendments to the Environment Act. There is now a greater onus on building owners and managers to act before legislation comes into play.

Partnership paves the way to IAQ success

Meeting new air quality legislation hinges on businesses building a greater understanding of their setup and ensuring that they take the right steps to meet legal requirements. The first step is for organisations to gain a clear picture of their air quality. Using temporary sensors, businesses can collect and assess levels of pollutants and gain a baseline understanding of their IAQ, as well as other facility data such as energy efficiency and building usage. However, it’s not just about gathering data – the real value is through analytics.

Partnering with IAQ specialists, organisations can effectively audit their current IAQ status, build out a strategy and consider the investment needed to satisfy regulation and business needs. Partners can help organisations recognise that prioritising IAQ and occupant comfort does not mean that energy consumption slips down the agenda – all elements go hand in hand. IAQ strategies can work in tandem with sustainability commitments. For instance, as well as detecting when HVAC should be activated due to the level of pollutants in the air, smart building technology can turn it off in areas that are unoccupied – saving energy and reducing emissions.

Working together, businesses and air quality experts can deploy technology that will reduce airborne pollutants and ensure that businesses fulfil the obligations of new legislation. This often starts with ventilation and monitoring improvements, with extra solutions available to further disinfect spaces. For instance, innovations in IAQ like far UV-C make it possible to disinfect people, air, and surfaces as workers enter an office building. Far UV-C uses a wavelength of light that is shorter than harmful UVA and UVB rays and poses no harm to humans, whilst improving IAQ.

Before the Clean Air Bill and legally binding air quality targets come into play, businesses must make IAQ a priority. This not only ensures that organisations can satisfy new regulations, but can bring real benefits in occupant comfort, health, and productivity. Finding the right partner to improve IAQ is essential to effectively audit, analyse, and action IAQ strategy.