Why Does Air Quality Matter for Real Estate?

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Change often represents new opportunities

There is a large body of scientific literature linking the built environment with the health, productivity and well-being of the people who occupy it.

Awareness of the importance of indoor air quality in the environments in which we live, already growing globally in recent years, has further increased due to the Covid-19.

Today Corporate Executives, HSE managers, HR managers, building professionals and real asset owners understand the importance of innovation in air quality management and how these solutions can add value to their goals.

The actor who has long been at the centre of the scene for a long time, energy, is now joined by an equally important issue. The problem, which has long been studied by scientific institutions and public bodies, now stands out as an aspect to be managed proactively, not only because of Covid-19, but from a more long term value-creating perspective.

In some countries, awareness is higher and implementation programs are at a more advanced stage, but this is a trend that will become increasingly wide-ranging.

Mega – trends

The observation of the main trends existing in society today, and in part deriving from the pandemic experience, shows a strong centrality of issues related to the environment, health and safety:

  • Sustainability is a major trend that increases the demand for indoor air quality services.
  • The market demands higher health and safety standards.
  • Working environments and lifestyles need to be reshaped and new standards will have to be set to protect employees health.
  • The quest for an improved customer experience, focused on personal safety, will trigger new digital services, aimed at informing users and customers about the ongoing safety procedures and the environmental health.
  • The pandemic imposes health-centred protocols, particularly inside the buildings, where the virus can be transmitted much more easily.

The digital transformation in real estate

With the spread of technologies such as BIM (Building Information Modeling) and the emergence of the High Performing Building model, the amount of data to be managed and the new KPIs are manifold (e.g. energy, waste, water, air quality). There is a growing demand for health and safety, and in addition, it requires evidence of performance.

A direct relationship between property managers and tenants/occupants is emerging. This is triggering new digital services for tenants and occupants.

New technology providers are entering the property value chain and new skills are requested in the sector. The value chain is changing, making room for new players and deeply transforming some players.

The impact of indoor air quality in digital transformation projects

The indoor environmental healthiness plays a decisive role in managing building’s performance. There are many reasons for IAQ management processes to be digitized:

The pandemic stressed the role of ventilation in the transmission of viruses.

It is known that certain indoor air conditions can increase the risk of virus transmission. The Italian National Institute of Health (ISS) points out that “, indoor air quality is of great importance in protecting, safeguarding and preventing the health of citizens and workers “. The ISS calls for the monitoring of microclimate parameters, as well as VOCs, which are useful indicators for detecting chemical pollutants, including remains of sanitization activities. Moreover, the monitoring of particulate matter enables a better maintenance of aeraulic systems and particularly of filtering systems.

Indoor air quality performances are widely used in building standards.

While the first generations of sustainable building certifications were focused on energy efficiency today, a good level of IAQ is requested by certifications such as LEED O+M, WELL and GRESB. For example, WELL framework includes an air quality feature, aimed at promoting healthy air and reduce indoor pollution. Managers who want to obtain the building certifications have to manage indoor air quality.

Holistic strategies for optimizing both air quality and energy efficiency.

It is estimated that HVAC systems account for around 35% of a building’s energy consumption. The orientation is to increasingly install automated HVAC control systems that rely on data collected from air quality monitoring systems and building occupancy levels to optimize the energy/health ratio.

New services for tenants.

Business models are also changing in real estate sector and the management of IAQ represents a unique opportunity to build new digital services for customers and occupants. The same environmental data collected and processed by property managers can be used by tenants to pursue the certifications they are interested in (e.g. WELL, BCorp,..). If this service doesn’t exist, tenants purchase their own indoor air quality monitoring solutions, which they can manage independently.

The topic of indoor air quality is part of ESG policies.

The indoor air healthiness management has a positive social impact for property owners. The importance of a healthy built environment is now even more important.4 For some time now, sustainability has been part of the goals of the real estate sector and the ESG policy has an impact the value of the real estate portfolio. For example, Health & Well-being are established metrics in the Real Estate assessment of GRESB (Health and Well-being module has been introduced in GRESB Real Estate assessment already in 2019). This topic is on the agenda of facility managers, who must now also deal with IAQ.

IAQ monitoring and management systems make available widespread data, reports and analytics useful for property owners and tenants

The benefits offered by IAQ management systems are several:

  • Assessment of indoor air quality, by providing reliable data in order to make the best decisions.
  • Proper organization of environmental data for ESG reporting and building certification processes (WELL, Reset, Fitwel,…).
  • Availability of actionable insights to improve indoor air quality level.
  • Real time communication of indoor air quality to building occupants.
  • Proposal of new digital services to tenants.
  • Promotion of recurrent awareness initiatives, in order to inform and educate different stakeholders (including guests, customers,..). This is also foreseen by some of the certifications that require IAQ management.

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