Clean Air Requires Efficient Buildings

As a property manager, you live and breathe commercial real estate, but have you considered how commercial real estate affects the air you breathe?

The energy efficiency decisions you make in your building can do more than cut costs or improve the tenant experience –  they can also improve indoor air quality for your community’s health. How? The generation of energy for our buildings is one of the leading contributors to unhealthy air and global health risks.

How Health and CRE are Related

When discussing air pollution, we usually hear about electric cars and alternative transportation. This focus comes from the very real fact that car exhaust is by far the largest source of smog, which is the most visible form of air pollution. (Think the dense air famously seen at the Beijing Olympics.)

The air we breathe can also include pollutants that are invisible to our eyes, however. A focus on cars and visible pollution alone is shortsighted, because electricity generation is also a leading cause of toxic air pollution. In fact, coal burnt for electricity is the leading cause of sulfur dioxide emissions in the US, a toxin that contributes heavily to chronic respiratory conditions. And, while coal power generation has been on decline in recent years, it still produces 33% of our electricity generation.

Back on the subject of CRE – would it surprise you to find out that nearly half of the energy in the US is consumed by buildings? Think of all the lighting, and HVAC a building requires. This means commercial buildings have a unique opportunity to reverse the trend of air pollution through energy efficiency.


The Impact of Air Pollution  

6.5 million premature deaths each year can be linked back to air pollution. Air pollution is a strong factor for chronic heart conditions, respiratory disorders, asthma, and more. The most vulnerable populations are our society’s youngest and oldest members, but every person who breathes air is taking on this involuntary risk. These health issues are associated with tangible economic losses as well. The World Bank attributes $5.11 trillion in annual welfare losses to air pollution.

While countries with emerging economies suffer the greatest impacts, the U.S. is not unaffected. Despite improvements made by the Clean Air Act, the EPA estimates that 166 million Americans live in counties in which they are exposed to unhealthy levels of pollutants. Air pollution is also the 10th highest risk factor for death in the United States.


Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor air pollution is also an important concern. In contrast to outdoor air pollution that generally comes from some form of fuel-burning, indoor air pollution is often the result of poor building ventilation. Poor or inadequate ventilation creates an imbalance of CO2 and other chemicals in offices in particular. The symptoms from poor ventilation are called sick building syndrome, a condition that has been found to reduce productivity and cognitive thinking in commercial buildings.

Replacing an inefficient HVAC system can improve your energy efficiency and indoor air quality all at once, delivering fresh, filtered air in the correct amounts to keep your tenants happy and healthy.


How Can Property Managers Support Healthy Air?

The problems are big, but the good news is that the opportunities are big as well. More than 30% of the energy used by buildings is wasted through inefficient products and processes. With the right information, any building can conserve this energy regardless of when the building was built. In fact, older buildings often have the most to gain from energy conservation efforts. Real-time energy monitoring is one way to simplify building scheduling, fault detection, measurement and verification for energy retrofits, and building optimization – all changes that help to improve indoor and outdoor air quality (and likely provide a boost to the bottom line of your building operations).

A property manager serves many critical roles, like keeping the building running, comfortable, and managing costs. Your role also can also support global health, by proactively supporting energy efficiency programs.


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