Posts

Indoor Air Quality: Every Breath We Take

At EVORA, health and wellbeing consulting is a key component of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Strategy and Risk Management service line.

We are increasingly advising our clients on indoor air quality and the emerging third-party standard in this area: RESET Air certification.

First – Why should we care about indoor air quality?

The short answer is because indoor air quality has a direct impact on health and wellbeing.

For example, PM-2.5 is one pollutant of concern in indoor environments. PM-2.5 is particulate matter or solid particles that are smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter – far smaller than the width of a human hair. These particles are so small that our bodies have no natural defences against them. As a result, PM-2.5 can penetrate deep within our lungs – even enter our bloodstream! – and can cause emphysema or lung cancer.

Even seemingly benign compounds from a human health perspective, like carbon dioxide (CO2), can negatively impact our mental performance. CO2 is a gas produced when we respirate and is in every breath we exhale. Yet, recent research shows that when CO2 accumulates in a space, such as when there is inadequate ventilation in an airtight indoor environment, it can significantly impact our cognitive functioning and make it difficult to concentrate.

High indoor air quality thus provides many benefits to worker health and wellbeing; it reduces sickness, decreases absenteeism, and helps raise productivity.

As employees are typically quoted as one of the most expensive costs of running a business, it follows that there is a strong return-on-investment in preserving high indoor air quality.

Second – How can EVORA help?

One way we assist our clients in this space at the asset-level is supporting the application of third-party health and wellbeing accreditation/certification schemes. Certification schemes offer a robust framework for discourse surrounding health and wellbeing in the built environment.

RESET Air (where RESET is short for Regenerative Ecological Social & Economic Targets) is one such certification scheme borne out of Shanghai, China in 2009. RESET Air certification has a focus on protecting human health by specifically targeting indoor air quality.

RESET Air is a sensor-based and performance-driven indoor air quality certification. RESET Air provides a standard for continuous monitoring of pollutants of concern, which must be below acceptable limits during hours of occupancy for a period of three months prior to certification. This level of performance must then be maintained forever more; projects are recertified annually to ensure indoor air quality continues to be within acceptable thresholds. Indoor air quality performance data must also be made publicly available to occupants of the building, continuously and in real time.

The pollutants of concerns include PM-2.5, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), CO2 and carbon monoxide (CO).

There are two different RESET Air project types:

  • RESET Air for Commercial Interiors: The intent is to monitor the quality of air for occupants at the breathing level.
  • RESET Air for Core & Shell: The intent is to monitor the quality of air being delivered by the building’s HVAC system post-filtration.

For certification with either project type, the emphasis is on obtaining three months of data by deploying accredited monitors and providing the data in an acceptable format.

RESET Air is seeing considerable attention internationally and relatively rapid adoption, particularly in certain geographies. Additionally, RESET Air has recently been coordinating and harmonizing with other health and wellbeing certification programs, including WELL and Fitwel. This harmonization helps streamline project documentation for those projects looking to achieve multiple health and wellbeing certifications.

Exploring the nuances of certification schemes, including RESET Air, can get complicated and quickly!

EVORA has multiple RESET Air Accredited Professionals ready to help you understand the standard and – if appropriate – apply it to your project. Get in touch to find out how we can help your project achieve improved – and easier to communicate – health and wellbeing outcomes!

Health and Wellbeing in Student Accommodation Investments

The demand for student accommodation continues to grow in the UK. In 2017/18, there were 602,000 purpose-built bed spaces available to students; 87% of these were delivered by the private sector[1].

Critically for investors, the value of transactions is greater than ever, in spite of fears that the market had peaked and concerns over the impact of Brexit. Despite this market buoyancy, clearly risks must be appropriately managed and investment decisions taken carefully. For us and many others, researching, analysing and integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is a critical element of such risk management. Investments involving student accommodation intersect with a broad range of ESG issues that may of themselves, or in combination, have potential to materially impact on overall profitability. One ESG focus is that of health and wellbeing, an area of growing importance to both active investors and student occupiers.

For us and many others, researching, analysing and integrating environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues is a critical element of such risk management.


When planning for student accommodation, consideration should be given to the connections between the built environment, both physically and mentally. For example, in terms of nutrition, fitness, mood, sleep patterns and performance. Aspects include:

  1. Lighting: Ensuring availability of sufficient natural light and windows. Mood is significantly affected by access to natural light, and by the type of artificial light we are exposed to. Lighting has a big effect on alertness and concentration and traditional lighting can disrupt the body’s circadian rhythm (associated with chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, and depression).
  2. Bed quality and comfort: Sleep and mental health have a bidirectional relationship; investing in mattresses that improve sleep quality can contribute to improved wellbeing.
  3. Curtains: Related to the above, ensuring that light pollution does not prevent sleep is important.
  4. Sound-proofing: Noise has been found to influence occupants’ mental health. Each asset must at least meet relevant regulatory standards (and preferabley surpass) to minimise the impact of noise.
  5. Temperature: Respondents to NUS’ Homes Fit for Study survey in 2014 described being mentally affected by the temperature in their accommodation. Whilst good provision of heating is important, issues such as pre-set thermostats could result in heat stress which itself has a negative impact on mental health. Heating can also affect occupants’ physical activity which in turn can impact on mental health. Reducing drafts can also help.
  6. Air quality and ventilation: Being damp free and simple improvements like plants to help with better air ventilation should be considered.
  7. Green space: Views and access to nature have been connected to better wellbeing.
  8. Safety and security: Implement 24/7 management strategies and promotion of safety precautions to students (refreshed for each new student intake). Consider early (i.e. during design).
  9. Physical Exercise: Consideration to provision of gym facilities, indoors or outdoors. Establishing relationships with local sports facilities to enable subsidised membership.
  10. Nutrition: High quality kitchen facilities with appropriate cleaning strategy in place. Healthy food options, preferably with pricing and/or other choice incentives. Students should also be able to easily access good quality drinking water.
  11. Accessibility: All residences should aim to be within feasible walking distance of suitable public transport or educational establishment. Adequate and well-maintained cycle storage facilities (secure, well-lit with overhead cover) should also be provided as standard.

Additionally, property managers need to cooperate with the university’s welfare services to maximise the support that can be provided for students to reach their optimum mental wellbeing. Mental health training should be provided for all student-facing staff, so they are equipped to follow the right protocols, respond adequately to distress, understand the boundaries of confidentiality, and consider the positive things they can do to create a supportive culture, including signposting students to further support and community care.

Student accommodation not only provides shelter, but should also offer a rich environment of inclusiveness, generosity of spirit, respect and excellence in which students are enabled to become the best people they can be.

Integrating with existing local communities and/or supporting creation of new communities within and around student accommodation is crucial, particularly as it helps first year students transition into their new lifestyles. Student accommodation not only provides shelter, but should also offer a rich environment of inclusiveness, generosity of spirit, respect and excellence in which students are enabled to become the best people they can be. Students deserve an excellent residential experience where they feel a sense of belonging and engagement to facilitate true academic success. Property managers should support social measures and pastoral care. Design and fit-out of accommodation can enhance community spirit, by providing comfort and high quality social space. An allocation system should be employed to allow new students to choose their room in the accommodation and provide a matching service to live with a preferential mix of others, that relates to gender, nationality and stage of study.

Attention to considerations such as these can reduce project risks, build social support and generate incremental value.

EVORA can provide comprehensive end-to-end sustainability consultancy support for investors in and operators of student accommodation, including:

  • Development of ESG policies and strategies;
  • Certification (e.g. WELL Standard and Fitwel); and,
  • Reporting (e.g. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reports, Responsible Property Investment Statements and / or disclosure of sustainability performance within Annual Reports).

Contact us to speak to a member of the team.


[1]Cushman & Wakefield, UK Student Accommodation Report, 2018

IoT: How can it help address urban sustainability challenges?

A common trend occurring in countries across the world is the movement of people into cities. The knock-on effect of city growth is that their energy demand and greenhouse gas emissions rise exponentially in order to meet the needs of the inhabitants.

Current estimates state that cities consume over two thirds of the world’s energy and are responsible for similar levels of global greenhouse gases[1]. As cities are expected to continue growing in the future, it is important that urban sustainability issues and challenges are addressed in order to restrict the impact of climate change.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a network of physical devices which can connect and exchange data. Often, IoT forms the basis of new innovative approaches, which are presented as the solution to many urban sustainability challenges. According to the world economic forum[2], which analysed 640 IoT deployments, it found that 84% of these can in some way help address the UN Sustainable Development Goals, highlighting the global potential of IoT. For the purpose of this blog I have focused upon two key areas of interest to me, air quality and commercial buildings. In both of these areas the IoT has the potential to drive sustainability progress forward.


Air Quality

Air quality has received considerable attention in the media over the past year. In London, where we are based, the major source of pollution derives from transportation. It is important for environmental and health reasons that within cities we are able to monitor air quality effectively. However, a key challenge has always been the coverage.

Often air quality is measured by monitoring stations at set locations providing limited spatial representativeness, which is problematic in densely populated areas where significant variations can occur due to a wide range of emission sources. Advances in low power wide area (LPWA) networks (long range wireless communication) has enabled small and low-cost sensors to be developed, which can be attached to street furniture (think sign posts and street lights) within cities. Readings can be received in real time from these sensors providing air quality data with greater depth and scope than before. Using this information in models can support decision making processes and also help raise general awareness of the issue.

A practical example using IoT to improve air quality monitoring is the Air Map Korea Project[3], which involves sensors (with IoT capability) being placed on over 4.5 million telephone poles, 60,000 public phone booths and 4000 offices. The desired result is for the data to help government-led efforts to reduce air pollution. Another example, slightly closer to home is a mobile air quality monitoring project in Glasgow[4], where sensors are placed in vehicles to provide readings throughout the city. I am expecting more and more schemes like these two to start occurring in cities around the world.


Commercial Buildings

Cities contain a wide variety of commercial buildings, such as offices, hotels and shopping centres, which account for a considerable part of the overall energy demand. If cities are going to continue to grow as expected, it is vital that these buildings are able to reduce their energy demand and associated carbon emissions. Savings can often be achieved through improving the operational functions. Commercial buildings commonly have a set level of intelligence built in, with internal networks providing a tool for communication between equipment, for example as part of the Building Energy Management System (BEMS).

Approaches utilising the IoT are now offering greater system connectivity, providing building managers with more accurate data and better methods to regulate and control internal conditions, enabling building environments to be improved and efficiency savings achieved. An example of this connectivity would be a building where heating and cooling is adjusted automatically based on the occupancy and weather conditions or even lighting systems that adjust to our natural circadian rhythm.

At EVORA, we have been providing monitoring and targeting consultancy across a range of assets to help reduce consumption within buildings. Our SIERA software can be directly linked to a utility AMR stream providing us with consumption readings every 30 mins. Through reviewing the data monthly, we are able to optimise plant equipment timings and highlight unusual fluctuations, leading to financial and carbon savings (click here to see a case study where we delivered energy savings of 30%).

Having greater connectivity allows for services like this to exist, which improve the internal environment and assist in the way buildings are managed and operated, offering a viable solution for lowering energy demand from commercial buildings.

If you are interested in discussing this further or want to know how EVORA could help your organisation with sustainability initiatives,then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with one of the team.


[1]C40 Cities – https://www.c40.org/why_cities
[2]World Economic Forum – http://widgets.weforum.org/iot4d/
[3]Business Korea – http://www.businesskorea.co.kr/news/articleView.html?idxno=19374
[4]ScotlandIS – https://www.scotlandis.com/news/2017/september/with-iot-air-quality-in-glasgow-gets-smart/

Monitoring and visualising indoor air quality with Foobot

With the rise of the health and wellbeing agenda, monitoring and visualising the indoor environmental quality (IEQ) of the workplace is emerging as a key objective for many.

Some smart buildings already have expensive state of the art IEQ monitoring in place. But what if you don’t find yourself in this situation and need to set up a system from scratch? You could go out and procure said ‘state of the art’ system at significant expense. However, if you are budget-constrained, you may find yourself looking toward the more cost efficient, ‘consumer-grade’ end of the IEQ monitoring spectrum…


Measuring IAQ

Now, we know there are considerable limitations with certain consumer-grade IEQ monitoring devices – including their level of calibration and, ultimately, accuracy. However, for this blog we would like to set this issue aside and focus on the practicalities of installing and monitoring indoor air quality through a popular consumer-grade monitoring device: Foobot.

With an interest in air quality, one of our consultants found Foobot. Foobot is a low-cost air quality monitoring tool which can interface with internet-based apps to log air quality and also help you to do something about it.

Setup

Setting up Foobot is easy. Once you’ve unboxed and plugged the monitor in, you need to download the Foobot app to an Android or iPhone smart phone.  After registering on the app, it will then allow you to connect to the monitor. Once connected, you can then monitor Foobot readings wherever you are.  For easy comprehension, Foobot gives you a headline air quality score, which is made up of several readings including carbon dioxide, particulates, and humidity.

The main Foobot phone screen, showing an air quality score (50+ is poor)


Data and API

As well as the app, Foobot supplies an API, which can be used to extract data from your monitor for your own use. To get the data you basically fire various URLs to the API, which include an API key supplied by Foobot, that will return data. This is quite advanced stuff for those who want to build their own mini applications. An easier way to do this would be to use something called IFTTT.

Connect Foobot up to other apps using IFTTT

A useful website www.ifttt.com (If this then that) has lots of applets; readymade code snippets that are based on a trigger (this) and an action (that). Handily there’s a few setup already for Foobot. For our Foobot (named Evorabot) we have used two – one to log readings to a google spreadsheet and the other to message a reading when you physically tap the monitor twice.

The Foobot applets listed on the IFTTT website.

To use IFTTT, first you need to register as a new user on the site. This can be done using a Facebook or Google login or a login specifically for IFTTT. Once registered you can then set up applets.

To setup an applet is simple.

  1. You choose the applet you want to use (Foobot/Twitter/Instagram).
  2. You then click on the trigger part of the applet (The ‘this’).
  3. This will prompt you to connect a Foobot device.
  4. To connect your Foobot to the IFTTT site, you just need to enter the login you created when you registered your Foobot using the mobile app.
  5. Once it is registered you can use any of the Foobot triggers for the ‘this’ part of the applet.
  6. For the ‘that’ part, we first used a connection to a Google drive account to log each reading made by our Foobot to a google sheet. This graph is a google sheets graph, plotting CO2 output in the Evora office.

An example Co2 graph of the Evora office

Using Slack

We now use an IFTTT applet which logs a reading to one of our Slack channels (the app we use for internal communications with the team). The Foobot reading is triggered by someone tapping/knocking on the device which then posts a message in the appropriate conversation.

The knock knock Foobot app in action


Hacks to the future

The great thing about Foobot is that its already collaborating with other technologies to create complete solutions. This includes linking to Nest to enable more ventilation if air quality gets too bad. These hacks enable both offices and homes to create Smart ventilation, keeping poor air quality in check.

We may well explore this solution for our office. For now, when the air quality gets bad, we open some windows!

Health impacts of climate change on indoor environments

A report recently published in the journal Environment International highlights health risks associated with climate-induced change to indoor environments. The report explored four key consequences on indoor environments: overheating, reduced ventilation, indoor air quality (which may lead to the growth of pathogens) and biological contamination such as pest infestations or airborne infectious diseases. Climate change is expected to amplify existing health risks already associated with these categories. This is not very surprising and will only stretch the public health purse further if climate change is not tackled.

More information via Science Direct and the European Commission.