When it comes to specifying office requirements, occupiers tend to focus on a handful of things. Location is usually top, followed by factors including internet connectivity, the building’s sustainability credentials and onsite amenities. In the coming years, it is expected that air quality will be added to this shopping list.
Earlier this month, a study published by the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry found that outdoor air pollution cut life expectancy by an average of almost three years. The situation is almost as dire in office buildings with ventilation systems that need upgrading.
Andres Guzman, head of sustainability at Colliers International, says that although it is still early days, a lot of occupiers are closely looking at this issue because there is “enough hard evidence linking poor levels of indoor air quality with employee health and wellbeing”.
To address this problem, Guzman believes more building owners need to start measuring and monitoring pollutants in the workplace to assess how big the problem is. Accreditation schemes such as the WELL Building Standard and BREEAM already consider air quality and Guzman thinks that for some occupiers this seal of approval will be enough.
However, other occupiers will be looking for greater assurance and as a result he thinks RESET – a sensor-based, performance-driven building standard and certification programme – could start to gain traction in the London office market.
“They were using it [RESET] in shopping centres in China to say ‘look at the [poor] quality of the air outside – we have a shopping centre that has RESET certification so come inside and breathe our clean air’,” says Guzman.
The first building in London to receive RESET certification was Hermes Investment Management’s 33 Glasshouse Street, which became RESET-certified early last year. To retain certification, air samples are taken in the building every 15 minutes. These samples are analysed and, if issues are detected, alarms are sent to facilities managers to rectify the problems.
It costs between £10,000 and £50,000 a building to install the relevant sensors, hardware and software to achieve the certification and for the ongoing support provided by RESET-accredited professionals, with each project requiring a bespoke solution based on factors such as size of building and number of air handling units.
While some building owners might baulk at the additional cost of certification, Guzman believes that in the future, air quality standards such as RESET could become part of a landlord’s conversation with potential occupiers in the same way that WiredScore connectivity certification has.
“As we as a society recognise the impact of air pollution on health, there is going to be a time where you might have a particular road and you will say [to a potential purchaser] ‘just to let you know, you’re buying a building on one of the most polluted roads in London’,” says Guzman. “Maybe then the tide will turn [for air quality certification].”