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As Focus On Wellness Intensifies, Building Owners Consider Sustainability Trade-Offs


When the coronavirus pandemic hit, 42% of working Americans packed up their desks and started working from home full time. Now, as millions of those workers prepare to return to the office, they have one question on their minds: Is my office environment safe?

While building owners have long known the importance of indoor environmental quality, now tenants are talking about it as well. For years, sustainability has reigned as one of the most important building features people inquire about, but the pandemic has owners and tenants alike shifting their focus to IEQ. 

While indoor air quality has been getting most of the attention these past several months, there is much more to consider when determining the overall quality of an indoor environment and how it may impact tenants — from lighting and acoustics to temperature to the purity of the water that comes out of the faucets. 

Sometimes, the measures it takes to improve a building’s IEQ can come into direct conflict with energy-saving measures that have become common in today’s sustainability-focused world. 

“In the last few years, there have been tremendous strides made toward changing how buildings impact the environment, but now we have to start thinking more about how buildings impact the people who are in them,” Boland Executive Vice President Jerry Scanlan said. “Tenant well-being is paramount, especially today, and it needs to be held in the same esteem as sustainability.” 

Bisnow recently sat down with Scanlan to learn more about how IEQ impacts sustainability, what measures building owners can take to improve their indoor environments and how they can make up for the energy savings they may lose out on by implementing these measures. 

Bisnow: What is the connection between sustainability and IEQ? 

Scanlan: There’s a natural tension that exists here, since some of the things you need to do to make an environment better for individuals can come in contention with energy savings. If you’re going to bring in additional outside air to increase ventilation and make it less stale indoors, you’re going to need to spend more to condition that air. Also, installing tools to clean the air can increase energy consumption. 

In terms of lighting, there’s been a push to bring in more natural light to improve IEQ and that can be very cost-effective. But temperature is another major factor, and in order to keep people comfortable, you often need to deploy solutions that could cut into your energy savings. 

Bisnow: What are some of the top mistakes building owners make when it comes to IEQ?

Scanlan: The biggest mistake is looking for a quick fix. Owners will jump at solutions without analyzing the overall impact they will make, and they end up wasting additional money on top of losing out on energy savings. Owners need to take their time, conduct due diligence and look for long-term solutions that may be a little more costly in the short term, but will work out better in the long run. 

Bisnow: If there’s no quick fix, what are some of the ways owners can improve their IEQ? 

Scanlan: The best way is for owners to conduct a full assessment of a building with an experienced firm like Boland to learn where they are in terms of the quality of their indoor environment and establish benchmarks of where they need to be. You may not have any issues with lighting, but you could discover that your air is stagnant or the temperature is off. 

As you uncover these things, you can explore the tools that you’ll need to improve them, what it will take to finance these tools and how best to move forward. All of these steps are things Boland can help with. We can conduct assessments, work with engineers, contractors and suppliers to implement whatever needs to be done and even present you with financing opportunities as needed. 

Bisnow: How can owners make up for their loss of energy savings when they implement these measures?

Scanlan: The whole point of improving indoor environmental quality is to make it better for people. When people are happier with their working environments, they are more productive and satisfied in their jobs. Personnel costs are typically the single largest costs of the businesses we work with here in D.C., so even slight improvements in productivity can have a huge impact on profitability.   

If you can reduce absenteeism by boosting IEQ, or simply make your office a place where employees enjoy coming to and being productive each day, these measures have paid for themselves. 

This article was produced in collaboration between Studio B and Boland. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content. 

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