Let’s talk about innovations helping people and the planet thrive.
Did you know that 99% of the global population is breathing unhealthy air? What if it didn’t have to be that way? To us, the relationship between human health and planetary health is so intertwined that it's impossible to talk about one without the other.
That's the focus of the Healthy Spaces podcast, where we’re exploring how technology and innovation are transforming the spaces where we live, work and play. Through conversations with scientists, engineers, and business leaders, we are connecting the dots for listeners between climate tech and healthier spaces for people and the planet.
At Trane Technologies, our purpose is to challenge what’s possible for a sustainable world. We hope you’ll join us.
Or wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts.
Introducing Season 3 of Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies
Join host Dominique Silva for a series of conversations with scientists, engineers and business leaders who are innovating to help people and our planet thrive. This season, we’ll explore how technology is transforming how we live, work and play—one healthy space at a time. Join us.
Did you know that 99% of the global population is breathing unhealthy air? And that the use of fossil fuels for electricity, transport, and heat drives roughly two-thirds of heat-trapping emissions worldwide?
What if it didn’t have to be that way?
Welcome to Healthy Spaces, a podcast where we explore how technology and innovation is transforming the spaces where we live, work and play. We’ll also explore how industries are re-imagining how we produce and transport food in a healthier and more sustainable way.
This season, you’ll hear from scientists, engineers and business leaders who are innovating to help people and our planet thrive.
The Healthy Spaces podcast is brought to you by Trane Technologies, where we are on a journey to boldly challenge what’s possible for a sustainable world. We invite you to join us.
Subscribe to the Healthy Spaces podcast and don’t miss an episode. We’ll see you there.
Healthy Spaces - Season 2
Healthy Spaces - Season 1
Trailer: Introducing the Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies Podcast
In this series introduction, host Rasha Hasaneen highlights the goal to reveal and explain what really goes into a healthy space, what we can expect from cutting-edge innovations aimed at indoor experiences, and why conversations about indoor spaces are more important than ever before. Join the conversation and the journey.
Here’s a fact you may not know. On average, most of us spend nearly 94% of our time inside.
Yes, really! It’s a lot.
And right now, you could say that the indoors have never gotten so much attention – particularly the environmental quality and safety of indoor spaces.
We've all heard opinions and news about the spaces we inhabit for most of our day:
Everything from air quality and temperature, to lighting and noise.
It's all so relevant and yet... still not well understood.
The good news is, at Trane Technologies, we've been boldly challenging what’s possible in the science and sustainability of indoor environments for some time.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen - leader of innovation and our NEW Center for Healthy & Efficient Spaces.
And this is Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies: a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
Over the series, I'll be joined by experts and disruptors who are changing our spaces for the better.
Including smart city academics, sustainability and energy efficiency experts, architectural engineers, AND scientists who specialize in indoor environments.
We're on a journey to reveal and explain...
Subscribe to Healthy Spaces wherever you get your podcasts, and get ready to see the great indoors in a whole new light.
Episode 1: At the Intersection of Healthy and Efficient Spaces
How healthy is your indoor environment? On average, we spend an incredible 94% of our time indoors! Factors like air, temperature, lighting and noise have sizeable, yet unseen impacts on our lives. The quality of our indoor spaces has never been more important. But do we need to sacrifice efficiency for quality when it comes to the air we breathe?
Join your host, Rasha Hasaneen, as we dive into the realm of possibilities that exist today to build spaces that are good for tomorrow. Featuring our guest, Scott Tew, who spends his days focused on sustainability and thinking of ingenious ways Trane Technologies can put the planet first.
Today, Rasha and Scott Tew have a no-trade-offs conversation based on what’s at stake for people and the planet.
Healthy Spaces Episode 1 Transcript - Scott Tew
Scott Tew: [00:00:00] People may have understood air quality for some time, but I'm not sure until recently that the whole world was focused on air quality around us every day.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:13] That's Scott Tew - sustainability leader and executive director for Trane Technologies' Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability.
Scott Tew: [00:00:20] If we can make sure that the buildings are healthy and the space that people are returning to are healthy. Can we do that in a way that does not sacrifice efficiency gains, does not sacrifice emissions footprint... can we do it all?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:35] As a global leader in the field of sustainability, Scott spends his days thinking up ingenious ways that our company and our solutions can put the planet first.
Today, we start off this brand new series by exploring what indoor environmental quality really means when it comes to healthy spaces. We discussed the challenges of creating energy efficiency in different types of spaces and the surprising impacts of buildings on public health, and the exciting new partnerships that are driving the focus on healthy spaces forward.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
In simple terms, indoor environmental quality is just about everything around us in enclosed spaces. Factors like air temperature, lighting, and noise, make up our internal surroundings and they can have a considerable effect on us as human beings, as well as on the world we live in. Thanks to his upbringing on a farm in South Alabama, today's guest Scott Tew has a unique perspective on the impact of buildings on our environment.
Scott Tew: [00:01:54] You know, if you're on a farm, you're thinking every day about impact. You think about the impact of weather. You think about the impact of waste. You think about what you're consuming. And that's very similar to what I do today, actually. Seven generations before me thought about it in the terms I just mentioned. Today, I get to think about the impact of things like our HVAC systems as they cool - they take a lot of energy, so what's the impact on the grid? What's the impact on the building, you know? And I know that you are very focused on what's the impact on people inside those buildings. The team that I lead gets to think more about how do we minimize the negative aspects and how do we maximize the positive in terms of buildings? So it's an exciting time because there's a lot of opportunities out there for us to do great good.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:02:38] So Scott, you talked a lot about the impact of our heating ventilation and air conditioning systems on the environment. Maybe you can give us some numbers around how HVAC impacts energy use and greenhouse gas emissions.
Scott Tew: [00:02:54] There's a huge opportunity in the built environment for us to do a lot of great things around reducing the negative impact. Buildings consume roughly 35% of the energy globally. So, if you think about it, all those devices connected in buildings, things like HVAC systems, lighting that's overhead, all the things that happen inside buildings. It's a huge energy consumer. And that also means there's a huge opportunity for us to do better, to reduce that impact. And so if you think about it in terms of climate impact, which I spend a lot of my time on, uh, the greenhouse gas emissions profile of buildings, it's roughly 16% of the global emissions. It's one of the large sectors is probably unknown to some of our listeners here. But it is the big area of opportunity that our company's focused on.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:03:41] And, honestly, what we do at Trane Technologies is so important to all of us. Sustainability is really at the core of our purpose and our strategy. And for me, I consider indoor environmental quality a natural part of that work. Right now, many countries, businesses, individuals are just trying to figure out how to resume life and restart economies. You know, people spend about 90 to 95% of their time indoors. Recently, we had one of our executives didn't believe that he sort of tallied up his indoor spend and he absolutely validated, he spends about 91% of his time indoors. And so what happens in the indoor environment is so important to everything we do and if we're not careful, you know, optimizing or making that indoor environment better could have a pretty significant impact on our environmental footprint. And right now, with the pandemic, with everything going on with people shifting more towards their home and having more control over their environment, people are starting to really become aware of the air around them, of the environment around them. And before - even though we cared a lot about it - most people didn't realize how important indoor air quality was or how important indoor environmental quality was and the impact on their health from poorly managed spaces.
Scott Tew: [00:05:07] We've got a lot of people that live in cities and think about the city's air quality, where a lot of people that maybe ride subways and they think about the air quality on the subway, but I'm not sure until recently that the whole world was focused on air quality around us every day in our homes and the offices that we might even be fearful about returning to. So why don't you, why don't you say a few things about why you're doing what you're doing now, because you did have a day job before!
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:05:35] And I will tell you, I don't think I have talked about indoor environments or indoor air quality more in my life, in my career, as much as I've talked about it in the last few months, but it's really important. And if you just think about any one of us, right? Think about a working mom of two kids who lives in a big city. Every day, she leaves her house where she quote-unquote has full control over the environment. She puts her kids on the school bus. They have to go to a school. She then will either take a transit bus and go to her work, go to her office or go to her clinic or go to a hospital or go to a restaurant. She'll then leave, work and go maybe buy something, she'll go shopping. And then finally she's got to come home and that home has to stay pretty safe in order for her to be able to sleep well at night. Well, during COVID there wasn't a lot of that happening. Most people were at home. And so that indoor space had to now serve a different purpose. But now as these economies are starting to open up, the risk around being in those spaces is in focus. So she's worrying about, you know, when she goes to work, is she catching something that she's bringing back home? What about her kids on those school buses and school. And each and every one of us is going through these scenarios every day and starting to become more and more sensitized to that indoor air around them.
Scott Tew: [00:07:14] My son Isaac is a ninth grader. He's in one of the only schools in the area that went back to school early for in-person training. And every day, the school sends us an update on what happened today. But that's been on a lot of parents' minds in schools, no matter the age of their kids. Ninth graders, maybe people don't worry about ninth graders as much as elementary school. Of course, if it's your son, you do worry. This is real for a lot of people. This is also not new, right to the industry that this whole thinking about indoor air and how you manage it and what it means for the occupants. Right?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:07:47] Absolutely. And this intense focus on a highly aggressive pathogen is a new train of thought for us. But really, indoor environmental quality in schools has been a topic of research for quite a long time. We know, for example, several studies have shown that thermal comfort - or how warm or cool a school is - can improve student performance on both psychological tests and school tasks by about 20% on average. Improved air quality with less CO2, right? Less pollution, less volatile organic compounds or little pollutants in the air have been shown to improve the speed of test completion by 12% or more. It reduces overall errors in what students do on tests and on assignments. And just as importantly, it can improve daily attendance by up to 2.5%. Some studies have shown that indoor environmental quality can be as good a predictor on student performance in public tests as their GPA. So they could be a straight a student from a GPA perspective, show up and write a test and they're just as likely to do well on that test with a high GPA as they are with high indoor environmental quality.
Scott Tew: [00:09:11] Well, I mean, I think we found some of the same things, around productivity inside buildings. Right.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:09:16] Absolutely. It's exactly the same cognitive functions while learning might be slightly different. These results are a little more heightened for students, for children, but it's exactly the same types of experiences for adults. And this is just like sustainability, Scott, which is where you really focus most of your time. This is a really big issue for us. This issue around public health and indoor spaces. And it's one that we truly can't do by ourselves. It's definitely a focus for us, but it's also an area where we really need to lean on partners both internally and externally, to be able to make a difference and have a real impact in this space.
Scott Tew: [00:10:02] Yeah. As much as we would like to solve all these big issues on our own, it's just not possible. They're just too complicated. We don't know what we don't know sometimes. And I think that, I think we've learned, especially in my experience as sustainability, that it really helps to do a couple of things. One is to go outside the company and ask people that have expertise. What do you not know? Identify our own gaps. We've done that in sustainability and the areas where we didn't think we had all the answers. I think we've also found out that you can do that in a several ways. One, you can find outside the organizations that are really smart, that go really deep in these areas and you can be part of their work. And number two is you can sort of a formal group that can help the company identify these big gaps. We did that in sustainability. I know that you've recently announced a new council of outside experts to help us there, to help us understand the indoor air environment, maybe how things like pathogens move around. Maybe how doing the things that you mentioned about improving indoor air, what that means if you link it to efficiency. Because one of our big focus areas that I'm really proud of is if we can make sure that the buildings are healthy and the space that people are returning to are healthy. Can we do that in a way that does not sacrifice efficiency gains, does not sacrifice emissions footprint, can we do it all?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:11:32] You bet! We like to not reinvent the wheel here and if something's working. And so I think the work you've done, Scott, with the sustainability council has been phenomenal and we really want to learn from you. And you're absolutely right - having these experts help us and really participating in this space allows us to really learn, helps us see around corners, and it really does help us make sure that we're working on the right strategies. The other really interesting thing is it's not even indoor environmental quality without sacrificing sustainability. Some of our own primary research we've done has shown that if you actually focus on the occupant, if you personalize indoor environmental quality to what the occupant is feeling, you actually have a positive impact on energy efficiency, not by doing anything special, but because you're looking at smaller, more individualized spaces versus these larger sweeping changes. And so the more we can focus on the occupant. The more you actually get the added benefit of a lower greenhouse gas footprint, and higher energy efficiency.
Scott Tew: [00:12:49] So how does it work really? What do we think we're learning that we didn't know if we focused on occupant?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:12:54] Some of the things we're learning is that you can create microclimates and those microclimates for that occupant is just like having a much bigger environment. So if you cool the entire floor, they're going to be comfortable. If you just cool the area they're in, they're going to be comfortable. Same thing with indoor environmental quality or indoor air quality. If you create targeted lighting versus lighting up the entire floor for their task, they're going to be comfortable and they're going to be more productive. And the more you can tune those micro environments to the occupant, the less you have to cool empty space, the less you have to light space where no one is working and you can actually generate a highly optimized, but also very healthy space as a result. And so we're learning a lot. And we just think with all of the advancements in both digital technology, but also much more personalized technologies with wearables, with personal cooling devices, personal indoor air quality devices, we're going to really have a great environment to execute this in.
Scott Tew: [00:13:58] Yeah. I love this idea of how customizable or customizing IAQ for the occupant is very similar in the sustainability world to customizing solutions, even for a particular building. There are certain things that we can do to customize how we help a building become more efficient, to become less climate impactful and we can customize that down to a building level. And I think this is what you're talking about too, in terms of a micro climate or a pathway for the occupant. And there are no trade-offs there. You enjoy the same positives that you would have enjoyed when we were doing it a different way, and we find the same thing when we're trying to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, because there are big opportunities to make improvements. And if we can identify the pathways and we can customize the solution, and sometimes as to your point, even with energy, it takes some technology levers, it takes some partnerships. And I think the more that we learn, the more positive our impact can be here.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:14:56] So maybe Scott, you can expand a little bit on that in terms of sustainability pathways and energy efficiency, like what are some of our opportunities around sustainability and around balancing those healthy spaces with efficient spaces.
Scott Tew: [00:15:15] We thought about this a lot in terms of these pathways that I mentioned, but you know, our first mindset is how do we help a building not give up all the things they provide for us today, besides just the shelter of a building and the comfort. What else happens inside of a building and because of the building? One, is there's a big pull on the energy grid. So one of the things that we're doing is working with the supply side, the energy supply side, and increasing options out there for renewable energy and for other ways that the grid itself - the energy grid that supplies the energy to the building - becomes a less negative impact over time. And we're doing our part there in terms of putting onsite solar on facilities and virtual power purchase agreement with wind farms inside the building though, to your point. We're also of course increasing the efficiency of the equipment that we've put in buildings, but we're coupling that equipment with some really highly intelligent control systems so that the building itself becomes smarter over time. Maybe you have a smart thermostat in your home, if you're a listener, maybe you've seen one in the building. These are systems that actually can react to the number of occupants inside of a building and can help cool or heat the building down to an occupant level by doing and you save energy. The building itself becomes a bit greener, is less a negative impact footprint on their own environment. And you don't have to give things up. The building is still comfortable. The building is talking back to the grid, it's giving some information back to the grid so that the grid itself gets smarter over time for interacting with the building. And we're seeing all those things. Of course, as a company, we're reducing our footprint as well by, in that new equipment, we've included some next generation low GWP refrigerants. It's those refrigerants that are less impactful on the environment. They're inside those systems. And you know, you couple, all those things together, you know, in one plus one plus one equals something greater than three, and that's what we've been focused on. And we're finding there's no big negative trade-offs here. It's a win. It's a win for whoever owns the building or maybe a home, it's a win for the supply side of the grid, it's certainly a win for the environment because we're checking all the boxes and needed to make sure that our impact is more positive going forward the negative.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:17:42] Right, and it's a win for the occupant and I think that's really key, right? You know, there's been a lot of research and there's great evidence that shows that healthy spaces are good for occupant performance, they're good for business. And we believe that when we couple that with efficient spaces that are good for the planet - and this no compromise situation is exactly what we aim for. And we will continue to aim for that. The other thing that you and I hit on was really that there isn't a one size fits all answer, right? Every building is a little different. Every occupant's need is a little bit different. Two identical buildings in different climate zones will behave differently to identical buildings in the same climate zone being used for different purposes will also behave differently. And so the need to create these very customized solutions, the need to assess both the performance and the use of the building to then come up with solid plans for energy efficiency, for pathogen mitigation, for environmental quality, and then continuing to manage that building to the needs of those occupants, I think, is really the critical path, Scott, to getting us to both healthy and I think efficient spaces.
Scott Tew: [00:19:02] I would say that, even though you and I both know that customizing a solution is really critical, what does that mean when there are thousands and thousands of schools in every community around the world? I mean, do they all have to wait on a customized solution?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:19:17] Now that's a really good question, Scott. Customizing the solution is really about understanding the use of the space and really understanding the need. It doesn't mean that you can't have district by district archetypes or types of spaces. It's a recipe, a playbook that you can implement. It's not a one size fits all. You can't go take something that a school does in Minnesota and say I'm going to do exactly the same thing in Texas. You can't go decide that you're going to do something at high altitude in Denver and say I'm going to do the same thing in Miami. Those are just very different. So having a playbook or a decision tree that allows you to very quickly get to a simple sort of set of solutions for a set of schools and then empowering the leadership of the school, the management team, the facilities management team, et cetera, to make choices informed choices themselves also falls into that. So coupling those things together will allow you to get very customized solutions without having to wait on a super custom thing to go happen.
Scott Tew: [00:20:30] That's right, some of the basics are the basics, right? So there's, to your point, maybe regionally, there are some things that can be added on.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:20:38] Right. And I think also by educating, educating administrators, educating facilities managers, to be able to make those sound decisions and ask the right questions to get those answers allows us to get closer and closer.
Scott Tew: [00:20:49] I think that the fact that there are some people thinking about how we solve some of the big concerns of the day, these are very relevant. It's a very relevant topic. We're all concerned about bottom line impacts of using energy and buildings, but we're also concerned about health of us being in our homes of those returning to work of us, sending our kids to school.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:21:06] I agree. I think the innovation landscape is blowing up around indoor air quality now, but I think occupants are making choices on where to go and where not to go. Occupants are making choices on what to buy. Whereas before I think it has historically not been the occupant’s choice. And so with that expectation with that education comes changes in expectations. And we're seeing that, as you know Scott, in partnering together, we see innovation is really the way we're going to bend the curve on climate change. And we've got it. We believe with where we are in the industry with the industry we're in, we need to take that mantle. And I think, I think we, we really are.
Scott Tew: [00:21:46] I mean, we can benefit the environment and benefit the people
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:21:50] That's right.
Scott Tew: [00:21:50] And so it's an exciting time.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:21:57] With something so complex and interconnected, our ability to partner is so important. How we lean on experts and on organizations to spend every day thinking about this is what's going to help us make this real and make it actionable.
And on that note to finish up, I asked Scott to share a few tips on things that we can all go do right now around indoor environmental quality and sustainability.
Scott Tew: [00:22:23] You know, for homeowners, I always say there's a couple of things you should always do. One is the thermostat in your home - It's the big energy user, it's the HVAC system - make sure it's adjusted and make sure that you have adjusted it in terms of - especially if it's a smart thermostat - and make sure it's doing its job. Those things are, they can do a lot more than you may expect and make sure that you're adjusting the temperature in a way that's comfortable for you, but also is saving you energy and saving you energy means that it's also saving all of us in terms of what we use on the grid. And then secondly, I always talk about lighting. Lighting is probably the easiest thing for any homeowner to do in terms of saving energy. It is to move to LED bulbs if you've not yet. If you have a lamp that you've been waiting, because you didn't feel like there's an LED bulb that gives you the soft light that you would like. That's not true anymore. That's an old myth. You can find the same soft lights that we've all loved that were incandescent with LEDs now. Options are, they're fabulous and they're extremely affordable. The payback is immediate with lighting. And so those are the two big ones for homeowners that I would always mention.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:23:24] Speaking of lighting, right? You can tune that light as you're thinking about your home and how you're using your home differently. We know that the daylight type light bulbs, the LED bulb light bulbs will help you work more efficiently. They're labeled that now. If you don't have dimmers, think about putting dimmers in place to allow you to vary the intensity of that light. And now you can have very specific lighting for when you sleep or when you're learning. And so there's a little bit of research you can do and you can really tune your home lighting. The other thing I can think of, obviously, that you can do today is make sure that you are maintaining your filters, that you're upping the level of filtration that you're using to make it as effective as possible. But remember, you lose a lot more energy efficiency by not changing your filters than you do by going up a level to one that is more Allergan focused or one that can trap pathogens. I'm sure you've heard it before, MERV 13, take a look at those filters that have ratings for allergens and pathogens, but make sure that you change those regularly because that impacts both the energy efficiency and the air quality in your home.
That was the insightful Scott Tew who heads up sustainability for Trane Technologies. Scott and his team have been pioneers in their collaborations and in the bold commitments to sustainability they've helped shape and lead. We're really excited to tap into that knowledge as we continue our quest to create more healthy and efficient spaces.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, I'm Rasha Hasaneen. For more information on our conversation with Scott Tew, see the show notes in your podcast app. And join us for our next conversation when we'll be speaking to Memo Cedeno Laurent from the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health about healthy buildings and their potential to have a positive impact on productivity, safety, and the environment. Don't forget to hit subscribe to hear new episodes. Thanks for joining us, and we'll see you next time.
Episode 2: Transparency is the New Green
What if you knew how the spaces you occupy were performing? Would your expectations change if you could read the carbon dioxide level in any given room of your house? What about humidity or acoustics? So many of these elements that are invisible to us impact our quality of life and our performance in our spaces.
Today's guest, Memo Cedeno Laurent, Associate Director of the Healthy Buildings Program at Harvard University, gets up every morning thinking about the spaces we occupy. In conversation with host, Rasha Hasaneen, Memo shares his unique insights on the foundational elements of a healthy building and his research into the impact of the invisible.
Smart buildings need smart occupants – and it all starts with transparency.
Healthy Spaces Episode 2 Transcript - Memo Cedeno Laurent
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:00:00] The environment should be considered a human right.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:08] That's Memo Cedeno Laurent, an expert in the field of healthy spaces.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:00:12] The idea is that through our research and - speaking of a whole body of researchers that is dedicated to this topic - is that we advanced the way that we see buildings.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:25] Memo joins us from the Department of Environmental Health at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, where he's the Associate Director of the Healthy Buildings Program. Today, Memo shares his insights on how exposure to different indoor environments affect our health, productivity and safety, and discusses the compelling evidence that links, energy, efficiency, opportunity and buildings to public health.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environments from the inside out
The study of healthy buildings is a well-established field of science. However, it's only recently as we continue to fight our way through the pandemic that organizations like the Healthy Buildings Program have been thrust into the public eye.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:01:25] My research focuses on studying what environmental exposures - meaning the stuff that we normally encounter in our spaces like temperature, relative humidity, and other environmental factors - allows us to really thrive in our activities in the way that we learn that we work, that we live in our homes and office buildings. So, it's pretty much the stuff that determines our lives.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:01:53] Healthy buildings can play a significant role in our lives. What that role is, however, is often invisible if you don't know where to look. Memo and the Healthy Buildings team knew they needed to find a way to share their profound data-driven research in a digestible format, so they created a framework called the Nine Foundations of a Healthy Building.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:02:16] Really, the purpose was to distill decades of indoor environmental quality research in a document that anyone could read, it’s very simple, and either take action to improve these different nine domains of indoor environmental quality by themselves, or bring it to their bosses, the people in charge and say, you know, there's clear evidence, scientific evidence that the way that we are managing, operating, designing our spaces has profound effects in different domains.
So that was the purpose and the idea is that we try to encompass it, really, these foundational elements of our build environment and their relationship to health, productivity, and wellbeing. So the nine foundations for our public consist of ventilation, air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water, quality, noise, and lighting and views.
So really, if you think about them, these are the elements that evolutionarily we have been exposed in our environment, but by moving into a society that really has thrived in the cities, in developed environments, has changed their relationship to these elements. So now it's our endeavor as scientists to understand what is this impact and how to either mitigate it or, even better, how to create these buildings, these homes, any type of environment that really makes a difference to a positive - we're not only talking about deleterious environmental exposures, but those that make us optimum and that could even make us thrive.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:04:12] The benefit of increased understanding around healthy spaces is empowering people with information that they can take to builders and other professionals. But as Memo explains, the individual occupant also plays a key role in maintaining a healthy building.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:04:33] You know, smart buildings have smart occupants. So we need to understand the relationships that we have with our buildings. I can tell you the truth on this, because that's something I do, I use many of these indoor environmental quality sensors in my own place. Just before my son was born I brought the instruments and put them in the kitchen and I realized how some things, really the pollution levels, the particulate matter is very high. And, you know, that delicious, crispy bacon that I used to have on Saturday mornings, that’s became a no-no since he was before he was born. So I'm not saying that we should stop eating bacon, or not necessarily for those reasons, but, uh, I would say that we should really pay attention to our behaviors. So it's a matter of understanding the environment.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:05:33] Obviously, as we think about indoor environmental quality, a lot of this stuff comes at a cost. How do we think about the elements of balancing quality and efficiency together?
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:05:47] So, there are a couple of elements that we can bring to these conversations. When you deal with the real estate folks, they often call this the 3-30-300 rule, right, that for every $3 are spending on energy, approximately $30 are spent in rent and then that organization spends accordingly $300 in their human resources. So one thing that we have to recognize is that sometimes saving on those $3 impacts the 300. However, we have to acknowledge that we live in challenging times and we have to be conscious about our consumption of material flows, meaning energy, water, how we dispose of things. I would say that buildings exist for a reason, for us to have a sense of security, have a sense of shelter, that has been the way that we moved indoors, right, if you think about it also from the evolutionary perspective. Yet these relationships change according to the challenges of the times.
So, for example, I'm going to put two very relevant challenges - COVID and climate change - in a place and time where we would consider buildings to be the first line of defense, our shelter. They have actually acted a little bit against us. If we have buildings that were designed in their occupancy densities, in the amount of fresh air they brought it to people, in the filtration systems that they have in their controls to mitigate exposures of the infectious airborne transmitted diseases... maybe the story would be different. We wouldn't have to just retrieve and be sent to work from home.
Likewise, think about climate change. I'm talking from my home here in Boston, and here structures, older than in the rest of the country, have primarily been designed to really harness heat in a way tackle the historic weather patterns that are dominated by the cold weather. When a heat wave arises in Boston, these structures are going to do exactly the same, in that they were designed to harness heat, and then expose people to these heat for longer periods of time. So having said that the challenge is paramount: how do we create these buildings? How do we operate them in a way that enhances our health and also reduces energy consumption? Those are the optimums. And I would bring one more thing to the equation. The most efficient building could be one that is not occupied. We spend up energy because we want to be comfortable, because we want to protect our health. So yes, there's going to be an energy penalty. But then I would say that we also have to include in the equation, where are we getting the energy from, right? So it's not just the goal, per se, of minimizing energy consumption. We will need, and we will have to be extremely precise on what is that kilowatt hours per meter square that we need, that we actually need to operate our buildings. But then it's more important where that energy comes from.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:09:25] Absolutely. And you touched a little bit about some of the challenges, you know, we have in the built environment. Obviously we have some real focus areas today with COVID with a lot of the climate change that's going on. In your experience and in your research, what do you see that we're doing well and what do you see that in terms of things that we could do better?
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:09:47] Well, I can tell you that there's definitely some big successful stories related to buildings and public health. If you think about it, even the beginnings of our ventilation codes responded to the challenges of those times that were the spread of tuberculosis - how we actually manage buildings in the late 19th century, beginning of the 20th century.
So some of those challenges were really tackled by improving ventilation, by having the right ceiling heights, design of overall windows, the design of the floor plans that could really allow for cross installation and other natural ventilation patterns. Then the beginning of the mechanical ventilation and filtration, it really, if you consider that this is a well-known fact: if it wasn't for air conditioning, we wouldn't be able to inhabit some of the areas of the world that we now.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:10:52] Human beings are pretty adaptable, which is why until very recently, most people haven't given their indoor environmental quality much thought. If your acoustics are just a little off or if the air quality is slightly poorer than average, you might not notice. They may be out of sight and out of mind. But these little things add up to a whole lot more than the sum of their parts.
Now faced with something like a pandemic, we’re all starting to ask more questions, which is why, according to Memo, measurement and validation have never been more crucial.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:11:26] One of the reasons I think there's going to be a transformation in the use of data collection inside buildings, I think, obeys to the old adage that you cannot understand what you don't measure. And there's the need to understand what's happening in our buildings. First of all, because we, in many cases, have to act immediately in real time. The second thing is because our occupants will be demanding that information.
So think about it in early March this year, everyone was sent home. We didn't know much about how COVID-19 was spread and the right public health measure at the time was confinement. There's still around 40% of the workforce working from home, so moving, adapting to these new modes of work. It's going to be very challenging for the real estate community to make sure that people feel safe back in their office environment. So, we need objective metrics that could inform the general public on why things are safe, how things are safe, what is being done to keep things safe.
So I think as the high-performance building movement advances... you know, it has gone through several transformations. I think there was initially a big push for sustainability, then we're still, I think, on a nascent point of looking at health. This is what we call the green buildings. We see a next wave of the green building movement is on transparency, and transparency being the new green. So, the availability of data that is high quality, that assures that it's meaningful, I think is going to be critical to regain that confidence in our built environment.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:13:37] Based on what you're seeing, and I think you're absolutely right in gendering sort of that consumer confidence. So, in addition to saying, "Hey, we're open", we need to be able to say "We're open and it's safe for you to crawl out of your house and do some of what you used to do before".
What are some of the things that you've seen that help to convince consumers that buildings are safe. Have you seen any sort of best practices or approaches that seem to work?
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:14:09] I think consumers in these times are extremely well-informed. The availability of information is actually sometimes overwhelming, but there are very well-trusted voices and they have been very vocal in these times. So, I think the existence of enhanced ventilation, enhanced filtration, has been, I would say, mainstream right now. If you think about it eight months ago, no one knew what a PCR test was now, you know, it's kind of mainstream. And likewise very few people knew about air changes per hour or Merv filter ratings or HEPA, right? And now I think that the public is very well acquainted with those terms and know what they mean and know what they mean for their health.
So, I think it's really not rocket science. The combination of transparency, of goodwill, of incorporating these best practices and letting people know what is being done for them. It's not just about taking away that fear, but also letting them know of all the incredible co-benefits that are associated with a better managed environment.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:15:26] Right! And we know that the indoor environment has such a profound impact on both our productivity, our learning, our ability to sleep, relax, be alert, et cetera. Maybe you can share with us a little bit about the research in this space, and it'd be good to just help our listeners understand what some of that says?
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:15:47] Particularly in our Healthy Buildings Program we've been very aggressive in pursuing the evaluation of the effects of indoor environmental quality, not only in subjective outcomes. So the field has lots of information, but it's primarily about the thermal comfort or self-reported health outcomes. And that, you know, it's extremely valuable, and that has opened our eyes in general, but we needed a little bit more of a set of objective outcomes. And something that we have focused on is cognitive function.
A few years ago, Professor Jo Allen, the Director of the Healthy Buildings Program conducted a study on 24 individuals that were exposed to a basically different levels of indoor air quality that would resemble a conventional building, a green building certified by current standards, and then in an enhanced green building condition. The idea was that in the conventional building, levels of carbon dioxide would be average, levels of volatile, organic compounds the same thing. The green building, there would be a little bit of an improvement in ventilation, reducing that CO2 levels and the VOC. Lastly, the enhanced green would have extremely low CO2 concentrations, and enhanced ventilation and the even lower VOC concentrations. So long story short, this very highly controlled experimental study found that the enhanced green condition led to cognitive function improvements in the order up to 150% better than the conventional building. So, a massive increase in cognitive function performance in the tests that we used; nine different domains of cognitive function.
That really proved that ventilation matters, that carbon dioxide alone seems to be affecting the way that we think and the volatile organic compounds, the same. And if you think about the buildings that we're looking to improve the quality, or environmental quality, or the air quality of, right? It's office buildings, it’s schools, it’s places where cognitive function is very core to the tasks being accomplished in the space. And we know that there are similar correlations for lighting, similar correlations for acoustics. So really optimizing that space for the task being accomplished becomes really critical.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:18:41] We touched on air, we touched on lighting, we touched on human health, transparency, we talked a little bit about giving consumers confidence. Those are all almost disciplines that don't touch each other. So really, it sounds like what we're talking about is really a need for a more multidisciplinary approach and role partnerships.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:19:03] I would say that this is the right moment for breaking down those walls that exist between our silo approaches. The challenges and the urgency to solve these challenges that we have in front of us aren't giving us too much time, right? We have to be extremely disruptive in our collaborations. We have to be extremely creative in how to capitalize the process that goes from findings, from publication, from implementation, and from that leads to policy. And I think we can be motivated by a very simple concept: healthy environments should be considered a human right.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:19:51] I couldn't agree more with this sentiment. This isn't just about bringing together all the expertise around healthy buildings themselves. If we want to affect real change and reach everyone, we need to partner with people who can express the story to the public and with people who can influence policy and standards. The public interest in the indoor environment continues to grow, so I asked Memo for his take on what the next five years might bring.
Memo Cedeno Laurent: [00:20:18] The way that I would like things to go is that we are able to develop much tighter networks of the key players, citizen scientists providing data collected on their own, incorporating the latest and the best technologies, wearable devices being thrown into the mix, smartphones really leveraging the capacity to collect data real time as we experience these different exposures and sensations. I think enabling the highest performance buildings to react swiftly to these environments, to these conditions. And then, as I said, that this doesn't become the technology that is just incorporated into Class A buildings.
Why do I think this is not a utopia? I think it's doable because we have realized how expensive it is to live in a society where the buildings don't actually do this for us. If you see the actual economic benefits from doing this in schools, in homes, in offices, they vastly overpower the expenses needed to make them happen. So, obviously it's a changing paradigm, where we realize that we are spending 90% of our life indoors. That is not going to change. So, the idea is: how to make those buildings instead of the cost of our peril, the cost of our salvation.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:22:06] Some great insights there from Memo Cedeno Laurent which really exemplify what we're all about - exploring and understanding the indoor environment and ultimately the relationships we have with our buildings. Memo is participating on the advisory council for our Trane Technologies Center for Healthy and Efficient Spaces and we are so excited to be partnering with him. He's a font of knowledge and his world-class research and approach is of immense benefit to our work and this area of innovation.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, I'm Rasha Hasaneen. For more information on our conversation with Memos Cedeno Laurent, see the show notes in your podcast app. And don't forget to hit subscribe, to hear new episodes.
Join us next time when we'll be speaking to professor Lidia Morawska from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Queensland University of Technology. We'll be talking about what we can learn from the history of pandemic responses and mitigation strategies, and the link between air quality, human health, and the environment. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you soon.
Episode 3: Seeing the Future through Lessons of the Past
15 years ago, Lidia Morawska from Queensland University gave a presentation on strategies to prevent the global spread of an invisible, but deadly enemy - SARS. Years later, that same presentation remains unnervingly relevant as she talks with global leaders about preventative measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. But this time she’s hopeful: if society bands together, our lessons of the past can pave the way for a better future.
Together with host Rasha Hasaneen, Lidia lays out what must change in the planning and development of indoor environments, and the essential coordination among multi-disciplinary groups to make a transformational shift. And, if appointed Queen of the World for a day, she shares a recipe for what a better world could look like.
Healthy Spaces Episode 3 Transcript - Lidia Morawska
Lidia: [00:00:00] The turning point in realization of the importance was several years ago, I was with colleagues in Germany. We had a meeting, five of us in a room which I would have thought, looking around, was very well ventilated.
Rasha: [00:00:13] That's Lidia Morawska, an expert in the field of Atmospheric Science.
Lidia: [00:00:18] They had a display on the wall, which was a sensor measuring CO2 and, since I'd never seen it before, I kept watching this. To my surprise, it kept going up and almost reach a thousand PPM and I would never have thought with only five of us in this room with this ventilation that this would be such a problem.
Rasha: [00:00:42] Lidia joins us from the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Queensland University of Technology. Today, Lidia explains what we can learn from the history of pandemics strategies for reducing risks in indoor spaces, and the economic and social costs of not taking action.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
Lydia is a nuclear physicist by training with a focus on environmental applications. Her work on natural radioactivity led her to specialize in the fields of air pollution and airborne viruses, all under the umbrella of atmospheric science.
Lydia's tackled pandemics and epidemics before, so when the reality of COVID-19 hit she naturally formed her guidance through the lens of her previous experiences.
Lidia: [00:01:39] This field on viruses and epidemics started during SARS1. I was invited then to join a team in Hong Kong to resolve the story of what was happening in relation to an outbreak in Amoy Gardens. But then I started looking into this whole field and to realized how little it was known from my area, which is from atmospheric physics, the physics of virus-laden particles that in the air. And then I realized how extremely potent it was. So, this led me to start working, researching in this field and add this area of research into the International Laboratory, where we've done quite fundamental work in this field. And what we wanted to do is to convince the world that something really needs to be done. It's not just about the SARS pandemic, which by that stage was gone and forgotten but about everyday colds, flus, and respiratory infections of which so many of us suffer so many times a year. But, well, interestingly, no one wanted to hear about this. This was taken as a matter of fact: we get these infections. So, when this pandemic started and I - and we've all - heard the same rhetoric, that: "Well, don't worry about anything". That's why, really, something must be done now.
Rasha: [00:03:06] So, what is different about the current pandemic now? I know right at the beginning, it seemed like it was going to go the same way as SARS and there was a lot of conversation around droplets versus aerosols, how it was really transmitted... but it's been going on for almost a year now at least here, a little bit longer in Asia. What's different about this current pandemic?
Lidia: [00:03:32] If SARS1 was as infectious as SARS2, we would have been in a much worse situation because well... it's much more lethal because it spreads much easier than SARS1. Therefore, it just spreads. And it seems that not much has been done or was done for a long time. So therefore, the countries gradually, country after country, and region after region, allowed it to spread. And in controlling pollution, whatever that pollution is, the main point always is source control. So, when the cases first outbreak, controlling them is much easier. If you let it spread, or if you let pollution into the air, then preventing exposure is much more difficult. And what the world has allowed it to do is to spread.
Rasha: [00:04:28] Maybe you can tell us some good news, who's doing a good job controlling or fighting the current pandemic in your opinion? Where in the world can we look to, to someone who's maybe been doing a better job?
Lidia: [00:04:44] I'd say perhaps one angle if looking into what's happening or what have been happening in Australia and New Zealand. We've had significantly fewer cases in Brisbane, Queensland, where I am. I would say that we basically hear about these things, but over the course of the past month we had very little lockdown, very few cases, and basically, well, there's not a lot of here! And at the beginning in March we were complaining, I was among the scientists complaining that the government wasn't quick enough to put mitigation measures. Controlling arrivals, people from cruise ships would have probably prevented the spread altogether in Australia. So, we were complaining about this. But eventually when the government started putting mitigation measures in place, they were very efficient. Of course, ventilation was not one of them because that's something which wasn't recognized. But anyway, this was what was even more important. And to compare it to what's happening other places in the world: people obeyed what the government put in place. In fact, in Brisbane, people started mitigation measures, so doing things before the government actions, in terms of isolation, keeping away from each other and so on. And this helps for protecting the country, protecting the state and getting back to normal.
In terms of however, mitigating airborne, there haven't been many places where this was done efficiently and the slowness of the recognition of this has been extremely frustrating. We are basically at the point that it is being recognized, but still often not fully said: yes, it's airborne, this is one of the most important, if not the most important, mode of transportation in public places. I think the star performance in my view is Germany where this was recognized quite some time ago. New regulations were introduced in Germany grants of altogether, I think, the country's support of 500 million euros towards mitigation measures of ventilation, improving ventilation in public places. This is most progressive I've seen, and that's what I'm hoping the rest of the world will follow.
Rasha: [00:07:09] So regardless, obviously a lot of times we can look to the past and say, you know, we should have done a better job. What other mitigation strategies are going to be important moving forward?
Lidia: [00:07:21] We are talking about building mitigation measures, building engineering, ventilation. The problem, however, is that if the buildings are not set to introduce these measures, such measures introduced ad hoc may not even be possible. If it cannot be increased, if natural ventilation can not be provided, if the flow direction can not be adequately controlled. This cannot be done during a pandemic. The biggest important lesson from the pandemic is now that we need to rethink how we design buildings so the buildings are prepared for control in the pandemic.
But if I go back to what was happening in Australia just before the pandemic, the issue of Bush fires. I'm sure the whole world heard about the Bush fires that were experienced such as never before in Australia. So, I was then interviewed by a number of journalists and the question was what to do, how to protect people. So, the recommendation was close up the buildings, recirculate air, stay inside. Now three or four months passed, and the same journalists asked me what's to do in relation to the pandemic. And the recommendation is 180 degrees the opposite - open up the buildings, don't recirculate air. And so, again, the buildings are not prepared for moving from one to another.
It is not that technologically this can't be done. It can be done. It costs more to equip buildings with the flexibility to do all this, but technologically it's possible. We need to rethink the whole system, how we deal with this whole issue. The buildings, when they are constructed by developers and then sold to those who will operate them, they are not prepared for what they would be used for. Building measures have to be set for the purpose in which the buildings will be occupied, and this is not the case. So, this has to be completely resolved by the whole community. Even the concept that they will own the building, buys the building, and looks into the price of the investment, how much the building costs and the cheaper it is the better. But the costs over time because of all these issues, all these risks, people sick, people not coming to work, are far higher than potentially that initial cost at the beginning. Connecting these links between who operates, and the costs, and how it operates... this is something which we must rethink. And this is mostly because it's not the technology, it's just the thinking about how we do it.
Rasha: [00:10:19] Lydia's advice expresses a need for clear and concise action, a re-imagining and flexible adaptation of our buildings and an ability to see the bigger picture, particularly when it comes to costs.
But Lydia has already been down this road recently. She's been called upon internationally to give recommendations about the spread of airborne viruses, and the advice she's giving now is the same advice she gave 15 years ago.
Lidia: [00:10:44] During the many of the presentations I've been given recently, I've been using three slides which I used in 2005 when I was invited to keep a keynote presentation at the Indoor Air Conference in Beijing, the presentation was: "Droplet fate in the air, or can we prevent the spread of infection?"
And I'm stressing this because this could be exactly the same title as of the presentations now. And I'm using three slides which were the conclusions. The first was outlining the frequency of respiratory infections. How many times a year children are sick, adults are sick, and how prevalent these infections are within the community. We could probably slightly update the numbers and the different countries, but the issue is exactly the same. The second slide I'm putting is the economic cost of this, for this I'm actually using the US example, and we are talking about billions of dollars. If only a fraction of, let's say, influenza cases were prevented how much it would save. And again, we are talking about huge amount of money. And the last slide, I draw this conclusion: what we should do in terms of building science. If we use the science we have in terms of building measures, this would be a good start. It's not all that we can do. We need to develop better science to take into account prevention of infection. And we have the science, the Wells-Riley equation for risk assessment was developed in 1934. We've done this kind of risk assessment. So, this is something which has to be used to develop better guidelines against infection spread. We knew this 15 years ago; we haven't done it yet.
Rasha: [00:12:47] Certainly there's a lot of science that's available today. What are some of the research elements that you're looking at that you think will help influence our actions moving forward?
Lidia: [00:12:59] My major focus right now is to bring together scientists, engineers from all areas relating to this field. When working, over the past few months, in the broad general field, many times I've heard from people from different backgrounds, the same statement: Oh, this is not really my field. I'm on the margins of this. So, there were virologists saying this, there were engineers saying this, there were epidemiologists saying this: I'm on the margins on this. This is just an indication how huge this field is. It will not be resolved only by virologists, only by engineers, only by physicists. We all have to work on this together, consider the complexity of this whole issue, including social sciences to bring that recognition as to how the society should operate. So, my main focus right now is to bring together all these groups.
Rasha: [00:13:57] Obviously, this field is very multidisciplinary and therefore requires that level of collaboration, and it's not easy. It's not easy in academia and it's not easy in the business world either. What do you think will change in the next five years as a result of research of technology and how do you think consumer sentiment will shift as a result of some of the occurrences with the pandemic?
Lidia: [00:14:24] I'd say everybody now is much more aware of this problem. It will have been unthinkable before that a family member or a friend from a completely different area asked me how droplets behave in the air. I get emails like this on a daily basis, which means that everybody's interested in this topic, that it gets into the everyday conversation. But it has to go much deeper because right now, let's say, I'm sitting in this office and if anybody asks me if the ventilation here is working properly, I wouldn't be able to answer because there's nothing telling me. I can look at my Fitbit and tell how many steps I've done and all the other statistics, but about the building, what the building is doing, no one knows anything whatsoever. So, if we are in a restaurant, if we're a public place anywhere, we know nothing about the buildings. So, what can we do? It’s to be improved and what I'm thinking is going to happen, and I'm hoping, is that there wouldn't be much more, if I can call it this, building informatics - this place of parameters of how the building operates. Concentration, to start, concentration of carbon dioxide. Of course, it's not a proxy for everything but still it tells us something. And the more people look at data like this, initially not perhaps understanding everything, but the more they look at this, the more that you realize, well, there's a problem here. I can't fix the problem because I can't do anything about this building, but there's someone who operates this building, and they should do something about it. And the more people are aware of what's going on around them in buildings, the more likely it is that things will improve.
Rasha: [00:16:14] Building performance dashboards and active sensing is pegged to be a booming technology over the next five or so years, but we've been measuring the temperature of our buildings for a long time. In fact, the electric thermostat was invented over 150 years ago. Nowadays we have the ability to measure and analyze so many factors in our indoor environments like carbon dioxide, humidity, particulate matter. And as Lydia explains, when we start measuring these factors, we may be surprised at the results.
Lidia: [00:16:42] For me kind of a turning point in realization of the importance was when several years ago I was visiting colleagues in Germany. We had a meeting, five of us in a room, which I would have said looking around was very well ventilated, high ceiling, open window. There was some kind of mechanical ventilation. Now, I wouldn't have thought about ventilation whatsoever in this situation, if not for the fact that they had, something that which I hadn't seen before. Namely, a display on the wall which was a sensor measuring CO2. And not only this, but like traffic lights and showing what it means. So, the meeting was starting, the concentration was at whatever level, it was showing green. As I'd never seen it before, I kept watching this. And then to my surprise, it kept going up and almost reached a thousand PPM. And I would have never thought that with only five of us in this room with this ventilation, this would be such a problem.
So, this was to me, really a turning point of where we need to see what's happening. I must say that since then I'm carrying my own CO2 meters and finding that in many places which I would have thought were ventilated properly, they're not. So, this is something what we really need to make sure that people see and understand.
Rasha: [00:18:08] Yeah, no, I completely agree. I have an air quality meter in my room and it's amazing how, when I open a window, my air quality goes up- both CO2 and particulates. My air quality gets so much better. And how quickly after I closed the window it degrades because I clearly don't have mechanical ventilation in my house yet, so I will be making a capital purchase in my home to make sure my numbers stay above 95!
Lidia: [00:18:40] One aspect of this is that it's not always that simple, and in relation to air quality in general it's, in fact, quite complex. In relation to CO2, it's very clear. What is the source? We are the source. Then opening the window gets the pollutant out. However, if you see in your meter an increased concentration of PM 2.5, and, not being an expert, what do you do? What is the source? Is it inside or is it outside? Shall I close the window? Open the window? So, then I thought that this would be very difficult for the users to interpret. But then I came to the conclusion, and this was more when looking at all these, like Fitbit devices, where at first you don't understand, what are they telling you? What is the symbol? What do we need to do? But you very quickly realize that, for example, it increased in PM2.5 because you just sprayed something. You'll see this. So, the source is inside, you know what to do. Well, you smell bushfire outside, it's increasing, you know, where it's coming from. So, within no time at all, you learn how to interpret this.
Rasha: [00:19:53] Exactly. Absolutely. I mean, mine measures VOCs is as well, and the minute I flat iron my hair or a use deodorant or whatever it is, you can tell how quickly the air quality goes down. So hypothetical question, you wake up in the morning and you are the one in charge. What are the first two actions you would take?
Lidia: [00:20:16] Oh, wow.
Rasha: [00:20:21] You're the queen of the world. What actions would you take?
Lidia: [00:20:25] So, I'm first introducing world guidelines for controlling infection transmission. Working in a balanced way all the modes of the transmission and explaining everything which needs to be done, how this needs to be controlled. And every country in the world, since I'm the queen, every country, the world has to follow this, and this then penetrates to the regulations of individual countries. This is really the problem that if there's nothing coming from the top, whatever the top is, if they don't take these actions as important.
So, this is the first step, but the second step is to influence that link between the building owners and the building developers. I'm not entirely sure yet how this is to be done because it's not just regulations, this is much more awareness of the problem. The future building owner is not aware of the problem that it causes if this is not taken into account.
I guess I can put it this way. Let's say you have a dish in mind to cook. So, the dish includes cabbage. You go to the market, you buy a cabbage and look, this is the cheapest cabbage. And you come back home and you cook the dish and it's not... well... that good! Because you were asked, for this dish, you needed a different cabbage. So, it is like we are buying these buildings like cabbages. And then thinking, okay, maybe it's a different cabbage for this. But this is really how deep it goes, that realization that we need different cabbages.
Rasha: [00:22:11] It's not as easy to get a different cabbage when you bought a building!
So, you're kind of stuck with the cabbage you have, so there you go!
Lidia: [00:22:22] If it's the wrong cabbage you bought, you will, in a few hours, you'll know that the taste is not as you expect.
Rasha: [00:22:27] That's right. Absolutely.
So, what do you tell your family and friends about the things that they can do now to improve their own spaces? It sounds like you're getting a lot of questions from family and friends these days. I am too, by the way, but what can you do? What can we tell our listeners that they can go do tomorrow to improve the quality of their indoor spaces?
Lidia: [00:22:51] I'm glad that you asked this question, but in fact, I've been telling this to my family for years now, since I went into this field and I realized the significance of the control measures. So, first of all, if we had a family gathering and if I was sick, I was putting on a mask. Then I realized very quickly that when the grandkids were born and frequently, continuous colds or something like this, how easy it was for me to get something. So, then I've learned, okay, I need to keep distance and how to isolate myself from the sick kids, physically, but also ventilation. This was often a point of contention during family meetings, if outside was too hot or too cold and I forced ventilation. So, this was the issue, but I was doing this all the time. The same in the working space here, if somebody came with a cold, which was socially acceptable, now it has stopped being socially accepted.
Rasha: [00:23:58] Right now global and local leaders have difficult but important decisions to make and it's crucial that experts like Lydia are able to provide guidance and be part of the conversation.
Lydia's passion for improving public health and resiliency is clear, and we're really excited to have her on the Council for Healthy and Efficient Spaces. We're looking forward to working actively together, exploring new standards, and identifying new technology that can help address challenges that have been around us for some time and are shared by all of us.
You've been listening to healthy spaces with Trane Technologies, I'm Rasha Hasaneen. Don't forget to hit subscribe to hear new episodes and join us next time when we'll be speaking to Professor Jim Freihaut from the College of Engineering at the Penn State Institutes for Energy and the Environment. We'll talk with Jim about a holistic approach to building science, and why indoor air quality requires not just a technical, but a cultural shift.
Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.
Episode 4: A Symphony without a Conductor
How would a symphony sound without a conductor? Uncoordinated, out of rhythm... you wouldn't pay to listen to them! So why do people still invest in buildings that are so unharmonious?
In this episode, we unpack how buildings continue to be designed and managed as a set of independent systems, where it's impossible to make beautiful music without a serious design intervention. Plus, the wondrous possibilities of a world where buildings and indoor environmental quality are monitored with the same level of performance scrutiny as cars and planes.
Join industry expert Jim Freihaut, Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at Penn State, and host Rasha Hasaneen as they discuss why advancing the way we look at the air around us is paramount to our health – and it all starts with how we design, build and operate buildings.
Healthy Spaces Episode 4 Transcript - Jim Freihaut
Jim: [00:00:00] If you live 80% of your time when you're at home in your house or in some other building, how much would you pay for a fresh pound of air? Would it be a dollar, two dollars? How much would it be?
Rasha: [00:00:12] That's Jim Freihaut, an expert in building science and indoor air quality.
Jim: [00:00:17] No, it's just automatically fresh, they assume. I said, yeah, well, people used to think water was automatically fresh as well, and now we're realizing that what we ingest into our bodies can cause long-term chronic problems and certainly that's true of air. So why aren't we emphasizing purification of air and be willing to pay for it?
Rasha: [00:00:38] Jim is an Associate Professor of Architectural Engineering at Penn State University, where he's part of the school's Institutes for Energy and Environment. Today, Jim shares his holistic approach to building science and efficiency and explains why indoor air quality requires not only a technical shift, but a cultural shift too.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
When Jim began his career as an academic, his original intent was to focus on indoor air quality issues that can cause chronic health problems like allergens, mold, and spores. However, pretty early on, it became apparent to Jim that the science of buildings can't be compartmentalized.
Jim: [00:01:25] Buildings really aren't designed, constructed and operated as whole systems as other aspects of our infrastructure are. For example, transportation systems, automobile system, the commercial aircraft system, manufacturing systems as a whole are always treated as an integrated design process. Buildings aren't. Buildings have been fragmented, for various reasons, both in their design, construction, design of equipment that goes into the building.
So, it's very difficult to look at a building as a whole integrated system and simultaneously optimize its performance in terms of energy efficiency and indoor air quality and comfort performance. And it leads to problems in terms of systematic, lack of progress in improving the efficiency and actually measurably improving the indoor environment.
As I knew it was going to happen, and what did happen as we wound up running into energy constraints. In other words, I can make an indoor environment really clean and really healthy but I can't afford it, either in terms of the initial equipment or the actual operation of the equipment.
And so, the trick is how do I arrive at an indoor air quality in a reasonably cost-effective way and measurably improve its performance relative to what's been going on in the past?
Rasha: [00:02:53] It may seem intuitive that we should think about buildings as a whole, but this approach has only really been pioneered in recent years. Why? Well, according to Jim, it's not just the study of buildings that needs to be more integrated.
Jim: [00:03:06] The industry as a whole is very fragmented in terms of architectural design, architectural engineering, design of equipment to meet the needs of a building's operational footprint. All those are very different players and they don't really talk together in an integrated fashion to come up with an optimal design for a building.
There has been a lack of a government oversight. I mean, who do you oversee? Do you oversee the architects and make them responsible for design, the architect will say, well, I designed it, but they didn't build it that way. The construction guy, the architectural engineering guy will say, well, I couldn't build it that way because no one could afford that building if I built it the way you said it should be built.
So, the government can do this in other industries, because there's an integrator, there is a systems integrator that can be held responsible. That's not the case in the building industry. So, it's very difficult to establish regulations or policies that can have a significant impact on the industry because the industry is so fragmented. But you can't concentrate on one aspect of indoor air quality and not talk about the building as a system, as a whole.
Rasha: [00:04:16] I mean, it's absolutely critical. And it’s not just the air, right? When you think about the building system you've got lighting, you've got thermal comfort, you've got acoustics, etc. So, obviously, the whole system makes a difference. That tends to exacerbate situations like the current pandemic, right?
Jim: [00:04:34] I don't know how many different companies have contacted architecture engineering at Penn State in one way or another saying, well, what do we do about this pandemic, this virus and indoor environments? This has raised the public's consciousness of the dangers of having poor indoor air quality. And this is a pretty extreme case, but if you take a look at indoor air quality over the years, there's been a lot of indoor air quality problems that have resulted in very serious problems for people: indoor allergens, certain chemicals in indoor environment can cause chronic disease. It's just that it happens in a more gradualistic fashion. Influenza. Every year, we have an influenza season and influenza viruses are transmitted in indoor environments, especially school systems and other types of buildings because the air is not really properly treated to remove the viruses. And we just learned to live with people getting sick and a certain fraction of people dying every year.
But now that we have this really malignant virus, it's highly transmittable, the problem becomes much more obvious. But it's been there for years and we just accepted it almost like it's gravity. If you did that in other industries, you'd be out of business. In terms of, "oh yeah a certain number of people are going to die this year because we don't mandate seatbelts or, we don't require anything like lock brakes." Those things are built, designed, constructed, and maintained as a system and we don't do that in buildings. So, to really address some of these chronic health problems and it's not just this particular pandemic thing. It's the typical yearly flu season, it's indoor allergens that cause a great deal of allergic response and disease development in the form of asthma in young children and even adults. And we have a certain number of chronic cases and deaths every year from that. They're highly related to indoor environment conditions. It's more difficult to deal with in building systems because of the fragmented nature of the building systems, but it's no less important. So, it's really imperative that we learn to address buildings as whole systems.
Rasha: [00:06:54] Absolutely Jim. And right, I think some of it too is - as a lot of this stuff has been mandated in the transportation industry, it’s not just that vehicles themselves have been designed both safer and more efficient, but the way we use those vehicles has shifted to become safer and more effective. And it feels as though, because the negative ramifications in the transportation industry are so immediate, right? A crash is immediate and a lot of times devastating. Whereas a lot of the issues with indoor air quality are more chronic and over time and they can't be attributed to one thing. It's almost like a boiling frog syndrome, right? Like here we are, we're sitting in water, the water is heating up and we don't realize we're boiling. And then at some point there's a boil over and you're like, oh my gosh, what just happened? And it feels like the current pandemic is creating that situation for us.
As we think about the holistic system and the need to have this level of integration between sort of fragmented players. What role does digital technology play?
Jim: [00:08:02] I did a little study before in terms of how is digital technology and information technology, sensors, and controls and electronics used in the building industry compared to other industries, and the building industry does use these technologies, but at a very low density compared to other systems compared to automobile system and manufacturing system and airplane system.
Cars, it's amazing. You'll have 100-200 sensors. You'll have maybe a thousand readings per second. All that information is immediately transferred into the operating system and the performance of the car and the safety situation as the car is optimized. We don't even do that in a very slow frame of reference. We don't even take enough measurements in buildings to really operate.
We have similar type of measurements and sensors in, but very few of them compared to those industries. And the information technology coordination within the buildings is not that good. For example, you can have very sophisticated LED, light emitting diode, lighting systems in buildings. And that's a good example in terms of improvement in energy efficiency of electricity, to light going from the incandescent bulb to the fluorescent bulbs to LED bulbs and measuring the light in putting sensors into buildings and say, well, I don't need, I don't need light in this part of the building because I have daylight. So those sorts of things are done with separate systems in the building; the air conditioning system, the lighting system, the ventilation system, they're only really crudely coordinated in terms of the amount of readings that are taken, how that information is analyzed in real time. And then how the system is as a whole, and the parts of the system, are coordinated to give you the best overall building system performance. It's very difficult to get the subsystems, to talk to each other in a coordinated fashion in much less to optimize their performance as a whole.
It’s a very difficult problem that the building industry really needs to address much more aggressively.
Rasha: [00:10:13] I agree, Jim, and I think there's different aspects as well, right? There's the operation of the building, but then there's also the digital integration of the original design of the building as well. The mechanical system and the architectural system for buildings are all completely separate and they talk to each other, but we're still very heavily reliant on what I like to call human sigma or human optimization to figure that out. There is some modeling, but very few companies are doing full scale, digital simulations or digital twin of a building before it's built. So, I think there's plenty of opportunity here to learn from other industries.
Jim: [00:11:20] There's a push in the building industry now to do what they call BIM to BIM, building information modeling where you digitized the entire building, digitize all its important subsystems, read into characteristics, the response characteristics of those subsystems, and then try to read all that information in digital data, into a simulation program that will simulate how the building performs.
Here's the problem. The problem is because the building system has been so disintegrated for a while there was no one driving that overall systems modeling in use of digital information to optimize those design tools. There is no one saying, okay, here's my digital design, here's my simulation. They built the building and then there was no data fed back to say, well, how well did I do? Was it really very good? Did my predictions come out right? Or how far off were they? Were they off on the lighting system? Were they off on the ventilation system? Are, they off on the air conditioning system? That sort of methodology would be totally out of the question in the automobile or airplane industry. You design this thing as a system, you go and you take all this data from actual, real operating systems and you feed it back into the design models and the design methodology. That's why they know when they designed the next model, they're not going to be very far off.
Don't get me wrong, every building's a little different. I'm not building 40 million of the same kind of car, a thousand of the same kind of airplane. That just means you have to go to a little higher level of abstraction in your design methodology. My point is we haven't begun to think this through in terms of, how am I going to get this hardware in a loop, this feedback mechanism into our design methodologies and I'm not even using digital information to the extent that it should be used now.
Rasha: [00:13:01] And even when we have some, these sort of technologies, you used the lighting example, which is a great example, right? We've evolved from incandescents to fluorescents, to LEDs. And now we've got sensors that tell us I can turn it on, I can turn it off. But LED is being inherently dimmable and as inherently designed a lot of our systems, even just for LED lights, don't take the full advantage of some of this newest technology and a lot of the way we take advantage of that technology is through digital applications. And so absolutely I think we've got a ways to go. As we go down this journey, we're going to see some really great improvements in building performance.
Jim: [00:13:40] Yeah, I mean, I can give you examples where people have tried to improve the energy efficiency of their large commercial buildings and they change the lighting system out, and the lighting system itself becomes much more efficient so they use less energy for the lighting. But what happened was these new lights give off so little heat and so, what happens is that they underdesigned the heating system in the winter.
So that's unacceptable. You can't improve the subsystem performance of one subsystem and then say, "Oh well okay now I got to use more energy in this other system because I don't know how these two systems interact with each other and the actual dynamic operation of the building."
I always tell my students, people they'll say, well, this isn't rocket science, or this isn't aerospace. No, it's not, it's actually a lot more difficult because every building is a little bit unique. So, you actually have to have a more robust and a higher level of abstraction in your design process. But you also have to be able to read data back in from actual cases to improve that design methodology. So, it's actually much more difficult. But more important, of all the prime energy in this country, 40% of it is used in buildings. Only about 30% in the transportation systems and then the rest of manufacturing systems. So, our buildings are using more prime energy than any other infrastructure sector in the country, and yet it's been the slowest to improve, both from an energy efficiency and a performance perspective. So, yeah, it's more difficult, but we got to do it. You know, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, all big cities realize that if they're going to reduce their carbon footprint, as a municipality, it’s the buildings they’ve got to really work on.
So, the municipalities are saying, well, we needed to do this as a municipality. So, they started benchmarking buildings, comparing one building to another building, what can I do to this building to improve its performance? And that's a step in the right direction but we've got to really accelerate this process by our design methodologies and our ability to redesign an existing building, to maximize its performance from an energy and from indoor air quality. If we keep designing buildings and operating buildings like we've done over the last 150 years, there's no way we can address the carbon footprint.
Rasha: [00:16:07] Yeah, I completely agree. You mentioned your students a couple of times, and I'd love to hear a little bit more from you around some of the cultural elements and the cultural barriers to, to really thinking about systems in this way. What are you hearing from your students in the classroom? Are they focused on sustainability? Is this something that you're seeing a shift in?
Jim: [00:16:35] Interesting point. What's emerged since I've been here, is there is a real concern from young people about sustainability environment, just in terms of resource allocation, fair allocation of resources, climate change. So, there's a passion there. The students, at least the ones I'm coming across in architectural engineering are quite concerned about sustainability and the fact that buildings play such an important role in climate change and sustainability efforts and fair allocation of resources.
They're passionate about their possibility to contribute here in terms of improving society as a whole. You know, we're talking to architectural engineering students here, so I always have fun with this. I asked them questions like, "Well, tell me about your car. What year is it? What's the size of the engine? What kind of mileage you get? What's the state of repairs? And 7 out of 10 of them can answer a lot of detailed questions about cars and their transportation systems.
Then I started asking them, well, what kind of heating system you have in your home? How efficient is that? How much energy do you use per square foot per year in your house? How does your house compare with other houses? What sort of cooling system do you use? Very few of them can actually answer detailed questions on that. So, there's a cultural thing here. People pay more important on certain aspects of their life operations than they do others. And obviously transportation systems have been an American culture thing that is almost comes second nature to the kids now. Computer systems are kind of getting pretty chorus of that. But buildings as systems are not.
Rasha: [00:18:18] Most of us recognize metrics like miles per gallon because we have to fill up our cars once a week, but we tend to pay a lot more attention to the aesthetics of our home versus the systems we don't see. Unless we've got really poor air conditioning systems, we might not notice their impact on our health, productivity, or energy efficiency. So, how can we make the invisible visible? We need more than just a technical overhaul. We need a cultural shift.
Jim: [00:18:46] You know, if you take the breathing rate of a typical adolescent or a typical adult, they're breathing so many times a minute, they bring in so much air per breath. And if you calculate that over a day, how many pounds of air are they ingesting into their body? It comes out to be somewhere between 25 and 35 pounds a day. Now compare that to how much bottled water they drink and pay for every day. And that's one, two, three or four bottles of water, maybe a pound or two of water they drink every day. And they're willing to pay a big price for that. I mean, just compare a gallon of purified water to a gallon of gasoline. And you ask them well, okay, in your house, if you live 80% of your time when you're at home in your house or in some other building, how much would you pay for a fresh pound of air? Would it be a dollar, $2? How much would it be? Oh, no, it's just automatically fresh they assume. I said, yeah, well, people used to think water was automatically fresh as well and now we're realizing that what we ingest into our bodies can cause long-term chronic problems and certainly that's true of air. So why aren't we emphasizing purification of air and be willing to pay for it?
Rasha: [00:20:00] Overall, what do you think will change in the next five years as a result of the research, the technology and those shifting consumer sentiment in this space?
Jim: [00:20:14] I think there's going to be a really big push, at least I hope there is as a result of this municipal benchmarking, climate change awareness and now the awareness of the fact that indoor air quality can be a huge problem in terms of apparent disease transmission and more subtle chronic disease development.
And I think what's going to happen is we're going to say, okay, we got to get the building as a whole right now. I think that's going to start with the building envelope. People are gonna realize that if I make the envelope of my building, the walls and a roof and the windows, right and I build them so that they can really keep out the external environment when I want it to be kept out in terms of temperature and transmission infiltration, etc., I can greatly reduce the amount of energy use in a building and at the same time greatly improve the indoor air quality.
So, I think there's a movement in at least in the residential section. And it's moving into the commercial building section now is how can I build a building that has a really high-performance envelope? And how can I do that cost-effectively? And how can I do that with certainty? So, there's a real possibility that this will then drive the evolution of buildings as a system. Because if I change the building envelope and get that right then I can greatly reduce the amount of energy I spend for air conditioning or heating and spend some reasonable amount of money on indoor air quality, humanity control, particle control, volatile organic carbon compounds control, and I'm dealing with less amount of air exchange so I can do this at a cost-effective way.
This is important for everyone because it'll change how we design our heating systems, our cooling systems, our air monitoring systems. I expect it will be a much greater emphasis on real-time measurement of indoor air quality from the point of view of accurate measurements of humidity, accurate measurements of particles, the sizes of particles, the types of particles, and that eventually will lead to what we call a demand control IAQ, indoor air quality.
We have demand control ventilation now where you count the number of people in the building and you say, okay, I need to bring in this amount of outside air, o keep the air in the building fresh. I think in the future with all the sensors and information technology that's being developed, you'll see sensors that measure a great deal about the indoor environment in a building, and can then turn off and turn on equipment as it's needed to deal with the indoor environment. And that'll be a lot easier to do if I don't have to worry about huge infiltration losses through the envelope and I have a controlled way of predicting the energy use in the building and right-sizing the equipment.
Rasha: [00:23:16] I think you've made the comment in the past that, that with these systems being so disparate, it's almost like - so it's almost like a symphony without a conductor. And I think that focus on the building envelope and maybe that focus on the digital integration allows us to get a little bit of that coordination going.
Jim: [00:23:34] A lot of their problems right now in buildings, in terms of energy efficiency is that we don't right-size equipment. We oversize it. Why? Because of what we talked earlier; we don't have a really good modeling simulation system that can give us the results with certainty. So, there's all this huge uncertainty on what's the heating load, what's the cooling load. Well, I don't know, but I don't want to be hot and I don't want to be cold so I'm going to oversize the boiler, I'm going to oversize the air conditioning system just to be sure no one ever complains or no one's ever uncomfortable. That means we're running this stuff at part load all the time. It's like driving your car at 20 miles per hour all the time. You can't possibly get the miles for getting what you're supposed to get.
People always ask, well, does this mean I'm going to have to spend more per square foot for my building? Maybe, not necessarily, because it's gone both ways when people have tried to do this, but you're going to make it up. You're going to make it up in your savings of energy. You're going to make it up in your measurable improvements of indoor air quality related to illnesses and diseases. I think, yes, we may spend a little bit more per square foot up front, but it will be a lot less on lifecycle costs overall. What do you spend for a car? You spend thousands of dollars per occupiable space per square foot. For an airplane, you spend a hundred thousand dollars per square foot of occupied space. For buildings if you start talking $200-$300, a square foot, people go ballistic. And yet, yes, the dangers aren't as apparent, maybe as in an automobile or an airplane, our emissions from a manufacturing site, but they're just as real. We just learned to live with distorted indoor environments and this sort of energy utilization. Well, that's got to change.
Rasha: [00:25:24] One last question for you here. What do you tell your family and friends about the things that they can do now to improve their own spaces?
Jim: [00:25:33] I think the main thing is for them to take a look and maybe actually get a few things into their house, like, simple measurement of temperature and humidity, and then look at how they can make sure that humanity level for a given temperature always stays below 55% or 60%.
The students always ask me, what's the biggest problem in indoor air quality in residential homes? And it's humidity. And if there's any spot where the humidity can condense on a surface, something's going to grow. Growing something is not going to be good and that could create some allergens or some other toxins that you may not notice over the long-term, but they are accumulating and they are going to affect somebody.
So, first of all, control your temperature and humidity. In the seventies what did people do to try to save energy and reduce on infiltration? They put plastic on their windows and taped her windows up. What happened? Humidity levels went up and then 5, 10 years later we noticed there's an epidemic increase in asthma and other types of respiratory diseases. And it was because we said, oh, there's a simple solution, we don't have to treat the building as a system.
So, if people want to improve their indoor air quality, make sure you have an HVAC system that's controlling humidity. Temperature is important, we all know that. Humidity is the sort of unseen, real big issue here.
Rasha: [00:27:07] Jim is a dynamic force in shifting public perception within the industry of healthy and efficient spaces. And his holistic approach is driving the technological transformation that's going to impact each and every one of our lives for the better.
Like us at Trane Technologies, Jim looks to the industries that are doing this well, and if we continue to invest and collaborate, the sky is truly the limit.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies. I'm Rasha Hasaneen. For more information on our conversation with Jim Freihaut, see the show notes in your podcast app. Don't forget to hit subscribe, to hear new episodes and join us next week when we'll be speaking to Bill Sisson from the World Business Council on Sustainable Development about his commitment to create better outcomes for businesses that also deliver benefit for the health and well-being of society and the planet.
Thanks for joining us. We'll see you next time.
Episode 5: Healthy Spaces and the Changing Social Contract
Maximizing shareholder value is so last century! Stakeholder capitalism is here to stay and it's changing our organizations for the better. So, why does it matter for healthy spaces?
Bill Sisson, Executive Director of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in North America, joins us to explain how this powerful social contract that includes employees and customers is transforming how businesses approach the role of indoor environments and sustainability.
In this episode, Bill gives an insider’s view on how business leaders are rising to the challenge. We discuss the evolving health and wellbeing demands of society and the planet, and why addressing core social and environmental issues is ultimately good for business too.
Healthy Spaces, Season 1, Episode 5 – Bill Sisson
Bill Sisson: [00:00:00] Politicians are still debating whether climate change is real or not which is a travesty, and then there was the US signing on and then withdrawing from the Paris agreement...
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:14] That's Bill Sisson, Executive Director of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development in North America.
Bill Sisson: [00:00:20] What did the business leaders do in that sequence? They doubled down. They formed the 'We Are Still In' movements. What business leaders are realizing is that they align with not just the words, but the actions that go along with them.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:36] Bill has a wealth of experience in driving corporate sustainability objectives in the private sector. Now at the WBCSD, he represents North American pro-sustainability voices and values on the global stage.
Today, Bill shares his vision for innovative solutions that address today's most pressing social and environmental challenges, and his belief that business has the ability to drive societal change.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you’re listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
In 2021, businesses are looking at environmental, social and corporate governance - or ESG - in a whole new light. If we were having this conversation a few years ago, environmental governance would have been at the forefront of the conversation. However, due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bill's observed a major shift in focus.
Bill Sisson: [00:01:43] The COVID pandemic, literally overnight really shined the spotlight on the social responsibility of business. The realization that my employees are going home and they're going to work from home and they're going to have families that work from home, oh my goodness! You know, what do I do as a business, as a real responsible business, to ensure their livelihoods aren't going to somehow be disrupted? And at the same time having to make hard choices about shuttering business operations, assuring the safety of how my factories are running and the people in them. I mean, wow. I mean, this literally happened overnight. You know, that really put a lot of pressure on the executives of these companies to balance externally what they were doing, because, you know, I think it was really a traumatic situation for all involved. And the reality is over time last year, this notion of ESG really became a proxy for how companies in the long run are set up to handle these types of business issues and challenges.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:02:57] So as we’ve seen the shift to the social part of ESG, what do companies need to be considering to make sure they don't undermine the great progress that we've made on the environmental part of ESG? And do you think they can have both?
Bill Sisson: [00:03:13] Oh, I think you can't separate these two things. You have to have both. That's the easy answer. The harder answer is what are the priorities of the firm and how do I balance what I need to be paying attention to socially as much as what I need to be paying attention to environmentally? We saw this in that shift from physical to virtual. I picked up a report the other day that the US' carbon emissions, greenhouse gas emissions, were down 10% last year. So, obviously a greater sort of transition, caused I think largely in part by the shift to the virtual workplace. And a couple of other things here relative to this balance and need. I mean, we've got this phrase out here, stakeholder capitalism. More and more stakeholders of business are expecting more from business. And it's not just about maximizing shareholder value, that terminology has basically evaporated and it's really about shifting to stakeholder capitalism. But one of the key stakeholders in any business outside of your customers are your employees and the social responsibility you have with them. They're expecting more, and not just the employees you have, but the employees you will have. And so, this is a really interesting relationship to that balance. What are new employees, new hires, new bright, brilliant minds looking for in companies and what are their proxies going to be? If you're looking at two companies of equal sort of potential, the company that wins out in that bright, new, brilliant mind is going to be the one that has a more responsible position in terms of ESG. When you get into the nuances of environmental and social aspects, employee health and safety are paramount front and center issues these days. And the need for understanding, when we do go back to work, what is it that I, as a business owner, need to make sure I've done to the workspace to make it more socially acceptable in terms of the aspects of my responsibility of employee health and safety. It's going to be ventilation, filtration, and a certain degree of paying attention to germicidal treatments, whether it's massive cleaning or germicidal air filters. These things have been around for a long time, how you design them in and how you retrofit them in and how you associate the investment's need, you know, all of that's going to really start to play itself out. And I'll make one last point: we've looked at some recent studies from scientific reports suggesting that good practice ventilation could be as effective in mitigating influenza outbreaks as vaccinating approximately half the population.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:06:13] That's amazing.
Bill Sisson: [00:06:15] It's amazing, but good ventilation practices can't counter the effects of the energy efficiency and environment footprints that you're trying to manage. So, these things start to take on a very necessary design aspect.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:06:34] As people return to their workplaces, the expectations placed on organizations will certainly be higher. Let's not underestimate the importance of the G in ESG - governance - because it's this management of the process coupled with deliberate transparency, that's becoming increasingly more important for employees, both current and future.
Bill Sisson: [00:06:56] Transparency has been around for quite a while, but I think I'll start with quite simply the immortal words of Peter Drucker, one of the most amazing management thinkers of our time: if you can't measure it, you can't improve it. I mean, that's just a fundamental premise. So, it's really both a way for companies to understand their performance, how well they are doing relative to the transparency factors, and increasingly how other stakeholders are using that information to assess how they think the company's doing. So, the latter is more of a more recent thing. I'll go back to my history - in the early nineties, there was a lot of regulatory pressure on companies and a lot of things happening from the regulatory environment that were driving companies to start to think about maybe we ought to be taking this stuff more seriously, it's costing us money not to. That was the early nineties. Now I would say the investors have gotten involved and the reason investors have gotten involved is they're really seeing these transparency metrics as a means to assess how well they think these companies are managed and prepared for risk and resiliencies, frankly, in impacts of climate change, of social unrest, of all these things that are now playing out in some sense before our eyes. And just a really interesting statistic to provide to you in the context of investors, sustainable investment funds today are at 30 trillion US dollars. That's up nearly 70% from five years ago and up tenfold in the last 15 years. It's an amazing ramp up of how these funds have been created. And what are they using to build those funds? What information are they using? That's actually the $64 million question. You know, I'm a CEO and I'm saying, wait a sec, how are they assessing me in my performance? Am I putting the right information out there? If you're not a CEO today, paying attention to that you're going to find yourself in real trouble in a few years’ time. So, it really is transparency and governance is huge and going to be increasingly more important if you aren't understanding how you fit into the landscape of those issues.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:09:29] So maybe you can give us a little bit of perspective, given your vantage point with businesses, what are you hearing from your contacts in the political and business arena? What are political and business leaders thinking?
Bill Sisson: [00:09:41] Well, in my role at WBCSD in North America, I really, in some ways, have to pay most attention to business leaders because they're the ones we work closest with. You know, it's really been interesting in the last five years. We know that the politicians are still debating whether climate change is real or not, which is a travesty. I mean, it's crazy. And then there was the US signing on and then withdrawing from the Paris agreement. What did business leaders do in, in that sort of sequence? They doubled down, they formed the, 'We Are Still In' movement, which was signed by thousands of business and sub-government states and city level leadership to say, this is serious. This is serious enough that it's going to impact our business and we're still in and we're going to drive our agenda forward. And at the same time, on the social front in 2019, we had nearly 200 US CEOs sign up for the business round table 'Purpose of a corporation' which was really what launched this question about stakeholder capitalism - the broader collective of moving away from maximizing shareholder value towards being more attentive to the social aspects of a company. Both of these things are real. They're really being debated and looked at by business leaders today. And what we've seen in the last year, we've actually seen these companies making incredibly ambitious and bold commitments to the environmental and social agendas. We're seeing commitments to essentially eliminating all greenhouse gas emissions. What business leaders are realizing is that they have to align with not just the words, but the actions that go along with them. And I think we're going to see a lot more of that in the coming year, politically outside of the US which I think is going to radically change here shortly. We've seen China make some bold commitments, Europe is way ahead of the game in the European countries, Asia, Australia, Canada. You know, their political systems are realigning around setting these, these ambitious targets as countries. And I think our US pause is really about to give away. I believe the new incoming administration really understands the economic potential of being a leader in these issues. And it's interesting to note, every member of the cabinet has some connection to either the environmental or social emergencies that need to be handled.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:12:38] It's really encouraging to see nations all over the world getting behind bold climate commitments through addressing their own greenhouse gases and establishing near renewable sources.
Decarbonization is a term that comes up a lot as organizations seek out strategies to improve their own environmental performance while also addressing the evolving social contract with occupants. So, I asked Bill to share his insights on the need for a system wide approach and how that can balance most sustainable and healthy environments.
Bill Sisson: [00:13:11] Energy efficiency and decarbonization go hand in hand and so one choice that you make may have consequences that you didn't anticipate. But one simple way of thinking is you've got a building that's made up largely of a lot of what we call passive systems - like insulation or windows or the construction materials you that are used to build your home or your building - and then the active systems that go along with those. So, you may have a heating system, you may have an air conditioning system or a ventilation system, and you have lighting and all these other active systems. And quite simply, you know, you take one passive system like insulation, which ultimately lowers the heating need that you might need for a building, so, it obviously lowers the emissions impact of a building if you add more insulation. And so, the key is to be able to model these things in a fairly robust way to understand how all those systems interact with each other, and then ultimately put forward a design that's optimized. Just a simple example of something that, that I didn't think of back when we were looking at this a few years ago, some may remember we used to have things called incandescent light bulbs. Incandescent light bulbs were around since Thomas Edison. I think you can still buy them in the hardware store. They're 10% at best. 10% efficient to convert electrons into light. Where does the other 90% go?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:14:52] Heat!
Bill Sisson: [00:14:52] Right. And so for a hundred years, we've been heating our homes and our businesses with light bulbs! Now we did a study and looked at what does that mean in terms of carbon impact, you know, switching to LEDs? That's really good, LEDs are 90% efficient at converting electrons to light, only 10% of the heat is going into the building. Right. Well guess what we did a study in Europe and found that Europe largely heats with wood, gas, and fossil fuels. Emissions actually went up because they had to use more fossil fuel in these buildings to offset what was the heat they were getting from the incandescent light bulb. But I think it's powerful to think about when you understand those are the kinds of system interplays when you think of something as a system wide approach, you have to account for these things, you have to account for the energy and emissions impact of systems and the interplay that they'll have.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:15:56] Certain sectors may find it challenging to address decarbonization. So, with that in mind, the WBCSD has published a framework to help industries tackle the issue head on.
Bill Sisson: [00:16:07] Last year, just to tie a bow around this, WCSD released something called the Building System Carbon Framework, which was a missing tool in the industry for understanding how all the different systems interact, but also the footprint of those systems from both an embodied carbon point of view and an operational carbon point of view. And giving a framework to the industry around how do I account for all of these things, which we believe will ultimately serve the sector towards understanding how to move from what is mostly a financial transaction today. It's a very tight cost controlled industry - but now to consider how to move that to a carbon transaction so that I can make the appropriate financial choice, understanding the carbon transaction that will also be associated with it. I think it's going to be very powerful. And I think so far, we've picked up a lot of positive reaction from the industry.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:17:11] When we consider decarbonization on an organizational level, as Bill rightly explains, we have to consider circularity within the built environment.
Bill Sisson: [00:17:21] So if you think of carbon as a fixed investment that you make. So, at the beginning of a building's life cycle, I invest in something that has a certain amount of carbon associated with it. The lowest impact we could have is if you keep that carbon always. You've already made the investment and it's there for forever that wouldn't have, I mean, I never have to make that carbon investment again. And if you take that into the context of a part of your building, the best thing I could do is reuse as much of that carbon as I can in the next embodiment of the building, whether it's a refurbishment or a brand-new building. But unfortunately that doesn't happen. Most of what happens today, and the business models that we have in the business transactions that we have in the industry are really built around saying goodbye to the old building, watching it get put into a landfill somewhere, and then making all those new carbon investments in transactions. So, circularity in the built environment really looks at how do I design in carbon? And how I can reuse that carbon I've designed in the future? That's good if you're an architect, but now if you're a company like Trane, what does that mean for me? You know, I've got a certain amount of investment in a product that I make, what's my responsibility in circularity? And so now you start to think about all elements of the value chain having some role or responsibility in the circularity of the value chain. What can I use? What can I reuse? What do I take back? What do I just to avoid as much of that ending up in the landfill, which today is the standard practice?
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:19:07] Then you have to balance that too. With, you know, the carbon investment I made in systems 10 years ago may lead to a certain carbon footprint - operating carbon footprint versus embodied - and today I may want to make a different investment to reduce my operating carbon footprint was something that has an additional carbon investment but has a return on that carbon investment that's much higher. Now, what do I do with the thing I just took out? Right. And how do I go back to the supplier and say, can this be reused to produce something that has a lower operating carbon footprint? Those tradeoffs need to be a little bit more, I think conscious.
Bill Sisson: [00:19:46] They for sure need to be costed in and I think that's really where some of the work we're doing right now is what is the defined business case across the supply chain for doing this? And how do business models perhaps need to be rethought? You know, in your world copper is extremely important to your product, wouldn't it be great if I could get a lot of that copper back? We use it without having to make a substantial amount of more carbon investment that I'm making a new copper today. And that's a technology question as much as it is a business question, that those are the kinds of value trade-offs that I think we need to see more of.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:20:32] It's really identifying those key areas that you want to look at. So, for example, we've made those types of shifts as it relates to the use of aluminum and steel, right? And we still have copper. I guess, you can always get better. How do we design this in so that I can use recycled copper versus virgin copper and I'm not having to go back around rare earth materials every time I have a new product? So, I absolutely agree.
Bill Sisson: [00:21:00] That's right. There's so much we should be doing and could be doing, but it isn't the way we've built up our business models to date. Those are the parts that we need to really rethink around these issues.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:21:18] In parallel to organizations reconsidering the buildings that they occupy; we're also seeing a lot of conversation around our wider city environments. Sustainable smart cities have been a buzzword for a while now, however, the new normal of remote work over the past year means that the concept of a circular built environment is experiencing a lot more attraction.
Bill Sisson: [00:21:42] Now, back when we were talking about the impact of COVID this issue of people having to work from home, we used to call it work-life balance and quickly that morphed into work-life migration, it all just became integrated. And so, I think there will always be a need for environments that facilitate the business, whether that's offices, engineering labs, there's only so much we can do in this virtual space. But the key is, as cities start to embrace their place in the climate action agenda, they're going to count on the private sectors who are leasing, owning and operating there, these facilities within the boundaries of the city to take more accountability in the impact they're having. And so, I think this is going to be an interesting opportunity for us to, you know, I don't want to use the phrase too flippantly, but to really think what does build back better mean in the context of, you know, what is the right way for us to treat this experimental result where some businesses have actually seen a productivity increase by people working from remotely and from their homes. I just think it's going to change the way we think about urban planning, urban design, urban density, and the associated systems that support that, whether it's ventilation, filtration and germicidal systems that we talked about earlier and the energy balance that goes along and the emissions balance, that'll go along with it. I think cities are going to be much more involved in those conversations than they are today. The other one I wanted to mention was back to our circularity question, right. You know, as a person that lives in the city, what's my responsibility in terms of minimizing waste? Statistically speaking, cities are accumulating about five pounds of waste per person per day as a result of just being a human. Now, unfortunately way more than half of that ends up in a landfill. So, what do businesses need to start thinking about that in encourages not just recycling, but a greater amount of reuse, a greater amount of take-back, a greater amount of value back? You know, the old redemption value kind of thing to really think about how to make consumers think more circular. And the constituents of cities obviously are the consumers. So, I think there's more to come on that because we can't keep filling up landfills. It's cheaper today to dump into a landfill than it is to recycle many products. So, we need to fix that.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:24:35] And it's cheaper to do than to redistribute and reduce the waste altogether.
I mean, when just looking at food waste, personal story, right. I started composting at home, both kitchen and yard waste and when we started having to deal with kitchen waste ourselves, our eating habits changed because my little kitchen waste bin is small and I'm like, there's nothing going in the garbage can or the garbage disposal! It's all going in here! And now all of the sudden, our habits have changed, we waste less, right? And then you just look at how much food is wasted in the city and how much can be redistributed because of what are a lot of times archaic regulations with restaurants, for example.
Bill Sisson: [00:25:20] It really is a great point you're making that that let's not forget city regulations that need to completely be rethought, that will enable some of the things you're talking about. But also, it's really, how do we make one person's trash, another person's treasure, and really allow that mechanism to be economically enabled and not have these regulations that prevent that from happening. So, I think that there's a fair amount of activity we're going to see coming out of city governments. Let's just be real in cities are notoriously competitive. They want to attract the business. They want to attract people. They want to attract vibrant economies. And if the future is going to be, I'm going to attract a greater amount of economic value if I do some of these things, which I think will be the case, we'll get through this.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:26:14] Yeah. Completely agree. So, you know, when we start to look at smart and sustainable cities and really the circular built environment, who's doing this really well, where are some good examples that maybe our listeners can go look at and learn from?
Bill Sisson: [00:26:30] I think you'll find a lot of really cool things happening in European cities, but I don't want to... Stockholm look at what Stockholm's doing, I'll just put that out in front. But I think there's some really good examples, there's some great regulations in New York, California’s got some fantastic zero energy objectives, and I think there's five or six States that are doing that really well.
I also want to give a shout out to some of the things we've talked about today is to some of the businesses.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:26:55] I was going to say, which businesses are doing really well?
Bill Sisson: [00:26:59] I have a personal kind of condition that I practice where try not to name companies, but what I would ask your listeners to do is go look at every member of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. We have just launched five new member conditions we're asking every member to have in place practices in place by the beginning of 2023. The first one I mentioned earlier is around setting ambitions towards net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and putting action plans and roadmaps in place to achieve them. The second is around adhering to the principles of no nature loss by 2050, still some work to do around what that means and how do you measure and metricized that. The third one is around adherence to, and following the practice of, the UN Guide to Human Rights. And the fourth is around setting a course for truly addressing inequality in the workplace and putting the programs and practices in place to get those issues. We have to deal with that. And then the fifth criteria, it goes back to something we talked about earlier, which is around really the materiality of the information that companies are going to be putting out around these factors. It's not good enough to just put a report out there that covers the white space of everything we do. We need to really be focused on making sure we're being we're providing information that allows those that want to evaluate the companies to make a clear and precise and robust evaluation of those companies. I think, you know, Trane... after saying I wouldn't name a company, but I'll name Trane. The Gigaton Challenge, which is really looking at how do you impact the customer footprint? The whole leading by example, which is firmly looking at the business models you're practicing today, really going to take you forward into the future. And then your Opportunity for All, which is really getting at the social aspects of running your business and the impact that making bad choices along those dimensions are going to have to not just your company, but perhaps leading the way will help other companies understand what it needs to do.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:29:24] Well, thank you. We appreciate the shout out! Just to wrap things up here, you know, new administration through a very bumpy, probably the bumpiest transition in history. You wake up tomorrow morning and you're in charge. What are the first two decisions or actions that you would make?
Bill Sisson: [00:29:45] I would say two things. One is to really drive renewable electrification and the drive for systems efficiency for everything. Game over if we can obtain both of those things. And then really convincing every American citizen that a net zero greenhouse gas emissions society is going to be economically advantaged; it's going to provide jobs for everyone, it's going to drive this economy into the 22nd century. And if we don't do it now, starting now, we're going to get behind from all the economies that are already ahead of us. Those are my wake-up calls tomorrow morning.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:30:34] Bill's vision for a bold economically advantaged future driven by renewable energy and net zero greenhouse gas emissions is something we can all truly get behind. By bringing together business leaders and a commitment to addressing those core societal and environmental challenges, Bill and the WBCSD are part of a driving force for global change. And that means better outcomes for businesses and benefits for the health and wellbeing of society and the planet.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, I'm Rasha Hasaneen.
For more information on our conversation with Bill Sisson, see the show notes in your podcast app. Don't forget to hit subscribe, to hear new episodes and join us next time when we'll be speaking to former US Congressman Russ Carnahan about his pioneering work at the intersection of infrastructure and policy, and the need to make high performance buildings a fundamental part of our society and economic growth engine.
Thank you for joining us. We'll see you next time.
Episode 6: The Global Economy of Healthy Spaces
Why isn't there a single U.S. cabinet position dedicated to buildings? Buildings consume 35% of global energy, but get considerably less attention than transportation and other core infrastructure industries.
In this episode, Russ Carnahan, co-founder of Building Action Coalition, shares how his 8 years in the U.S. Congress led him to create a unified voice across organizations, representing single family homes, skyscrapers, and everything in between. The goal: to help policymakers understand the impact and needs of the built environment, and start looking at healthy spaces as a sustainable economic growth engine.
In this final episode of season 1, Russ shares how this void of representation in the industry hurts individuals, businesses and the environment. As we look to recover from a global pandemic and understand the important role the health of our indoor environments will play, the need has never been so great.
Healthy Spaces, Season 1, Episode 6 – Russ Carnahan
Russ Carnahan: [00:00:00] If you're having a broad and serious conversation about how to improve energy efficiency and sustainability, buildings have to be a major component of it, otherwise it's not a serious conversation.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:17] That's Russ Carnahan, former US Congressman and co-founder of the Building Action Coalition.
Russ Carnahan: [00:00:22] They can talk about the transportation sector and power generation and things like that, but having the building sector organized that's on all of us.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:00:32] Russ's career has been characterized by his pioneering work at the intersection of infrastructure and policy. Today, Russ explains why the building sector's voice needs to be amplified and why we need to make high-performance and healthy buildings a fundamental part of both our society and our economic growth engine.
I'm Rasha Hasaneen and you're listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, a series of conversations that explores the world of indoor environmental quality from the inside out.
Russ Carnahan has always been ready to fight for a just cause. He started his career as an attorney in Missouri and was soon drawn into politics where he set about enacting change on a wider scale. During his eight years in Congress, Russ was deeply invested in exploring the ways technology can improve our environments for the better.
Russ Carnahan: [00:01:32] A lot of my career in public service and the work that I did in Washington really focused on the intersection of technology and policy. From the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, science and technology, and a lot of the work that I did founding the High-Performance Building Caucus really out of frustration that the building sector was really not getting a fair shake in a lot of the policy debates. And buildings oftentimes, when we were talking about energy and sustainability, weren't even mentioned. So based on that, I organized the High-Performance Building Caucus. And then post-Congress, reconnected with a colleague that had worked with me back then and identified the continuing need to build a broader, better connected coalition in the building space. That's when we launched Building Action.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:02:28] So, maybe you can help us a little bit from a policy perspective to understand how the building sector is different from other industries and why you felt like the building sector wasn't getting it's fair shake.
Russ Carnahan: [00:02:41] It's different in one way in that it's very diverse. There's so many actors in this space from public sector, standards groups, environmental groups, manufacturers of products and technology, buildings, workforce, and training. You know, there's so many different sectors that uniquely contribute to buildings in the residential and commercial space. So, in one way, there's an opportunity tap into a lot of different kinds of expertise, but the challenge in the building sector has been, there is not been a good, broad, connected coalition to really deliver that. And we've heard that among stakeholders in the sector. And we've also importantly heard that from policy makers in Washington, that even though they have the good ideas to say 'we want to engage with the building sector', they're not sure really how or who to do that. This is complicated and so that's what's different and unique about the sector, but where there's also a lot of opportunity. That was really a big motivation behind really creating the Building Action Coalition.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:03:59] Russ co-founded the Building Action Coalition to help tap into the possibilities of the sector. He knew that putting sustainable buildings at the top of the agenda would have numerous benefits, including saving energy, protecting the environment and creating jobs. But he also knew that to make the coalition work, it had to be built on solid foundations.
Russ Carnahan: [00:04:20] There are so many coalitions out there and we wanted to know what the best practices were. Why do people join coalitions and why do they have value? Mainly, it's because you have a larger group that has more clout and a stronger voice, the members share information and learn from each other, and they're a resource for policy makers, and so that collection of expertise. We wanted to focus on what we believe was the number one value that we wanted to achieve. The biggest thing that was missing is there was not a national network. That was job number one, to build the network. And we wanted it to be intentionally broad. We'd broken down several thousand contacts into about 20 unique sectors from public sector, private sector, standards groups, environmental groups, religious groups, work force. I could go on, but they each have unique things that are contributing. We wanted to have a better connection there.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:05:33] The pandemic threw up a lot of challenges for all of us, but for the newly established Building Action Coalition, it was an accelerator. They quickly went virtual and continued to action some of their big picture ideas. With an election coming up, they were galvanized, regardless of who would be serving at the next step.
Russ Carnahan: [00:05:50] We were able to do a lot of work connecting the network with policymakers in the House and the Senate. We did a survey of federal candidates for office on buildings, which as far as we knew, it was one of the first ever to be done like that. We put together a year-end report that you can find on our website at www.buildingaction.org that gives a good overview of our activities. We wanted to build this so that in 2021, whoever was in the White House and the new Congress that we can really focus on advocacy and ideas and moving that agenda. So that's been our plan from 2020 to 21. We think there's going to be many substantive opportunities with the legislation on infrastructure, on economic recovery, to advocate that there are major building components in those. That’s where we really want to draw on the expertise of the groups. And again, we have nonprofit groups, labor groups, business groups, major companies, really every kind of group you can imagine, but intentionally to have that diverse perspective that can really weigh in on these issues.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:07:08] I remember in some of my early work in government relations really coming to an understanding about how critical some of this expertise is for policy makers, because policy makers have to learn so much about so many things. They really rely on these coalitions and these industry experts to help them come up to speed quickly on the issues. So, maybe talk a little bit about how this type of coalition could impact how policymakers engage with the industry. And what feedback do you hear from your peers on that?
Russ Carnahan: [00:07:43] It really boils down to being a credible resource for policy makers. We've seen so many examples in history where legislation has been rushed in, experts not really consulted in their input, not incorporated, and you can get bad results. Whereas if you have a really thoughtful engagement from experts, organizations, companies, you get a lot better result. And again, policy makers really appreciate that you built a coalition around good ideas, but they may have concept for legislation to do things, to improve efficiency and sustainability in the building sector, but they may not know a lot of the details that might be a practical thing for people on the ground actually executing those things. So, the better you have that interchange and those relationships, you can get a lot better policy because oftentimes policy lags behind technology. And we've seen so many advances in technology and products that it really makes the point that those kinds of relationships and that kind of engagement is critical.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:08:55] Are there any countries that you see maybe outside of the US that are doing this well, are there any best practices around the world that we can learn from here?
Russ Carnahan: [00:09:04] Europe has been leading in many of these. Germany has certainly been a leader in sustainability, so I think there are some good examples out there. And there's certainly a global opportunity. And I think more and more if you're having a broad and serious conversation about how to improve energy efficiency and sustainability, buildings have to be a major component of it. Otherwise it's not a serious conversation. They can talk about the transportation sector and power generation and things like that. But buildings are 40% of our electricity usage so we have to have that as a substantial part of the conversation. And having the building sector organized, that's on all of us because, as you know, many other sectors like transportation are better organized. That again makes the case where it's important to build that and create that and contribute.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:10:09] I love this conversation because it's a very different take on the building sector. I mean, we've had other conversations about an individual building and the fragmentation of all of the systems. This really gets at the entire industry and helps us understand a little bit better how to impact policy around sustainability in the built environment.
I don't think most people are aware of the significant role that the building industry plays in economic growth, especially in recovery and resiliency from something like what we're going through right now with the pandemic. Can you maybe give us a perspective of that economic impact and the economic impact that the building industry can have?
Russ Carnahan: [00:10:55] Absolutely. And I think even before the pandemic, there was a strong case being made that the building sector, building new buildings, retrofitting old buildings to be more efficient, was a big job creator. Those were local jobs and many times the majority of the work done are local companies. And so you get the economic impact of that, but you also get extra economic impact because so much of that is hyper-local. So post pandemic, we've had this again. There's been a focus on having healthier buildings for some time. Now, this just dramatically advances that conversation for those important, you know, first responder buildings and essential businesses. How do we make those safer, healthier in the process of also making you more efficient? So there's an entire opportunity to address both the health aspects of buildings and the sustainability of buildings that also is a gigantic job generator. All of that fits together and I think policy makers are beginning to have an even better understanding of that and how that can be incorporated into our economic recovery strategies.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:12:24] And in addition to that, the ability of a healthy building to drive significant productivity and really lead to economic impact on actual businesses. So there's the buildings themselves and the economic impact of the building industry. But we know that there's huge productivity gains to improving the indoor environmental quality of these buildings. These are numbers that are in the billions in terms of employee productivity of businesses that inhabit those buildings. It's a really great place to be, to really think about how do we make buildings more sustainable, but how do we really make them healthier to drive improved productivity in the businesses that inhabit them.
Russ Carnahan: [00:13:10] The other point that I would add is from the business and corporate side of the equation. Many of them are coming to this, not that they're environmental tree huggers, but they're doing it because it's smart for their bottom line and brand. It's something your customers want and value. So for all those reasons, you're seeing many business leaders in companies that are really looking at strategies to be more sustainable overall, and also how they can do that in their building footprint, their supply chains, all of that. So it's been a big shift. As you're having policy conversations, there's so much common ground on this now that didn't exist in the past. There's incredible opportunity for bi-partisan support in this area as we're looking at economic recovery packages, infrastructure packages that they're serious building components in.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:14:19] It's great to hear that building and infrastructure packages have bipartisan support. After all, our businesses depend on it. For starters, the cost of employing someone is 150 times that of a business’s cost for energy, and recently the Center for Disease Control estimated the cost of absenteeism to be in the $200 billion range across the United States alone. Add to that a recent Harvard study that highlighted anywhere between $150 to 250 billion of additional costs due to productivity losses from employees working while sick and the cost for businesses becomes astronomical. The pandemic has put a very bright spotlight on the effects of poor systems in the built environment. But if we can just make a small dent in those costs, by improving the indoor environmental quality of these commercial buildings, businesses would be looking at massive productivity savings.
Russ Carnahan: [00:15:14] I think having the experts in companies that have had experience doing that, and actually have a track record and can show the data and the impact. I cannot stress how important it is to policy makers to understand that. And to help with that education, to help as resources, it will really help drive these ideas into policy that can actually be deployed around the country.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:15:47] We have a new administration in place. What are some of the changes you would expect to see as this new administration gets through its first 30 days and is starting to really implement change?
Russ Carnahan: [00:16:02] That is a great question that a lot of folks are taking a hard look at. I would just rewind a little bit to the Obama Biden administration, where they had engaged in several energy efficiency and sustainability measures. Obviously, joined the Paris Climate Accord, it's part of a global agreement. These things have global momentum behind them. And when the Trump administration took office and began to roll some of those things back, I didn't agree with that, but it didn't stop the global momentum. That's continuing in countries around the world. It continued in the US with state initiatives, networks of mayors from cities, large and small signing on to sustainability goals and practices. So that momentum continues, and while it may have slowed from the federal government the last four years, I think it's going to dramatically change to, again, just accelerate what is already happening.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:17:17] Agreed. Maybe you can give us your own take. If you had 15 minutes with the new administration, what advice would you give them?
Russ Carnahan: [00:17:25] It would be a long list, but I think the sort of big picture in one concrete thing that the Federal Government can do is lead by example. The Federal Government is the biggest owner and operator of buildings in the country, not to mention what they do around the globe. By their very practices they can help drive the market in procurement, in standards they set for their buildings, and standards they set for people and for companies that lease buildings to them. That to me is a major driver of what happens in the marketplace. And then you can add onto that programs, tax incentives and minimal standards for buildings that again, will help drive that. And incorporating technologies, you know, new technologies that really dramatically change the way you can operate homes more efficiently and healthy. I think that major leading by example is my biggest and best advice. And I think they're already off to a good start with that with the Biden 'Build Back Better’ plan to really dig in to some of these practices, and I think you're going to see that is a big priority.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:18:49] What I love about that advice is that it is wholly within their control. Like, it's not like they're trying to influence a big industry to do something different, this is their spending, their dollars, how do they make their dollars set the example for the market? So I love that. That's awesome.
What do you think will change in the next five years as a result of research and technology, what do you think will change as it relates to consumer sentiment with respect to the built environment, indoor environmental quality?
Russ Carnahan: [00:19:28] I think it's a combination of policy and technology and values. More and more, particularly younger generations are interested in all things sustainable and really reducing their environmental footprint. There are technologies that are making that easier and better all the time that you can manage with apps in your phone that were unthinkable even a few years ago. And I think from the policy perspective, I think there's a growing understanding that policies matter. From the government leading by example, to incentives, to basic standards, all those things together are really gonna make a dramatic difference, with global momentum behind it. And it really unleashes a lot of American and global innovation in ideas and creativity on how we can do things differently from the way they've been done in the past. To me, it's an exciting time. There's lots of room for people to be involved in that and really make a difference.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:20:51] Given your time in both your state and the federal government, what advice would you have for our listeners on how they can advocate for healthy and efficient buildings with their local and federal governments? What can our listeners do?
Russ Carnahan: [00:21:06] Be good citizens, from your local town to your state and federal officials, be engaged with them. Elected officials normally like to hear from their constituents, they like ideas, they like things that have a positive impact for people in their community. Every individual citizen can be involved and be a resource and then use their own networks, whether it's your local church or charitable organization or your company or your business, those networks, you know, they all have national and state associations. If you're in the hotel industry there's a national organization; it doesn't matter what the industry is. And virtually every industry in the country has some kind of sustainability goal or initiative within it.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:22:01] I've heard you talk a lot about religious organizations and their impact on the building segment. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what people can do with their religious organizations, what religious organizations can also do in this space.
Russ Carnahan: [00:22:14] Well, it's a great example of how people can get engaged in their community. In many people, you know, regardless of your religious affiliation, there's a general deep belief that people should be good stewards of the planet. We have an important religious coalition on the environment active in Building Action and they've told us that after the Federal Government, that churches and religious organizations are the number two owner and operator of buildings. And so if you look at that value system and the enormous footprint of the buildings, you see more people trying to put those values into action. I think it's another example locally, right in your backyard is your home religious organizations, how they can begin to make a difference.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:23:11] Every segment of our diverse society has an important role to play. And as Russ explains, it's when we all come together that the real magic happens.
Russ Carnahan: [00:23:21] If you look at the big picture, every different part of our country, has a way to contribute. You know, you think about all the different unique groups that are on the front line now with hospitals, schools, grocery stores, hotels, churches, restaurants, theaters, all of those have national association. They're trying to figure out how can they reopen safely and efficiently. How can they contribute to the economic recovery and the collective impact of ordinating with national policy makers to help things that can really be dramatic in my opinion, and overall help us reach the goal of transforming America's buildings.
Rasha Hasaneen: [00:24:06] Russ' incredible work with the Building Action Coalition is an asset to our society. Now, more than ever, we need passionate and informed guidance that can reach every level from policy makers and organizations right down to the individual, and good policy modeling from the US has the potential to influence better practices around the world.
If we all start to work together towards a single common goal around healthy and efficient spaces, the impact will have on the built environment will leave a powerful legacy for the next generation.
You've been listening to Healthy Spaces with Trane Technologies, I'm Rasha Hasaneen.
For more information on our conversation with Russ Carnahan, see the show notes in your podcast app. This is the sixth and final episode in our first series, but you can go back in your feed and listen to all of the conversations we've had with experts, academics, and disruptors that are changing our spaces for the better. And don't forget to hit subscribe to hear future episodes. Thanks for joining us. We'll see you soon.