Harmful pollutants are spewing everywhere, including indoors. And while the focus is on those external emissions created by power plants, industrial facilities and automobiles, there is solid reason to turn inward: The level of volatile organic compounds — gases from solids and liquids — is 10 times greater indoors than it is outdoors.
That’s according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which adds that dirty air inside of commercial and residential buildings is two-to-five times greater than what is outside. And that is leading to health problems. In extreme cases, think of burning coal or wood for indoor cooking and heating in developing countries. The good news is that the technologies exist to monitor air quality and to improve energy efficiencies.
“As we learn to live a healthier lifestyle by eating better, we can also live a healthier lifestyle by breathing better,” Vasileios Nasis, chief executive of the Netronix Group in Philadelphia told this writer. In doing so, he adds that “You can also contribute to energy savings.”
As for Netronix, its relatively inexpensive instruments are installed within a business or home that gather data associated with air quality, all in real time. That information is then stored in the company’s cloud software, which it monitors for a monthly fee. At the appropriate times, managers or consumers are notified to shift their usage patterns. That not only cuts down on electricity bills and pollutant levels but it can also improve the performance of existing equipment.
Green schools, for instance, say that they use a third less energy than conventionally-constructed schools, which cuts down on their utility costs and improves the air that students breathe. Ditto for hospitals, which must have sterile environments. By installing devices that can measure air quality, managers are notified of problems before they happen.
Consider that high CO2 levels inside of a building cause headaches — an issue that can be resolved by sending automated signals to turn on air condition units. Professional energy managers will know the various levels and will be able to set the parameters according to their preferences while businesses that lack such an expertise can work with their vendors.
There’s a range of solutions with quick paybacks. Creating real change means controlling demand at large plants and commercial buildings. Experts can study a facility’s technologies and operating protocols and determine where the pitfalls lie. They can then provide a good range of retrofits and the potential savings that those innovations will produce.
The World Health Organization is actively addressing air pollution. Worldwide, it says that a third of cardiovascular diseases can be linked to indoor and outdoor pollution while 29% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease deaths are tied to poor indoor air quality.
William J. Fisk, with the Indoor Environment Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Labs, writes that the annual savings and productivity gains would be greater than $200 billion. That includes everything from reduced respiratory disease to improvements in worker performance.
“It is very difficult to control air quality outside,” says Netronix’s Nasis, “but we can control it inside. In the process, we can save tons of energy while we also save money and preserve the environment.”
One of the most common pursuits today is for buildings to get LEED certified to ensure that commercial construction meets modern standards. Such standards look at how buildings are fueled as well as water efficiency and indoor air quality.
According to the Green Building Council, offices consume 70% of the electricity load in the United States. They also account for roughly 38% of all greenhouse gas emissions and over the next 25 years, CO2 emissions from those structures are projected to grow faster than any other sector, at 1.8% a year.
The companies that occupy those structures are going green to improve their brands. But they are also doing so because they can save money. One of the easiest ways to achieve environmental and energy savings is through lighting retrofits.
Consider Nissan Motor Co., which is allocating more capital to energy efficiency: Altogether, the company says that it has implemented $2.6 million worth of energy efficiency projects since 2012 while saving $2.1 million a year and preventing tons of carbon releases.
Hilton Hotels and Amazon’s Whole Foods, furthermore, are helping out each other. Hilton, for example, suggested to Whole Foods that it use more natural lighting whereas Whole Foods thought Hilton ought to use more advanced lighting that dims when no one is around.
When it comes to cutting emissions, most of the focus is on external sources such as power plants. But it is also imperative that commercial and residential structures become more energy efficient, which will have an equally profound impact on the environment and on workers’ health.