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‘IEQ and energy efficiency must be balanced’

Dr Marilyn Black, Vice President and Senior Technical Advisor, UL, and Founder, GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, while in conversation with Benwen Lopez, shares her insights on the principles of indoor environmental quality (IEQ) and initiatives begun by UL…

| | Apr 12, 2018 | 10:20 am
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Dr Marilyn Black

As we approach 2020, what is the progress that has been made by Vision 2020 in the field of IEQ?
Vision 2020 has been successful in educational and outreach efforts to raise awareness of IEQ, and its importance to worker performance [in offices] or student productivity [in schools] and their health. Better IEQ results in a higher state of well-being for building occupants, as they are more comfortable, healthier and have a good state of mind.

Vision 2020 has helped in delivering this message and educating [stakeholders] on ways to achieve better IEQ. Architects and building engineers have become more knowledgeable about designing, constructing and operating buildings to ensure good indoor air quality (IAQ). Manufacturers of building materials and furnishings have made great strides in formulating and manufacturing their products to be more benign, as well as reducing chemical and particle exposure in indoor environments.

The health of building occupants is of paramount importance today. How do you see Vision 2020 playing a role in driving this message?
As indicated previously, making everyone aware of the importance of good IEQ, and how it can be achieved, leads to healthier environments and healthier people. We must continue to ensure that architects, interior designers, building engineers and operating managers stay aware and use the available tools and processes for proper IEQ.

As of today, what are some of the most significant challenges concerning IEQ and IAQ? How can the HVACR industry counter these challenges?
One of the most significant challenges today is not to confuse green buildings with healthy buildings. Green more often refers to more direct sustainability initiatives related to energy, use of natural resources and lifecycle processes. As a result, a green building may not necessarily be a healthy building, unless procedures have been adopted for good IEQ or IAQ.

The HVAC industry can help by ensuring that IEQ is always addressed by balancing energy use with IEQ demands, seeing that clean air is always provided to building occupants, and procedures are in place to monitor IEQ and flush out pollution, when it occurs.

Do you think that the IEQ segment presents good opportunities for the HVAC industry?

There remains a great opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of filtration for small particles and chemicals in indoor spaces, at an economical rate. Besides, tools are becoming available for integrating low-cost monitors as a part of HVAC systems, so that pollution can be tracked and addressed in normal daily operation.

In the Middle East, IEQ is a big concern. Are there any models that governments can look to adopt in the region to enhance the IEQ situation?
Most of what we have learned in the United States has been incorporated into the US ASHRAE standard 189 for good IAQ related to building operation. Lessons learned here can, indeed, be reviewed and adapted to the environmental and health needs in the Middle East.

To improve IEQ, sometimes there is a compromise on energy efficiency. Could you share your thoughts on how to balance the need for greater energy efficiency with good IEQ?
IEQ and energy efficiency must be balanced. You need clean, fresh air delivered to buildings. While you can minimise the amount that you need by using low-emitting building materials, furnishings, cleaners and other products, people still need some level of fresh outdoor air. If the air exchange rate is too low, pollutants that enter the built-environment stay there and rise to levels that can become a health issue for building occupants.

Since building materials play a key role in enhancing or negatively impacting IEQ, could you share some principles on the selection of materials?
Building materials, furnishings and even daily cleaning products and activities have a significant impact on chemicals that are in the air of the buildings. The best practice is to choose and use products that have been tested and verified by credible third-party organisations to be of low emissions and particularly free of hazardous levels of chemicals, like carcinogens and reproductive toxins.

One should also focus on those products that occupy large surface areas in buildings, like walls, flooring, ceiling systems, insulations, paints, furniture and those products you use every day, like cleaners and electronics.

What are the initiatives taken up by UL to create more awareness about the IEQ situation?UL, as a science-driven safety company, is focused on enabling safe living, working and learning environments and is always striving for a safer world.

One of UL’s key global programmes is GREENGUARD, a testing and certification programme for low-emitting products. Products go through an extensive testing and verification program to ensure they meet stringent chemical emission standards and that they are consistently manufactured to meet these standards. There are over 50,000 certified products in the global marketplace that can be easily found and purchased, recognisable by the UL GREENGUARD logo.

UL is committed to conducting scientific research on emerging technologies and new products to understand their potential impact on IAQ and helping find solutions, if they pose a hazard. This research and discovery information is transparent to the world through publications, presentations and consensus standards that can be used to benefit the protection of human health.

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