Could you elaborate on your presidential theme – the intrinsic message of the theme?
The motivation for the theme is fundamentally driven by two big factors. One is that ASHRAE has had 60 years of unparalleled success, and it can happen that you have been so successful for such a long period of time, you might get a bit complacent. Secondly, we are in a time of great change; the pandemic has accelerated that change – the way we live, the way we work, the way we shop and so on. It has created an age of uncertainty. In this age of uncertainty, my theme is securing our future. We want to shepherd ASHRAE through these changes, through these uncertain times to makes sure our future is secure.
What is your specific plan of action to support the theme?
So, how does securing our future work? From my personal life, I had lots of experience in securing my future. I lived in Dhaka in 1971, and I was witness to the break-up of Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan. At that point in time, my wife was from Bangladesh – she was Bengali. I came from West Pakistan, and my dad served in the army. I had strong relationships on both sides. Because of these relationships, I had access to a lot of important and relevant information, which helped me to make a change and decide to move out of harm’s way as soon as possible. So, the lessons I drew from that were that to secure your future, you need to build very strong relationships. And the same thing applies to ASHRAE. You need to have very strong relationships in the industry with our associates’ side and build the networks. So, strengthening relationships and leveraging those relationships are important. Secondly, to be secure, we need accurate information about the market. Where is the market headed? Where is the technology headed? Where is the industry headed? We need reliable and accurate information on these, which would help us secure our future, provided we are ready to embrace change. So, the three elements are relationships, knowledge and embracing change. And they apply to all kind of organisations. They apply to most situations.
Now out of that theme form these core principles or requirements. It emerges: How are we going to build those relationships? How are we going to get the information? And how are we going to embrace change? All these require ASHRAE to be diverse, equitable and inclusive or DEI. So, DEI is a basic requirement for securing our future. So, from that flows the question: How do we ensure that we are diverse, equitable and inclusive? That will come if we broaden our horizons and have greater participation in society. As ASHRAE, we have members in 130 countries and 200 chapters, and we have 55,000 members. But when it comes to participation in society at the society level – I am now talking about our regions and chapters – the pyramid narrows, and we have a relatively small number of people. If we are going to diversify, and be more equitable and inclusive, we need greater participation. So, the objective then flows from DEI to participation.
How do we get more members to participate? To do that, we need to be able to share information with our members. So, we interest them in taking part. That means, we need greater transparency, which will lead to improved participation, and that would lead to DEI, and that is how we will strengthen relationships.
From this theme, we crafted several initiatives. So, my theme also has 16-17 different initiatives. One such key initiative is a global HVAC summit in Istanbul. If we are going to strengthen our relationships across the industry and across our associate societies, it would be through bringing together industry players, academics as well as our associate society members and similar organisations, like CIBSE and REHVA and others. For this summit, we have chosen six different areas of interest, including mitigating climate change, the development of the workforce across the industry, IEQ and decarbonization. So, the intent is that across two days of the summit, all these will be addressed by the best experts in the field; and the entire Board of Directors of ASHRAE will be there and also the entire Region at Large leadership. And at the end of this, we should be able to craft an action plan for our industry and on how we are going to address the conclusions from the summit and bring them to the decision-makers.
Another key initiative is that we are having a series of industry roundtables, which are fundamental for brainstorming and discussing the needs of the market. ASHRAE has served the industry for 125 years. We have done a tremendous job, and we want to serve better The first roundtable is in August in Tokyo, followed by Madrid in September, Atlanta in February and in Monterrey in Mexico, which is a big manufacturing hub.
To give that transparency to our members and to get them to participate, we are following a policy of sharing our Board and Council meeting discussions; that way, we will make it possible for every member to be on top of the issues, and that would stimulate interest in participation. Sometimes, participation can be a daunting process.
We are also communicating that globalisation and exchange of knowledge is not a one-way street. We need to learn from each other. For that reason, it is important to connect our chapter in North America with other chapters. There is phenomenal knowledge bank in Indian chapters, so I am suggesting we join hands and we speak the same language as engineers.
What steps are you taking to increase the membership number of 55,000, given that the universe of HVACR professionals the world over is vast?
I believe our membership is strong and stable. Every organisation that is volunteer-driven would like to have more. I was talking of more members that could participate, which is currently around 3,000, and we want to make that 5,000-10,000. These are the people who sit on the committees, do research and write the standards. Increasing that number by getting more participation will exponentially increase your capacity to deliver.
Has ASHRAE any plans of revising the recommendation for minimum air changes, as called out for by some in the wider industry?
You are probably aware that when the pandemic happened we set up a task force – the ASHRAE Epidemic Task Force – and we had more than 100 volunteers. Now, these smart experts representing ASHRAE said that COVID was airborne. We as ASHRAE demonstrated this and took it to WHO. The task force had worked in areas relating to IEQ, and IEQ is not only about air changes; it is also about a whole host of other factors. IEQ is absolutely top priority for ASHRAE, and it is one of six subjects we will be discussing in Istanbul. As for your question, I would leave it to the experts. I would not like to give ASHRAE’s technical position. Dr William Bahnfleth, chairing the task force, is one of our leading experts on IEQ, and there is lot of work going on.
We as Climate Control Middle East are running an editorial campaign on the need for building tracing to audit the IEQ performance of buildings. Would you say building tracing is essential for minimising the suffering or reducing the number of deaths from future possible pandemics?
Every city and every country has different locations and priorities. If I look at Pakistan or India, maybe the Outdoor Air Quality (OAQ) is worse than Indoor Air Quality (IAQ). I tried that out in my home in Karachi, because I was concerned about CO2 and particulate matter. And in Dubai on some days, OAQ is far worse. I do believe there certainly is great need for monitoring IAQ and reporting that. I am in favour of your suggestion here that buildings should be audited for IAQ performance. And I know that in the UAE, this movement is pretty strong and that many companies are offering this service and that building owners are calling them to survey and report on their IAQ performance.
It is a long-held belief that the building industry in the region operates in a disjointed way to achieving building performance objectives, be they related to emissions reduction or IAQ. And the general approach is business-as-usual and lack of accountability, unless perhaps when building to own. A certain green ethos is lacking, and the usual excuse seems to be, ‘Times are tough, so let’s solely focus on financial wellbeing, instead.’ What are your thoughts on this?
My message would be that the time is fast slipping away from us. We don’t have the luxury to wait on decarbonization, and for this reason, ASHRAE set up a task force on decarbonization the year before. There are several aspects to it, including operational carbon and embodied carbon. It is not only about designing new buildings that adhere to the latest standards, because the existing building stock is probably 97% of all the buildings in the world. So, we have to take action on operational carbon in existing building stock. Just in July, ASHRAE put out a position document on operational carbon and, at the same, we are strongly pushing for building performance standards in the area of decarbonization. The task force is helping us formulate new policy document and helping us write new standard. And at the same time, we are working to make this decarbonization effort inbuilt in the ASHRAE structure, so we don’t need an additional body to do it.
The world has made substantial progress with renewable energy. And realistically speaking, given the fact that some of the cooling equipment we have running in our midst are energy-intensive, how much progress can we make with existing forms of renewable energy? Futuristically speaking, where is air conditioning headed? Can we sustain our approach involving mechanical ways of cooling? Or, do we have to do a hard rethink for sustainably managing our indoor climate?
I think this is a great question. The point is, it is not only about energy but also about water. In the case of some buildings, it is more efficient to use water-cooled equipment than air-cooled systems. That would mean the system would need substantial quantities of water, so we need some other technology that does not use water and, at the same time, is driven by renewable energy, electricity or waste heat. That is the area the UAE is looking at for transitioning from huge water-cooled plants to those driven by heat or electricity. As the energy supply gets constrained, we will have to transition. Necessity is the mother of invention, and I think the key role will be played by renewable energy.
How important is mentorship to the development of the HVACR industry?
There is no second thought in my mind about the need for workforce development, because if we transition to a different technology, we will need a workforce that is able to deliver, and that is why ASHRAE has a partnership with UNEP. And we believe we can really concentrate on workforce development. After all, UNEP and ASHRAE have successfully worked together on transitioning to a safer refrigerant. Work force development is one of the six areas we are going to develop.