THE value of air quality arises from its impact on the wellbeing of human occupants and air filters’ ability to capture pollutants at various desired efficiencies. First, however, one must pay attention to the critical importance of research, development, modern filter manufacturing technologies and certified labour to enable air quality to reach its due importance. However, common tendency suggests that air quality should be based on demand. In that case, air quality will become valueless, no matter how much R&D, know-how, manufacturing, and labour costs went into producing air filters. Unless there is a pandemic, curfews and lockdown, no one is interested in raising the bar on air quality and associated air filter performance.
The quality of the air we breathe highly depends on our anthropogenic emissions and the air filtration technologies employed to lower pollutant concentrations, indoors. However, in today’s mindset, air quality lacks the charm desired, as we fail to grant air filter performance the “value” it deserves. Instead, we miscalculate the price of air quality by equating value to price. Doing so reinforces the view that filter craftsmanship, quality, research, development and filter performance are peripheral to the selection criteria. We, thus, bluntly declare that such critical factors are on the wrong side of our balance sheet. Perhaps Oscar Wilde was right when he said, “Nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
Overcoming barriers to value creation
The value of air quality lies in the total cost of ownership of our built environment, HVAC systems and appropriate air filter selections. Therefore, air filter procurement can fully encompass a total cost of ownership strategy once filter performance becomes the main criterion by which potential air quality value is achieved, independent of price. Furthermore, the total cost of ownership is the lifecycle-based assessment and forecast of all direct and indirect costs, such as operation and maintenance, which should be considered in the overall sustainable filter performance.
Sustainable air filter performance
The grassroots of sustainable filtration cannot rely on moral forces and increasing awareness alone. For example, during the pandemic, we failed to protect built environments where our loved ones spend up to 90% of their time. In addition, we never included pandemics in our HVAC, air quality and filtration plans. Therefore, face masks played a tremendous role in helping us navigate the pandemic, not resolving air quality issues. Furthermore, the way we used the various types of facemasks during the pandemic varied perceptions of their acceptance and performance. Although dismissing the role of facemasks may imply the waning of the pandemic, cases are still high in certain countries.
In the early days of the pandemic, high-efficiency filter acquisition and installation were subjects of hype, but they were not necessarily the only solution. Other parameters influence the wellbeing of the built environment, such as heating, air conditioning, ventilating, filtration, installing and operating the entire HVAC system. In addition, our ways of living are wasting our human potential and driving current environmental challenges due to wasting resources and materials, and the horrendous way we commute, generate and use power. Furthermore, we need to consider and mitigate our anthropogenic emissions, which deteriorate outdoor and indoor air through increasing concentration of pollutants, eventually challenging the built environment.
Although the ambition to achieve a modern built environment is grand, filters installed in our HVAC systems, generally speaking, are still thin and deficient (Figure 1). Multistage filtration represents a great solution if engineered and installed appropriately. In addition, pre-filtration is of paramount importance as it allows fibrous filter media to have the intended depth rather than premature surface deposition. That would, in turn, extend the lifetime of the filter and avoid early clogging (Figure 2). Furthermore, enhancing filter efficiencies may require retrofitting the existing HVAC systems to accommodate the new filter stages. This is particularly true when filter installations experience chronic failure due to inappropriate filter selection, insufficient pre-filtration, and reactive rather than preventative maintenance measures. Filter failure can occur due to geometrical deformation of the pleated media panel, which leads to the disintegration of the filter structure during operation, as shown in Figure 3.
Define before defending
Air quality issues often need to be defined before they are defended, as the context of addressing every pollutant is constantly changing. As Aristotle stated, practical wisdom “is the combination of moral will and moral skill”. However, the aim here is to come to grips with reality to realise the value of air quality and the role of filtration technologies in providing it. Our paradox today lies in dancing to the rhythm of pandemics and relying on reactive rather than predictive maintenance practices.
We continue to address our present and immediate needs and claim that our objectives include sustainability, circular economy, and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) considerations. However, we cannot go far if we pretend to speak the “sustainability” language but manipulate the pressing issues of air quality and then struggle to clean up. We underperform and then have to catch up, only to slacken our pace again and have to speed up once more. Therefore, continuous research and development of observation programmes to monitor the performance of our outdoor and air quality will prove invaluable. Realising that “business as usual” is no longer a valid option to live in and many maintenance practices will have to be phased out, other air quality enhancements and filtration upgrades require due diligence to justify their implementation.
It is essential to provide clean air to everyone regardless of socio-economic status. Therefore, we ought to liberate our minds and hearts from the conventional ways of living that have led to our environmental status quo and the recent pandemic. The task and paths of environmental leadership lie in reducing emissions and granting our planet a chance to regenerate itself. Given that all cities are heavily dependent on energy to operate their daily activities and support rapid population growth and urbanisation, our relationships with nature, the economy and one another have to change. These relationships for years have been so conventional and predetermined by the way we design and shape our cities. Therefore, urban and smart city design is critical to crafting our future landscape for sustainable healthy living. In 1943, Winston Churchill, while requesting the House of Commons be rebuilt exactly as before, said: “We shape our buildings, thereafter they shape us.”
Roar, soar and grow
While surrounding ourselves with urban designs that aim to impress rather than enable sustainable living, we are now seeing that relying solely on evoking the pleasures of spectacular landscapes is insufficient to render our built environment safe to occupy. Although we are equipped with all the tools that would make our air quality second to none, our indoor and outdoor air continue to be polluted through reckless environmental processes and irresponsible fossil fuel combustion. The time to challenge the emerging realities of climate change has passed; now, it is time to combat them. For air quality to roar, soar and grow, governments, consultants, industry leaders and end users must craft data-driven strategies and implement them to capture the last airborne particle. To embrace sustainable healthy living, we need air quality, filtration technologies and HVAC systems that speak to the highest aspiration of built environments. The authenticity and veracity of the new air quality strategies will, undoubtedly, shape modern indoor spaces and impact our wellbeing. Our commitment to the next generations is to draft strategies to craft a bright future and sustainable living environment.
All images are copyright of the author.