Indoor air is 2x – 5x more polluted than outdoor air!

We spend about 90% of our time indoors and hence it is very important to understand the impact that the physical environment has on human health and well-being.

Sustainability and green building have evolved very well during the last 20 years globally. Energy efficiency, water conservation, waste management are all areas that have received excellent emphasis and priority from building owners, governmental agencies and building designers. Several innovative ideas, solutions and products have come up in recent times to help buildings to reduce their negative impact on the environment.

While this is all laudable, one very important question remains unanswered, which is “what do building need to do to reduce their negative impact on its occupants?” This may sound like an irrational question. How can buildings negatively impact its own people? Unfortunately, this is true and there are several studies in the recent past that demonstrate how buildings can affect both the physical and mental health of people.

Being a sustainability expert and having worked on more than 300 million square feet of green buildings, I have always believed that “building physics” is of utmost importance. We have done several studies on the impact of heat transfer, air movement, thermal performance, light, ambient energy and climate in buildings and how we can design better buildings that are energy efficient, harvest natural light, reduce energy use and improve performance. However, over the last few years, with my close involvement in various technical and research initiatives with the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), Harvard School of Public Health, US Green Building Council (USGBC) and the International Code Council (ICC), I have begun to realize the power of “building chemistry” and its impact on people.

To put it bluntly, today’s buildings are nothing more than a chemical box. An average building occupant is exposed to thousands of chemicals during his/her lifetime in buildings and each of these chemicals impact various body systems including cardiovascular systems, immune systems, endocrine systems, nervous systems, and even reproductive systems. The US Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has identified more than 16000 chemicals in buildings as “chemicals of concern” and have so far only restricted five chemicals or chemical classes for use in buildings.

In order to address these concerns and to help build a healthier indoor environment, IWBI has come up with a rating called the WELL building standard that marries good practices in design and construction with evidence-based health and wellness interventions. The standard harnesses the built environment as a vehicle to support human health, well-being and comfort.