We probably don't need to commission a study to agree that the factors most
influencing a tenant's choice of a building are location and cost per square
foot. These are the constants in the commercial real estate business.
So a building owner rightfully asks, "I can buy into the idea that a better
IAQ-performing building is better for my tenants, but what and how long is the
payback? Will my tenants understand and appreciate the benefits of better IAQ
performance, to the point where they are willing to pay more to lease the space,
compared to the building down the street that doesn't offer the same level of
IAQ but is cheaper per square foot?"
There are a lot of studies and resultant statistics about IAQ that, while making
for interesting conversation, do nothing to convince the building owner that
this is an investment he can sell. Again the BusinessWeek cover story reports,
"…Healthier work environments increase productivity and can actually
save money in the long run. A recent Danish study showed that typists increased
their output by six percent in offices with cleaner air."
What does a six percent increase in typing output mean, is it sustainable or
just a one time achievement, and how does the building owner translate the increased
productivity to sell it as a worthwhile investment for both tenant and owner?
The Holy Grail
"All truths begin as heresy." The history books are littered with
grandiose proclamations. "The earth is the center of the universe."
Galileo's disproving landed him under house arrest. "Everything that can
be invented, has been invented." The U.S. Patent Office issued this statement
in 1898. "We see no need to have computers in the home." IBM, circa
1980. So for building owners to even assume that SBS won't touch their properties,
or that they won't have to find a way to overcome the reality of building-borne
illnesses and the results of lost productivity, is as folly as any of these
It might take a boycott by people who work in a "sick building." Or
tenants who lease the space. But it doesn't have to. Who's to say that with
a little better planning, consideration for fresh air and day-lighting, many
of the problems plaguing today's office workers, tenants and building owners
won't be reduced to the point where they're no more relevant than an earth-centric
Despite a decade of research, litigation and billions of dollars in insurance
claims and lost productivity, SBS, BRI and IAQ issues are still prevalent in
the commercial buildings sector. Most of the efforts have been reactive: report
a problem, identify its cause and fix it. And while that's the cheaper, expedient
"Band-Aid" solution, it's not stemming the tide of these costly, debilitating
and otherwise preventable circumstances.
So the while the answers are not always apparent, the message to building owners
and managers is clear: do something! Understand the issues and causes; ask for
the analysis and guidance of experts in the field; organize a plan to combat
or prevent SBS in your building(s). The productivity and the health of our economy
depend on it!