What’s a Building Owner to Do?

Dec. 10, 2001
The Key to Achieving Better Indoor Air Quality: Do Something! (Part 5 of 5)

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 statements.

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 universe?
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!

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