Putting Technology to Work for Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings

Manish Sharma, vice president and general manager, Sustainable Buildings, Honeywell, and Jason Hartke, executive vice president, International WELL Building Institute

It’s become increasingly clear, especially since the pandemic, that buildings have a profound impact on both the planet and the people who use them. Buildings, where we spend approximately 90% of our lives inside, can help make us happier and more productive, as well as improve our well-being. They must also be part of the solution in the fight against climate change. Buildings currently account for 37% of global energy consumption [i], and almost a third of that energy is wasted [ii] .

Driven by COVID-19 on the one hand, and climate change on the other, building owners, managers and operators are working hard to both support healthier workplaces and advance energy saving solutions that help meet climate goals. What’s most important is that we do both together. When it comes to deploying building solutions, we cannot separate occupant well-being from planetary health: unchecked carbon emissions and climate change are detrimental to both [iii] .

Yet, we often hear that energy efficiency goals may conflict with some healthy building strategies like improving indoor air quality (IAQ). We know that doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, organizations can advance a win-win-win approach. They can simultaneously achieve improvements in IAQ, make significant gains in energy efficiency and deploy these solutions cost effectively, often creating significant cost savings

The key to progress in all three areas is technology.

New solutions are emerging that use sensor networks and AI-enabled analytics. One example is dynamically responsive ventilation, which optimizes conditions in a building space in real time based on occupancy, current weather and other variables. Self-learning algorithms are able to track both indoor and outdoor conditions, pulling in fresh air when temperature and humidity inside and outside the building are closely aligned to minimize the HVAC’s energy load.

This type of solution allows organizations to track occupancy and critical IAQ paramenters in each room, activating ventilation and filtration when and where they’re needed. If only two or three employees are using a conference room designed for 30 people, ventilation and filtration adjust accordingly to improve occupant comfort and well-being, while still affording opportunties to reduce energy consumption. Traditional HVAC controls would be set to accommodate maximum occupancy, not only wasting energy but likely freezing out those two or three occupants.

Smart building solutions like these will be even more important as work dynamics continue to shift, such as the rise of hybrid and flexible work models and other new demands for using office space.

Moving forward, organizations have a profound opportunity to better put technology to work to meet their goals for healthier and more sustainable buildings. As these organizations continue to embrace leadership opportunities, such as pursuing strategies within the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard or the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, they will not only be able to demonstrate their commitment to well-being and sustainability but also showcase their progress and highlight their achievements to the public as well as their employees and investors.

In April 2022, IWBI launched the WELL Performance Rating to help support the uptake of smart building approaches that improve and enhance health and well-being and provide a roadmap for owners and facility managers of existing buildings to deploy these strategies. LEED certification is a globally recognized symbol of sustainability achievement.

Honeywell works with IWBI and USGBC, among other global organizations, to synergize capabilities and work towards the common goals of healthier building environments that also advance sustainability goals. Importantly, Honeywell can help building owners achieve certifications from both IWBI and USGBC to demonstrate the progress made in a specific facility to improve the overall environment.

Using WELL and LEED can be a force multiplier for business, helping attract investors and increasing real estate value. Recent studies show that reducing a building’s carbon footprint and gaining certification for it could helpincrease its commercial value [iv] When an organization demonstrates leadership by earning these certifications, it can help improve employee satisfaction and productivity, reduce absenteeism and make it easier to attract and retain talent.[v]

[i] International Energy Agency, "Buildings: A source of enormous untapped efficiency potential," April 2022. [Accessed August 23, 2022]

[ii] U.S. Department of Energy, "About the Commercial Buildings Integration Program, " updated April 2022. [Accessed August 24, 2022]

[iii] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "Climate effects on health, " updated April 25, 2022. [Accessed September 20, 2022]

[iv] Financial Review, "Green buildings worth more to investors "Martin Kelly, October 21, 2021. [Accessed August 22, 2022]

[v] Building and Environment, "Impact of WELL certification on occupant satisfaction and perceived health, well-being, and productivity: A multi-office pre- versus post-occupancy evaluation " [October, 2022]