Prioritizing IAQ In Commercial Real Estate Gains Momentum

From the EPA to high-profile properties such as One Vanderbilt, the industry is now focusing on the health and economic benefits of addressing a widespread public health risk. Here are the next steps to consider.

By Adam Donahue

The commercial real estate landscape has transformed over the past two years, and one of the largest shifts has been the prioritization of indoor air quality (IAQ). Once considered a “nice-to-have” office benefit, good IAQ is now essential for companies phasing into return-to-office plans while eyeing Omicron’s more contagious subvariant, BA.2.

IAQ Commercial Real Estate
One Vanderbilt is located at the corner of 42nd Street and Vanderbilt Avenue in the Midtown Manhattan neighborhood of New York City. The 1,401-foot-tall skyscraper is the headquarters of leading global companies such as MSD Partners, TD Securities and Mamoura Holdings, among others. (Photo: Business Wire)

Last month, in fact, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), launched the “Clean Air in Buildings Challenge,” which provided a set of guiding principles and actions for building owners and operators to improve indoor air, similar to how programs like LEED, Fitwel, and WELL recognize buildings for their environmental and health impacts.

Facility managers who invest in IAQ solutions today will fare better in the current commercial real estate environment and fortify their business for the long-term, with higher tenant attraction and retention.

A study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimated that improving IAQ in offices could add as much as $20 billion annually to the U.S. economy by increasing work performance and reducing absences.

At WellAir, we’re seeing real estate companies take an increasingly rigorous approach, educating themselves on the science of air purification.

Take One Vanderbilt Avenue, a skyline-defining tower in the heart of East Midtown Manhattan. SL Green, which owns and developed the property, recently announced the installation of WellAir’s Plasma Air HVAC air purification products across its office floors, SUMMIT One Vanderbilt, and tenant and public spaces, including the lobby, transit hall, amenity floor and Le Pavillon.

A key priority for One Vanderbilt was improved and validated efficacy in IAQ. In recent third-party laboratory testing, WellAir’s Plasma Air technology was shown to reduce the live SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes Covid-19, by 99.99 percent in 90 minutes.

One Vanderbilt epitomizes the broader trend of exploring and vetting IAQ technology in commercial real estate. We’re also seeing many companies in the early planning stages.

Here are three considerations for facility managers looking to prioritize IAQ:

  1. Not all solutions are created equal. The Covid-19 pandemic has led to a crowded market of companies promoting their products, but it’s important to look beyond the marketing. Look for IAQ solutions that have been verified through third-party laboratory testing.
  2. Diversify the types of IAQ solutions to cover different risk scenarios. HVAC solutions can clean the air at the exhaust point, while in-room portable solutions can be used to treat the air directly around occupants. Consider portable UV surface disinfection for high-contact surfaces such as desks, tables, doors and elevator buttons.
  3. Recognize IAQ as a long-term investment. Poor IAQ was a problem before Covid and will continue to be a problem after Covid subsides. Look for solutions that are built to last over time and companies with an established presence in the market.

In the short-term, improving IAQ will be a key differentiator for facility managers to attract and retain occupants. In the long-term, it will simply be an expected practice, similar to how once-unconventional recycling and energy efficiency practices have become the standard today.

Facility managers who take strides now to protect occupants and their employees will not only be ahead of the curve, they will set themselves up for success in the future.

Adam Donahue is the head of real estate at WellAir, a provider of IAQ solutions.