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Tema - diseño
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Julia Ayuso

Are “Healthy” and “Sustainable” Incompatible? Debunking the Myth

Graph made by the author

A healthy building can perfectly well have both a higher ventilation rate and a lower energy consumption than a standard design. The first thing we have to do is stop thinking about such factors separately and start taking a holistic approach to the “problem”. That’s to say, we have to consider both energy and ventilation at the same time. Let me give you an example. There are economic analyses in which the cost of doubling ventilation is estimated to be 40€ per person per year. What would happen if that increase in ventilation were combined with a holistic strategy for decreasing energy consumption?


When you think about the two things together, new opportunities arise. The authors of the CogFx Study – Indoor Environmental Quality estimated what would happen if a building simultaneously doubled its ventilation rate and adopted one single energy saving system: heat recovery through ventilation (HRV). In the case studied, adding an HRV system cuts energy expenses so much that even with the ventilation rate 30% higher there is still an overall net saving. In other words, the use of energy efficiency technologies allows better decisions to be made regarding ventilation. It’s a way of having higher ventilation rates while at the same time reducing general energy consumption.


And it works not only for new buildings but also in the rehabilitation of existing ones. Some studies show that properly designed facilities in existing buildings can produce an energy saving of up to 16%.


Taking into consideration all of the above, we can calculate the global impact of a joint health and sustainability strategy in a company.


Take, for example, a company with 40 employees which has, to date, budgeted for energy costs of 30,000€/year. If that company cuts the costs associated with its facilities by 16%, its energy costs for the next year will fall to approximately 25,000€. If it then doubles its ventilation rate at a cost of 40€ per person per year, the incremental energy cost for this company with 40 employees will be 1,600€. So the net effect of this holistic approach to creating a healthy, sustainable building with greater energy efficiency and higher ventilation rates is that the company’s energy costs will now be 26,600€/year, representing a net saving of 3,400€.


Some studies have linked healthier buildings with 1.6 fewer days of absenteeism for illness each year. That’s 1% of all the working days in a year. Apart from this impact on worker functionality, other researchers have conducted studies which estimate a growth in productivity of between 2 and 10 per cent when interior air is of higher quality. According to these figures, a higher ventilation rate has the effect of adding almost 9% to the final result.


In conclusion, business improves when we combine higher ventilation rates, energy savings and health and environmental benefits. All we have to do is approach the problem holistically.


Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
(Elche, 1983) Como resultado de mi trabajo de investigación, hago labores de diseño y consultoría de espacios de trabajo centrados en las personas, que contribuyen a la mejora de su salud, bienestar y productividad. Soy Doctora Arquitecta y Project Manager especialista en cuantificar el beneficio económico que supone para las empresas la implementación de estrategias de diseño centrado en las personas, y actualmente dirijo People Lab en CBRE. No siempre quise ser arquitecta. Cuando era una niña pensaba que tal vez sería exploradora, o científica, o inventora. He viajado por todo el mundo para ver, tocar y sentir la arquitectura que me emociona. He vivido varios años en Japón, y lo que más me gusta de este país es su amor por lo bello y lo sutil (y el matcha).

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