Category Archives: Sustainable Buildings

Understanding the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) and What It Means to Human Health

AQHI Cloud ChainThe Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) is an indicator that can help estimate the risk of developing certain health conditions, such as stroke, heart disease, respiratory disease and lung cancer, from exposure to air pollutants. Unlike the traditional Air Quality Index (AQI), which reports air quality based on each pollutant separately, AQHI provides more comprehensive information, presenting potential health risks resulting from the combined effects of a mixture of pollutants in a particular area.

The AQHI was designed to measure numerous pollutants found in the air, categorize the level of danger they may pose to the public and offer advice on how to be as healthy as possible in the respective areas.

The AQHI is calculated by measuring the presence of potentially hazardous pollutants in the air, including nitrogen dioxide, ozone and particulate matter. The levels at which these pollutants are present, as well as which combinations are detected, determine how the area ranks on the AQHI scale.

The scale ranges from 1 to 10+, with 1 representing little or no threat and 10 or more representing serious potential problems. The scale is further divided by categories that represent different levels of potential health risk.

  • 1-3 represents a low health risk, meaning the entire population can enjoy their usual activities safely.
  • A moderate score of 4-6 indicates that at-risk members of the population should think about rescheduling or reducing their amount of time in that area. It also means the rest of the general public can go about their outdoor activities as usual unless they experience throat irritation, coughing or similar symptoms while in the area.
  • An AQHI score between 7 and 10 indicates that at-risk individuals, as well as children and the elderly, should seriously consider a major reduction of activity or a change of schedule, and everyone should do the same if they ever experience the aforementioned symptoms of failing health.
  • A score above 10 means that children, the elderly and all at-risk individuals should avoid physical activity in this area, and the rest of the public should be prepared to do the same if they run into any of the previously mentioned symptoms.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) calculates AQHI for five air pollutants: particle pollution, ground-level ozone, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide. As claimed by the same agency, particle pollution and ground-level ozone pose the greatest threat to human health. While particle pollution consists of a mixture of liquid and solid, organic and inorganic particles (e.g. sulfates, nitrates, ammonia, mineral dust, etc.), ozone at ground level is one of the components of photo-chemical smog, resulted from the reaction between certain pollutants (e.g. nitrogen oxides, vehicle and industry emissions, etc.) and sunlight. Since negative health effects increase as air pollution worsens, prolonged exposure to air pollutants contributes to the risk of developing respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, even in healthy individuals.

Although the health effects of air pollution depend on the health status, genetic background, individual reaction, type and concentration of pollutants, and duration of exposure, the elderly, children, and people suffering from acute and chronic heart and lung diseases are most affected.

The national air quality standards along with the indoor air quality programs included in green building practices and AQHI have become critical requirements for an accurate air quality assessment. Additionally, AQHI allows experts to project potential health improvements that could be obtained if air pollution is reduced.

We cannot talk about AQHI without referring to green building concepts. Focusing on reducing resource use, waste, water pollution and air pollution, among others, these concepts encourage organizations to implement and promote environmentally sustainable work practices that will not only help save the environment, but also protect public health. By complementing green building practices with AQHI, a company can contribute to a sustainable future.

What Is Sustainable Construction and What Are its Benefits to the Environment?

sustainable constructionSustainable construction goes beyond green building practices — structures are designed to have a lower environmental impact over their entire lifetime, while providing a normal level of comfort, durability and functionality for occupants. In business situations, this allows companies to grow, without growing at the expense of the environment.

Benefits to the Environment

Developing sustainable buildings minimizes the use of water, raw materials, energy and land. It also reduces emissions, waste and pollution in the environment and protects employees’ health. Here are a few specifics:

Water

If businesses continue to rely on traditional building practices, communities will be at risk of water shortages. Sustainable buildings, on the other hand, feature systems, appliances, and landscapes that require less water.

Raw Materials

Instead of depleting natural resources, developers of sustainable constructions use less raw materials and more environmentally-responsible products, such as recycled or renewable resources. They also look for the most durable options to delay the need for replacements and repairs for as long as possible. Lastly, they recycle construction debris to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills.

Energy

Sustainable buildings include energy-saving appliances that lower carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels.

Land

Even the choice of land plays a role in sustainable construction. Properties are built in areas where construction will lead to the least possible land degradation and deforestation while promoting healthy landscaping and preventing erosion.

Sustainable construction has significant long-term effects, allowing businesses to play their part in protecting the environment on a daily basis. Creating such workplaces also makes further sustainability efforts much easier, which can benefit both local communities and society as a whole.

Go Green with Energy Star Ratings

Logo Energy StarJust like appliances and light bulbs, entire buildings can receive ENERGY STAR certifications, a very useful step for any business working to gain a broader online sustainability certification. The ENERGY STAR certification shows that an office is highly energy efficient, that the company is able to save money without impacting performance, and that the building is contributing to the protection of the environment by emitting less carbon dioxide.

How Does an Office Receive an ENERGY STAR Certification?

Most locations are eligible for an ENERGY STAR rating. Restrictions include that your parking garage cannot be larger than your building and you can’t have more than 25% of your floor space ineligible (see more details here). Companies who want to receive a score must submit specified information about their building, following which the details must be checked by a third party — either a licensed Professional Engineer (PE) or Registered Architect (RA).

To receive the certificate, businesses must gain a score of at least 75, which means the building can demonstrate better energy performance than 75 percent of companies across the country. Scores are determined by the requirements set out by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The certification only lasts one year to ensure that companies maintain their high performance. Once the year is up, businesses need to reapply and will receive a new score, which determines if they are able to keep their ENERGY STAR certification.

Thousands of buildings nationwide have already received an ENERGY STAR certification. Businesses which choose to take steps in order to improve their energy use can join this growing list to not only show their commitment to the environment but also increase their Class-G or other online sustainability certification score.