There is a great article in the Harvard Gazette this week that clearly documents how directly our indoor environments affect our ability to think and act at a high level. After reading the article, you may come to the conclusion that your facilities manager has more to do with your health than your doctor. According to the study “Participants’ cognitive function was significantly affected in all nine areas tested, including focused-activity levels, information usage, and strategy. Crisis-response scores were 97 percent higher at the green office setting compared with that of conventional office space, and 131 percent higher at the green+ office setting.


The implications of this statement are profound. While we intuitively understand that environmental quality affects our health, the impacts of environmental quality have an impact on our productivity as well. There are significant financial implications for our organizations. Again quoting from the study “In a 2011 study, scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Environmental Protection Agency examined costs and benefits of improving indoor air quality in U.S. office buildings. The findings suggested that better air quality led to “increased work performance, reduced Sick Building Syndrome symptoms, reduced absence, and improved thermal comfort for millions of office workers.The researchers also estimated a potential economic benefit of $20 billion.

Green buildings only stay green if they are well managed

One obvious conclusion to draw from this study is that new buildings designed and built to “green” and “green+” standards will deliver improvements to the health and productivity to those lucky enough to inhabit them. Adding new green building stock is only a small part of the overall indoor environmental quality challenge, however. Even the best new LEED Platinum building can only maintain high levels of environmental quality over an extended period if facilities management teams are continually monitoring, managing, and maintaining those advanced building systems at a high level. Additionally, maximizing energy performance is often in conflict with managing for optimum indoor environmental quality. Managing to optimize for environmental quality requires aggregating information from a wide variety of sensors and systems to inform the wise management of many sophisticated building systems.

Buildings are aging too

The larger challenge, however, is the fact that the vast majority of our building stock is older and much less sophisticated. According to SMR Research Corporation, “At the end of 2017, the average U.S. commercial building was about 50 years old (49.83 years).” As examples, in the past few weeks I have attended meetings at Alumni Hall at the University of Maine at Orono (built in 1901) and City Hall in the City of Philadelphia (built in the 1870s). Our office is in a great old mill building built in the early 1900s. All are beautiful and iconic buildings that will hopefully be with us for many decades to come. But many of the primary building systems in those buildings are far from LEED standards. Managing the HVAC, lighting, and other building systems that affect environmental quality in older buildings is often as much an art as a science.

Even for older buildings, new technologies and techniques are coming online to help monitor and manage for indoor environmental quality. Cutting edge data collection companies like indoorvu are integrating environmental quality sensors into their data collection platforms. A wide range of continuous environmental quality sensors are coming on the market with capabilities to monitor many indoor air quality issues. Companies like OSISoft and Hepta Systems are building software that can harvest data from these sensors for analysis and reporting.

Helping Facilities Managers optimize for environmental quality

As exciting as these advances are, they remind us of the John Allen Poulos quote “Data, data, everywhere and not a thought to think.” As helpful as more data might be, it has the potential to overwhelm the Accidental Facilities Manager without tools to visualize these new data sources in context with the environments they are monitoring. At PenBay, we think of indoor environmental quality data as another set of layers in a Facilities GIS. We are actively working to integrate with systems that provide continuous data to enable visualization and analysis of these data as layers within InVision. We believe that efforts like this will provide a compelling answer to the question posed in the Harvard Gazette article: “How will your research [software] impact the world?”