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Tarkett technical marketing and sustainability manager, Reza Karani, explains how Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) concerns have shaped modern architecture and the environmental performance of buildings.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) millions of people die each year from exposure to indoor and outdoor air pollution. When you consider we spend 90 per cent of our time indoors, it is critical that inside air is as clean as possible.

The presence and size of particulate matter (PM) or fine dust is a determining factor in air quality and is directly linked to potential health problems.

Once inhaled, these particles can contribute to the spread of microbial contaminants, such as mould, pollen and allergens. In addition, they can affect the heart and lungs, and cause serious physiological problems (e.g. changes in lung function or inflammation markers.)

The condition of the physical environment can spread or exacerbate illness, which can result in absenteeism from school or work and delayed recovery from other health conditions. For example, the condition of the built environment has been shown by Belanger et al. (2006) to be a probable asthma trigger.

Poor air quality can also be caused by the use of building materials that off-gas during their use, producing odours and introducing volatile organic compounds (VOC) into the indoor environment. This can lead to serious health issues for building occupants.

These days, especially in developed countries, people consider their health and well-being more. They choose healthier foods, exercise more and prefer to live, work and study in healthier environments.

From an economic perspective, poor IAQ costs money for businesses and governments. In the United States, the financial gains from achieving good Indoor Environment Quality in a workplace (which IAQ is a major part of it) are estimated to be up to $US700 per employee/company/year, as staff generally are more productive and have fewer days off work due to illness (Fisk & Seppanen, 2007).

A 2004 report estimated that poor Indoor Environment Quality could cost the Australian economy $12 billion/year (Building Commission Victoria, 2004).
 
The importance of IAQ is visible in all sustainability guidelines and schemes all around the world. For example, there are many criteria in GreenStar rating tools, WELL standard and Living Building Challenge (LBC) to improve the IAQ as much as possible.

Sustainable buildings not only are equipped with very high performance and well-designed HVAC (Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning) systems to improve the IAQ through appropriate ventilation, but they also create low-toxicity environments through reductions of pollutants and removal of harmful materials from existing buildings.

Using low VOC materials in buildings has evolved from a ‘nice to have’ to a key feature of sustainable buildings. Most manufacturers of paint, adhesive, sealant and flooring (products with historically high VOC) are using new technologies to minimise VOC in their products.

For example Tarkett was a pioneer in implementing ground-breaking technologies to dramatically reduce VOC content. Some of Tarkett’s flooring products contain as much as 500 times less VOC than GBCA (Green Building Council Australia) Design and As-Built rating tool requirements.
 
Currently, Tarkett is seeing an increasing number of tenants enquiring about toxics and VOC contents in building materials, which demonstrate higher awareness and concern about their health and well-being in the built environment.

Industry wise, there is a huge move to more sustainable building design in education institutes and workplaces due to the cost associated with illness and absenteeism, and as a consequence builders are applying more responsible building materials and solutions to improve the quality of the indoor air and environment.
 
To address the increased pressure on design professionals to build healthier, sustainable indoor environments, we recently launched the iQ ONE flooring range which provides them with a non-PVC and phthalate-free, low VOC emissions and fully recyclable option that has not yet been seen in this market category.
 
We have also collaborated with the University of Melbourne to offer for the first time an award to recognise creativity and social conscience of design students in Victoria.

Initiatives like this award are a step in the right direction to uncover and motivate the most innovative use of sustainable building design, and to ultimately push the industry as a whole to new heights.
 
Tarkett is a leader in environmentally responsible manufacturing and sustainable product development, to learn about our other initiatives in this space visit www.tarkett.com.au

About the Author
Reza Karani is an architect who has worked with international building material manufacturers such as Tarkett and Knauf, His expertise is in the domain of sustainability with a focus on building materials characteristics and their lifecycle impact on the environment. Karani joined Tarkett in 2015 as the technical marketing and sustainability manager to manage environmental considerations in the use of flooring and wall lining materials in indoor areas. He has a broad knowledge around the local and global environmental standards and schemes such as GreenStar, WELL, LBC and Cradle to Cradle.

 

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