Return to Journal

In conversation with Chris Rush: why the tide is shifting on indoor air quality

As part of our recent report, 2020: Our Air in Review, we spoke to Chris Rush, Air Quality Group Lead at Hoare Lea and a committee member of the Institute of Air Quality Management. 

He spoke to us about how attitudes are changing, awareness is increasing, and why we need to make sure we’re always thinking about improving indoor air quality in the long term rather than a short-term solution.

Have you noticed a difference in what clients are asking for recently?

It used to just be ‘we need to do an air quality assessment,’ but clients didn’t really know what precisely they were asking for and how this could be used beyond providing a report. In the last few years that’s been changing. People are now asking more questions – how can we harness air quality to provide reassurance and demonstrate high design standards to our end users. Corporate clients are starting to realise that they need a differentiator, especially now with COVID-19, and many are focusing on air quality as an element of the building that can be invested in to not only offer returns in the short but also long term. 

What do you think has caused that change?

It’s down to awareness, and not just in corporate environments. We’re seeing more interest in indoor air quality (IAQ) in both residential buildings and education environments like schools and universities. As individuals and organisations are becoming increasingly more attuned to the benefits of good air quality (and negatives of poor air quality) it means people are asking what can be done. The constraining factor as always, which is particularly true for schools, is the cost can be prohibitive. These things require an investment in terms of time and money – both of which parents, teachers and schools as a whole have a limited amount of. It’s all about awareness to keep these things going.

What are you seeing through the lens of IAQM?

There’s been a big shift towards focusing on indoor as well as outdoor air quality. It’s great that there’s lots of different groups doing the work but it is undeniably siloed. The IAQM has been working on a document on IAQ, a sort of line in the sand, that aims for a level of cohesion. It’s a culmination of a lot of research that’s out there, with contact being made with groups like the UK Indoor Environment group and CIBSE. But we’ve found that there are massive gaps and things are falling through the net: mainly it’s because many of the regulations don’t match up and this inconsistency means that things get missed. What’s needed is firm and clear regulation, so it’s not just voluntary schemes like WELL, BREEAM and AirRated setting the standard.

How can people get into air quality, for example into groups like the IAQM, if they don’t have a prerequisite like an environmental sciences degree?

The air quality space is growing, but it’s still a relatively small pool of people involved. Engineering is absolutely a way in – you can’t have healthy buildings without building services engineers – but there also have to be people with other skills. We need to be working together: more diversity can only be a good thing. I think people seem to forget that air quality is a necessity, and policy change is something that’s desperately needed. Legislation and policy can fill the gap between grassroots groups and the more science-backed people so that we can make real change together.

Download 2020: Our Air in Review, to read more interviews and discover findings from our latest research.