The new, healthier normal

The new, healthier normal

At the recent Ghana Green Building Summit, held online from 23rd – 24th July, Chilufya Lombe spoke about the focus shift towards a new, healthier normal, necessitated by environmental risks like the global Covid-19 pandemic.

The Ghana Green Building Summit was launched in 2017 to address a gap in the thought leadership space and a need to spark conversation on the opportunities and challenges in Ghana’s green built environment. With the inaugural event far exceeding expectations, key stakeholders made recommendations that would create an environment conducive to supporting green building practice in Ghana.

The 3rd Ghana Green Building Summit in 2020 was adapted as a virtual summit, taking place online only, in order to observe safety protocols in the fight against the global pandemic. The aim of the event was to reduce the negative impact of real estate projects on the environment while conserving natural resources.

The premise for the 2020 Summit’s theme was that, in the near future, greenness will rank far higher on the purchase and letting decision-making process of prospective property owners. The main theme was ‘BEYOND COVID-19: is a pandemic-proof architecture a reality?’, which was discussed under the sub-themes of Design, Innovation, Certification, Finance, and Sustainable Cities.

Chilu introduced his talk by identifying a major focus shift that has taken place over the last five months towards a greater awareness of health and indoor air quality; decentralised renewable energy networks; and socio-economic imbalances.

He said, “In our pre-Covid19 reality, commercial buildings guaranteed a degree of security around energy and IT infrastructure. But fresh air, thermal comfort and an environment conducive to motivation and productivity were not guaranteed. We spend 90% of our time indoors, and our environment is the largest determinant of our overall health. Yet indoor air quality is 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality; indoor air pollution is ranked in the top 5 environmental risks to public health; and 50% of illnesses are known to be caused by aggravated indoor air pollution. Despite this knowledge, in most buildings, there is little to no awareness of the quality of the indoor environment being provided.

The pandemic and resulting lockdown displaced people from commercial buildings. Where were we displaced to? Many employees who previously had access to equal resources in their places of work found that they did not have the requisite infrastructure at home to continue to be productive.

“So, the current context has highlighted not only the need for healthier, more self-sufficient buildings, but also equal access to healthy places that are conducive to wellbeing and productivity. In responding to these demands – essentially the demands of a better-informed workforce – the future office will therefore have to deliver fresh air and a high indoor air quality, as well as thermal comfort, energy security and IT infrastructure – in order to ensure motivation and productivity.

“In future, there are a number of things we look forward to seeing. These include companies providing little pods for home offices (4mx2m). This solution helps with controlling your own indoor environment, providing energy security and the kind of IT infrastructure that you need. We expect to see more commercial clients actually willing to offset the cost of home offices or places for employees to work.”

It is interesting to note that most countries do not yet have legislation on air quality. In the new, healthier normal, good air quality will become non-negotiable. Reporting of building performance will have to include data on the quality of indoor air being provided to occupants. And the private and public sectors will have to work together proactively in defining and developing appropriate policies that address air quality and, indeed, all aspects of occupant health and wellbeing.

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