Guest Post by Ren Wang, VP of Product at Cohesion, and Nik Patel, CTO at Cohesion

Following a year of challenges, healthy buildings are more important than ever to commercial landlords. Employees are planning their return to work, and it’s essential for building owners to provide a healthy, safe environment – especially as employees rank building health and air quality at the top of their priority list in the post-pandemic workplace.

healthy building refers to the physical, psychological, and social health and well-being of people in buildings and the built environment. Experts say that components of a healthy building include good ventilation, air quality, comfortable temperature, low noise levels, and natural light. According to the EPA, indoor pollution is estimated to cause thousands of cancer deaths and hundreds of thousands of respiratory health problems each year. In addition, hundreds of thousands of children have experienced elevated blood lead levels resulting from their exposure to indoor pollutants.

A recent survey of over one thousand office workers conducted by Cohesion revealed that building cleanliness and air quality, safety and security, and communication and information are the three most important things to building occupants. A major area of concern for employees was indoor air quality. In fact, 85% of employees said they would like to know their office building’s air quality. Because we spend so much of our time indoors, 90% or more for many people, most of a person’s exposure to air pollution actually occurs indoors.

Improving indoor air quality has significant benefits for all building stakeholders. For landlords, a healthy building has a financial impact on rents, resulting in 4.4 to 7.7% high rent per square foot than their nearby non-certified and non-registered peers. For employers, absenteeism can be reduced by up to 35% and top line growth can increase by up to $6,500 in increased productivity per employee per year – all because of improved air flow in the office. Commercial landlords, such as Riverside Investment and Development in Chicago, have taken note of the importance of indoor air quality. They’ve implemented a healthier, data-driven building by enhancing air purification and other critical systems.

According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, there are 9 foundations that mark clear and actionable core elements of healthy indoor environments. The foundations are ventilation, air quality, thermal health, moisture, dust and pests, safety and security, water quality, noise, and lighting and views. In addition, there are certifications available from WELL Building Institute, RESET, and Fitwel which are accreditation organizations that have outlined areas that buildings must focus on to be considered healthy.  

Recent advances in technology give commercial landlords new tools to ensure a healthy building and even gain points toward certifications. The following are ways that technology addresses healthy building measures. 


A healthy building needs to meet or exceed local outdoor air ventilation rate guidelines and effectively filter air to remove particles. An air quality optimization program that automatically optimizes airflow to remove harmful pollutants from the air ensures consistently high-quality air in a space. True AI-driven technology allows ventilation indoors that uses space-specific algorithms and is adaptive based on the volume of the room. It also resolves issues promptly with a direct integration to the HVAC system to control a combination of air flow and fan speed in the most energy efficient way possible.

Air Quality

While Harvard’s School of Public Health recommends conducting annual air quality testing, placing air quality sensors throughout a building allows real-time air quality monitoring so that concerns can be addressed. When selecting sensors, property managers should look for integration capabilities such as a rest API or ability to connect to protocols such as BACnet, Modbus, or MQTT. This allows air quality sensors to ultimately drive ventilation in the building. While different office spaces may choose to have different brands of sensors, an agnostic IoT platform can integrate into a building experience platform to give building staff visibility into air quality metrics by pollutant in a particular space. A smart building IoT platform can also alert operational staff if there are issues such as connectivity and proactively notifies staff when calibration is needed. Property managers can even share a high-level view of indoor air quality to tenants to give them peace of mind about the air that they are breathing. Riverside is the first commercial landlord to implement a technology of this kind in a class A commercial office building in Chicago and observed the following pollutant reductions in just two weeks:

  • 46% decrease in average volatile organic compound (VOC) levels
  • 82% decrease in fluctuation of VOC levels

Thermal Health

Because operators need to meet minimum thermal comfort standards for temperature and humidity, providing temperature controls in the hands of building occupants ensures optimal thermal conditions. A software platform can connect directly to a building’s existing HVAC system using industry-standard protocols like BACnet and gives tenants control of the temperature in their space which also reduces overhead for building staff. Tenants can be further empowered with an easy way to report issues of underperformance of systems and monitoring the temperature in real-time allows building staff to address issues quickly. Additionally, by considering occupancy data from an existing access control system or through occupancy sensors, energy consumption can be minimized by not running the system when no one is in a space. An IoT platform can also monitor the trends of space utilization to ensure optimal comfort without human intervention to create a healthy and smart environment.

Dust & Pests

Building staff must limit dust and dirt accumulation and be equipped to respond to complaints. By leveraging advanced technology to automate air flow in a space to reduce particles in a room, this ultimately decreases the amount of dust that remains in a room.


When moisture or mold is found, property managers must address the issue and replace the material. They also must conduct regular inspections to identify sources of moisture. By monitoring humidity levels, technology enables staff to be automatically alerted of potential moisture concerns. Furthermore, automatically scheduled preventative maintenance keeps HVAC equipment running optimally.

Safety & Security

A healthy building requires a holistic emergency action plan and mechanism for communication to building occupants. With technology, property managers can quickly communicate to all tenants via a notification, text message, or pre-recorded message. Furthermore, computer vision can be implemented to detect threats through the camera system and initiate an emergency response plan including automatically locking the doors and notifying building management.

While technology solves for many of the marks of a healthy building, a digital twin provides a data-driven approach to achieving this goal. A digital replica of a building that gathers real-time data regarding space usage and air quality metrics allows a building to truly be optimized. Demand-responsive HVAC is enabled by this data, allowing a building to achieve optimal temperature and air quality while meeting sustainability initiatives. A digital twin is necessary to realize healthy building outcomes while reducing operating costs and increasing energy efficiency.

Landlords are already putting this technology in place. For example, Riverside is a forward-thinking commercial landlord that has implemented a comprehensive AI-driven air quality program. With increased awareness of the link between the indoor environment and occupant health and wellness, Riverside set out to ensure that their building provided the cleanest air and provided occupants transparency through continuous monitoring.

Buildings are in a unique position to prepare for the return of its office workers. Technology enables commercial landlords to pivot based on ever-changing workforce needs. It gives operators smarter controls, better communication with tenants, and prioritize building and tenant wellness all from a single platform. Management can see how people use space and use that information to make that space more usable and profitable. Intelligent building technology is an enabler for healthy and productive buildings of the future.

Ren Wang is VP of Product at Cohesion

Nik Patel is CTO at Cohesion