Some actions were obvious: installing air filters that get rid of some of the most harmful pollutants. They also installed a number of air quality monitors that continuously check the levels of carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulates in the air and raise a warning if they reach an unacceptable level.
The office also got a lot greener. “We looked at a piece of research NASA did that investigated plants that actively clean the air,” says Birch. They picked a handful of plants from a list of the top 10 most efficient and put them in their new office.
Then, says Birch, there was the “new car-like smell”. It’s produced by volatile organic compounds from paints, adhesives, furniture and carpets used in the building that leach into the air for several years in a process known as “offgassing”, explains Noakes.
To avoid this, Hilson Moran actively sought out low-pollutant materials for their furniture and fittings as certified by the International WELL Building Institute, which oversees the WELL Building Standard. Some fittings are even made out of potato peelings glued together with potato starch.
It was a difficult task. “A lot of the furniture and carpet manufacturers at that stage hadn’t yet got their head around it,” explains Birch. The company only had a couple of manufacturers of WELL Building Standard-ready items to pick from. But two years on, the number of manufacturers and the range of products they offer has increased.
Hilson Moran were so proud of their new office they submitted it for certification by the International WELL Building Institute. It passed the test, becoming only the third office in the UK – and the first outside London at that time – to do so.
At the same time, the company asked its staff to complete a standard worker wellbeing survey, using a common methodology called BUS (or building use studies). They’d done the same survey in the old office, where it came out in the lowest 10% of 650-odd other office buildings. “We did the survey again in this office and were in the top 2%,” he says.
“I don’t feel a tangible difference in the air quality,” admits Birch. But he manages to stay awake through those long, late afternoon meetings – headache-free, too.
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