Greg Combet

4 September 2012 – Environment Minister Greg Combet was back at his old stomping ground at the University of Sydney on Friday to officially open the Indoor Environment Quality Laboratory, considered to be one of the world’s best.

In attendance was a generous sprinkling of property industry engineers and sustainability people, bolstering the numbers of university luminaries and alumni, keen to hear how the lab might finally prove the intuitive link between indoor air quality and better work productivity.

Mr Combet was happy to reveal he was way too young for university when he started at Sydney at the age of 17, but returned after a degree in mining engineering to graduate from  USyd with a bachelor of Economics.

The laboratory  headed by Richard de Dear under the Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning, will encourage architects and builders to create more energy efficient and environmentally sound buildings.

Left to right: Stephen Garton, Provost University of Sydney; John Redmond, Dean, Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning; Environment Minister Greg Combet; Jill Trewhella, Deputy Vice Chancellor Research; Michael Spence, Vice Chancellor.

Architectural and engineering researchers, and those employed in the construction and development industries, will be able to use the laboratory to test the relationships between design, internal comfort and energy efficiency by controlling and monitoring temperature, humidity, air movement, ventilation rates, air quality, daylight, artificial lighting, sound and acoustics.

The laboratory will also help industry determine the most efficient way of constructing cars, trains, buses or planes that are not only more comfortable but more energy efficient.

Mr Combet said the building and construction industry was an important part of the transition to a clean energy future.

However, he declined to give any assurances that the axed $1 billion of tax breaks for green buildings would be replaced with other incentives to assist the industry to go green.

“I’m not about to discuss any government policy,” he told The Fifth Estate.

Left to right- Ashak Nathwani, member of the lab team, Bruce Precious, Yma ten Hoedt

Faculty of Architecture, Design and Planning Architectural and Design Science head Professor de Dear said  at least half of the energy used in commercial buildings was for the provision of indoor climate control for occupant comfort – heating, ventilation and airconditioning, with artificial lighting making up a substantial slice of the remainder.

“So it was not surprising that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the global buildings sector as holding the most promise for climate change mitigation, twice as much as the second most promising sector – agriculture.

“Green buildings are becoming incredibly important.

“So what is a green building? It’s a building designed, or retrofitted, to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on the natural environment and building occupants by:

  • Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources, and;
  • Protecting occupant health, improving comfort and employee productivity.
Left to right: Haico Schepers, Jorge Chapa, Graham Carter

“This second tenet of green buildings is referred to as Indoor Environmental Quality or IEQ. The key IEQ factors are temperature, radiant heat, humidity, air movement, ventilation rates, indoor air pollution, daylight, artificial lighting, sound and acoustics.

“It’s true that the first tenet of green buildings, resource efficiency, has received most attention to date, but the focus is shifting to the second tenet – IEQ.

“Most of a building’s operational energy consumption, and by extension, greenhouse gas emissions, are directly related to the provision of IEQ energy-intensive factors. This means there is a causal link between resource efficiency and the IEQ principles of buildings – and both resource efficiency and employee comfort influence productivity.”

Professor de Dear said the IEQ Lab was an unique facility in the Asia-Pacific region that allowed researchers to examine how the key IEQ factors interacted.

“The lab consists of two purpose-built rooms in which all of these IEQ parameters can be precisely controlled across a range of settings, in any combination,” he said.

“Meanwhile, a sample of building occupants go about typical daily activities for an exposure time lasting a few hours in each experiment. During experiments, occupants register their comfort ratings on a questionnaire.”

Professor de Dear said technical innovation would “continue apace in the building services that deliver IEQ” with the target of enhancing energy efficiency.

“Consider, for example, indoor lighting; we can improve the efficiency of lighting technologies by further developing light-emitting diode lamps. But the uptake in buildings of such technology ultimately hinges upon their IEQ performance, as judged by building occupants.

“Lighting that renders our complexion with a cadaverous pallor in the bathroom mirror is extremely unlikely to meet with market acceptance, regardless of its energy efficiency! Providing evidence-based research on the market acceptability of lighting qualities is exactly where our IEQ Lab can help.”

Professor de Dear said apart from energy efficiency of building services, it was clear that decarbonising the built environment was going to require closer management and reductions in demand for energy-intensive building services through a variety of strategies.

He said the critical factor was the occupants’ perception of the comfort associated with those strategies with the laboratory providing the ideal platform for quantitatively defining the comfort zone and acceptability limits.

“The research projects already under way in our IEQ lab aim to establish a set of principles, guidelines and protocols that can be used to assess the performance of a building from the point of view of its occupants,” he said.

“Our IEQ research work has already been embedded in the internationally influential American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineer’s comfort standard that, in turn, defines some of the IEQ points in the US Green Building Council’s LEED rating system.

“Through our close collaboration with the National Australian Built Environment Rating System and the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star we’re aiming for these metrics to become embedded in the next generation of green building rating tools in this country as well.”