Craig Roussac

An increased focus on health and wellbeing in Australia’s commercial office sector does not mean energy efficiency must take a back seat, according to Craig Roussac, founder and chief executive of energy efficiency consultancy Buildings Alive.

The arrival of the WELL Building Standard in Australia may require more intensive air filtration systems and other technology to enhance worker wellbeing and comfort, but Mr Roussac said he believed a data-driven approach could deliver both human wellness and energy performance to the building industry.

“There is a big enthusiasm for WELL,” he said. “I guess when people are really focusing on those [health and wellbeing concepts], they are not really mindful of energy performance, and that could be problem. I’m not sure that many people are thinking about it enough.

“[However] we absolutely don’t have to trade off human health against climate health. Our business model is to keep innovating and evolve according to our clients’ priorities, so ‘total building optimisation’ is the big challenge we’re working on.”

A recent study from Harvard and Syracuse universities linked building occupants’ cognitive function to indoor carbon dioxide levels under scientific conditions. Essentially, as environments get too stuffy, workers become less creative and are less likely to solve complex problems, an indicator that indoor environment quality has a measurable influence on human productivity.

According to the researchers: “Green building design that optimises employee productivity and energy usage will require adopting energy efficient systems and informed operating practices to maximise the benefit to human health while minimising energy consumption.”

Mr Roussac’s company works with building owners and occupiers to pursue comfort, wellness and energy reductions goals using data-driven methods.

“The team brings together indoor air quality experts, water, data and behavioural sciences. What we do is take complex data streams and then try to turn that into very clear and timely information for people operating the buildings,” he said.

Building managers are able to compare the performance of their building relative to 150 other Australian buildings to measure their success. After 12 months, the typical client saves about 15 per cent, Mr Roussac said.

The balancing act required when trying to achieve wellness without reducing energy efficiency could be compared to the automotive industry, he said. A motorist may be interested in a car because it has great acceleration and goes really fast.

“If you do that without thinking about the fuel economy, you are going to have a gas guzzler,” he said. “The automotive industry has been looking at fuel economy, but performance has always been the main focus. I don’t think that when people started focusing on fuel economy they were interested in reducing performance.”

The rebound effect

However, Mr Roussac warned that too much emphasis on comfort posed a risk. He referred to the rebound effect, an adverse situation discovered in overseas residential studies.

“In places like Scandinavia there have been massive efficiency gains achieved, better heating systems, lighting technologies and so forth, but there haven’t been commensurate reductions in energy use,” he said. “You used to just heat your lounge room and now you have the whole house really comfortable all the time.

“Wellness, productivity, wellbeing or indoor environment quality – if you consider that as an output and you just focus on the output and you don’t focus at the same time on the input – you can use far too many inputs.”

Mr Roussac said the WELL Building Standard was an attempt at placing focus on buildings that provide optimal conditions for their occupants.

“That is absolutely where we are starting to shift our focus,” he said. “And we have been doing a lot of innovation with a lot of these clients… where we are starting to pick up other sources of data and starting to consider not just energy feedback or water feedback and trying to optimise that in terms of energy, but looking at the overall building.”

Mr Roussac said high-tech but human-centric solutions were needed to reduce complexity.

“There is a huge opportunity to take on board adaptive models of thermal comfort, taking into consideration using a little more outside air and, when the conditions are right, it may just be about compromising on comfort to provide fresher air.

“The complexity of it can be overwhelming and that is where sophisticated technology needs to come into it, to make it clear so that people can just make good decisions about running the building.”

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  1. the key with occupant comfort is to ensure that the building’s design intent is followed through in operations. NABERS Energy has created a large focus on energy performance which in some cases has driven buildings to reduce minimise fresh air intake with significant air re-circulation, this may have an impact on the indoor air quality. New green buildings designed with 150% increase in outside air capabilities may not be operated in that manner both in winter and summer to minimise outside air conditioning (heating or cooling) due the energy penalty.
    Creating NABERS IEQ, Greenstar Performance tools and WELLS are aiming to quantitatively measure the actual indoor air quality in performance

  2. Interesting research emerging from the University of Austin, Texas, has found that the most energy efficient high schools are also the schools with the worst carbon dioxide/ventilation results.

    Balance is required, but many would/could argue that it is currently lacking!

  3. Good point.
    Reminds me of when building acoustic regulation came out in Europe and we (building consultants & building materials manufacturers) found out that sound proofing buildings shouldn’t be a trade off to energy efficiency. To the contrary, materials were developed to fulfill the two requirements at once.
    Now on WELL and energy efficiency: I thought the WELL standard would “naturally” foster energy efficiency since WELL is third-party certified by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), which administers LEED certification and LEED professional credentialing.