How Clean Indoor Air Becomes China’s Latest Luxury Must-Have | Cities
TThe recently opened Cordis luxury hotel looks a lot like many other high-end hotels in Shanghai, with its glass-enclosed swimming pool, expansive twin ballrooms, and upscale spa. But the first Cordis hotel on the continent China claims something that is really rare in major Chinese cities: clean indoor air.
Modest occupancy rates at the mega-city’s more than 5,000 hotels mean operators are desperately struggling to attract customers with cheap deals and ever-more luxurious features. In a city where air pollution measured by PM2.5 – tiny particles deemed particularly harmful to health – has recently increased by 9% in one year and now regularly overtakes the capital Beijing – a luxury hotel has a new wheeze.
All the air entering the Cordis Hongqiao goes through two levels of filtration and is continuously cleaned, while the double-glazed windows remain closed to seal in the cool air inside. Pollution monitors are installed in all 396 rooms and television screens display PM2.5 levels. The air quality inside rooms is generally about 10 times better than outside.
“I think people can sleep easier knowing that the air quality in their room is much better than in any other hotel, and much better than it is outside,” says John O’Shea, Managing Director of Cordis Hongqiao. Customers have so far rated the Shanghai hotel in terms of satisfaction among the 22 branded hotels belonging to the Langham Group.
While air pollution has long been on the nation’s mind, indoor air is a new battleground. Even in heavily polluted cities, indoor air quality can be worse than outdoor air. In addition to the heavy PM2.5 air entering homes and offices through open windows or poor insulation, high levels of formaldehyde, carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – gases that can be emitted by poor quality building materials, furniture, paints and adhesives. – are an additional concern.
“Indoor pollution is a very serious problem and a threat to health, not only in China but worldwide,” says Sieren Ernst, founder of the environmental consultancy Ethics & Environment. “Most people spend 90% of their time indoors, and the exhibits we get from that time on remain largely unexamined.”
However, public awareness in China is on the rise. In 2013, market research provider Euromonitor said there were 3.1 million air purifiers in China, in a market worth 6.9 billion renminbi (774 million pound sterling). By the end of this year, sales are expected to more than double in volume to 7.5 million air purifiers, in a market worth nearly RM16.5 billion.
A growing number of employers and property managers are installing air filters in offices, while relocation companies are offering indoor air quality assessments to prominent expats, and Starbucks has built its massive new Shanghai Reserve Roastery for Leed Platinum Standards, including air quality monitoring.
The only Chinese international green building standard, Reset, mainly focuses on indoor air quality. Launched by Chinese architect Raefer Wallis, a Reset certified space must have been within healthy limits for PM2.5 (12µg / m3), carbon dioxide (600 ppm), VOC (400µg / m3) and other pollutants for three consecutive months, and is reassessed annually.
Meanwhile, as part of his 13th five-year plan, Beijing has demanded that at least half of new urban buildings be certified green by 2020. As public interest and regulatory arguments for improving indoor air strengthen, businesses and organizations alike grow stronger. Chinese institutions are rushing to get a head start.
“We have worked with a few schools [on indoor air quality] in Shanghai and Beijing in 2013 and 2014, ”said Tom Watson, engineering director at environmental consulting firm PureLiving, which now works with around a third of Fortune 100 companies to clean up the air in their offices. “As soon as they made the changes, it became their differentiator in the market, and then all the other schools had to follow suit, and that’s what we’re seeing happening again in the commercial market now.
“At first it will be a point of difference in the market, then a necessity.”
In the city’s new Taikoo Hui complex, the air inside the 22nd floor JLL consulting firm’s office is largely unaffected by the hazy skyline outside. Last year, the office was recognized as the healthiest in the Asia-Pacific region and the third healthiest in the world, meeting the strict standards of the International Institute for Well Construction, and the introduction of a personalized application allowing staff to check indoor air quality in real time.
“To be honest, our first response was that it’s too difficult in a major city in China,” admits Xuchao Wu, head of energy and sustainability services, JLL Greater China. “Well standards are set in such a way that you have to commit to 15 µg / m3 [PM2.5] in the ambient air; it might not be a big challenge in cities in the UK or the US, but in China it is particularly difficult. Especially when, say, it hits 200 outdoors and you need to get a 95% reduction in PM levels.
Premium filtration systems like those from JLL use a tight mesh that removes dust and particles far too small to be seen with the naked eye. Ceiling filtration units ensure even distribution of clean air, and the best units offer automation to adjust their filtration rate based on outdoor pollution. The systems must also provide an adequate supply of fresh air, otherwise PM2.5 will drop but carbon dioxide will rise. Developers like Tishman Speyer are working under Reset Standards to install premium clean air filters across their portfolio in China.
The World Health Organization estimates that indoor and outdoor air pollution causes an estimated 6.5 million premature deaths each year, while a global survey 2017 concluded that China and India accounted for about half of all premature pollution deaths in 2015. Analysis of the data by the German Institute for Global and Regional Studies found that working in an office with systems high-level filtration can increase the life expectancy of an employee, estimating that staff in Tishman’s China offices earned an average of 6.3 days per year from people working in unfiltered workplaces.
More subtle impacts of pollution are still being studied. A landmark 2017 study from Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment found that occupants of high-performance green buildings had higher cognitive function, fewer symptoms of illness, and better quality of sleep. Good indoor air can also help retain staff: a Reset survey found that 56% of staff polled in China use poor health at work as main reason for changing jobs.
With a plethora of affordable apps and monitors available, better knowledge of air quality could also affect Chinese consumer behavior.
“In the future, you can imagine the scenario where you would like to go out for coffee or a meal, but before choosing the restaurant or cafe, you look for the one that offers the best indoor air quality,” says Watson.
In addition to quality filters, ensuring good indoor air requires reliable and well-maintained monitors to prevent them from “drifting”. The Reset certification also rates monitors: Class A monitors are much more accurate and professionally calibrated, while mass-produced Class C monitors are, in Wallis’ words, a “Russian roulette” and can collect money. extremely inaccurate readings.
The rapid expansion of the clean air market also leaves it open to abuse, with unreliable marketing and questionable purifiers promising additional tricks such as the ability to repel mosquitoes. According to Xinhua press briefing, a quarter of consumer air purifiers tested by a government inspection agency have failed quality checks, and new state standards are being would have In progress.
“We were in a mall earlier this week where monitors were set up and the data was amazing,” says Wallis. “But the monitor was right next to the filtered air supply. So what the monitor was reading was 30 µg / m3 of PM2.5; what people breathed was 300µg / m3. “
For the Cordis hotel in Shanghai, the Reset certification is a hard-earned point of differentiation from its many luxury competitors. O’Shea hopes that clean air will ultimately increase room prices by around 10%.
“I think back to the days when everyone billed for the Internet,” he says. “Now the internet is like hot water – if you don’t have high-speed, fast, and easy-to-access internet for free, then it’s over. Indoor air quality is going to be like that too – if you can’t guarantee your customers much better air quality than your competition, that will be a done deal. It is already taking on that kind of importance.