When the quality of the air you breathe receives global attention, it is either because that air is exceptionally good – or exceptionally bad. In India, we know the story.

A recent Times of India article about the air our people breathe begins, “According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) global air pollution database released in Geneva, India has 14 out of the 15 most polluted cities in the world in terms of PM 2.5 concentrations — the worst being Kanpur with a PM 2.5 concentration of 173 micrograms per cubic metre, followed by Faridabad, Varanasi and Gaya.” As a resident of India, you know the nation’s air quality problem is severe and complicated. Sadly, for too long now, it was largely neglected and allowed to grow.

How bad is it? In China and India, as well as in many other developing nations, it is extremely bad. A 2017 research study titled “Pollution, Health, and the Planet: Time for Decisive Action” reported that pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and death in the world today, responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 alone.

The study, which collected data from 130 countries, calculated that those pollution-related deaths – from ailments such as lung cancer, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease and stroke – represented three times the number of deaths caused by malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

Tragically most of those premature deaths – an estimated 2.5 million – occurred here in India. No surprise that the greatest contributor was polluted air.

If you live or work in a major metropolitan area, such as Mumbai or Delhi, you have literally seen the impact of exterior air pollution, yet many health professionals consider indoor air contamination to be an even greater threat. Without proper ventilation, indoor air does not get refreshed. This allows pollutants to enter the indoor environment where their concentration then increases. The result, experts believe, is that untreated, poorly ventilated indoor air can be anywhere from three to ten times more harmful than outdoor air. These dangers are amplified because today people spend approximately 90% of their time inside. If there is good news here, it is that the situation has grown so dire – and public awareness has grown so widespread – that the issue is finally being given greater attention.

Building a Healthier Future

Though many steps are being taken to turn this hazardous situation around, it is noteworthy that the HVAC sector of India’s construction industry offers, perhaps the most promising approach towards mitigating the health problems associated with poor indoor air quality. That is, in large part, because India’s overall construction industry is thriving. In other words, India just might be able to build itself out of its indoor air quality problem.

As researched by Timetric and reported by Worldbuild 365, “At the moment, India is one of the world’s most vibrant markets for building and interiors. Huge sums are being poured into a comprehensive range of construction projects, from major infrastructure upgrades, sweeping residential housing programmes and wholesale city building.

“Residential construction is definitely a market to watch in India right now. India is facing a huge housing backlog – some estimates claim as many as 30 million families need homes. To try and tackle the ever-expanding need for affordable housing, the government is planning on building 20 million low cost units by 2022.

“Elsewhere, the spotlight falls on infrastructure with a whopping $349.9 billion allocated to essential upgrades in the 2017 budget – not least in transportation. Rapid urbanisation is necessitating the construction of modern, convenient transport links to and from major population centres.” Indicators are that much of this new construction will be green. Again, from Worldbuild 365, “There are plenty of eco-building projects in the pipeline too. High-rise residential blocks, schools, communal spaces, and mixeduse developments are the top sectors driving demand for green buildings.”

Research from JLL supports this, stating “Given that low-cost housing is bound to see a huge growth in the next two decades and more than 60 per cent of India’s infrastructure has yet to be built, residential and commercial property developers are now increasingly being prevailed upon to evolve and incorporate green features,”

When considering indoor air quality, the most important green feature is the building’s Heating, Ventilation and Cooling (HVAC) system. And when it comes to establishing performance guidelines for green buildings, the most internationally recognized standard is LEED.

Introduction to LEED System

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is the most widely used green building program in the world. As of May 2018, LEED had registered or certified more than 92,000 projects across 167 countries and territories. Of those many countries, India ranks as the world’s fourth largest market for LEED.

Today, with six distinct rating systems, LEED accommodates all building and project types, from new construction to existing buildings, single to multi-family housing, neighborhood development to projects involving entire cities and communities. Using an integrative process that begins with a project’s design, LEED promotes a holistic approach to building systems and equipment. Within this integrative process, LEED certification is earned by accruing points across several key credit categories, including credits related to indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, reduced waste, and reduced impact on surrounding eco-systems. With LEED, builders are not only able to address important energy, water, waste and site management considerations, but they are also able to effectively address occupant considerations involving comfort, health, and productivity.

To add some perspective, with respect to indoor environmental quality, LEED credits:

• Mandate minimum levels of indoor air quality performance
• Provide options for enhanced indoor environmental quality
• Encourage the use of low emitting materials
• Promote greater thermal comfort for occupants
• Encourage the use of natural cleaning products and strategies

Clearly, there is tremendous overlap between the LEED rating system and today’s HVAC industry.

LEED for Healthy Environments

As previously noted, the LEED rating system pays very close attention to indoor air quality and the role HVAC systems play in attaining that quality. Here is a closer look at that relationship.

Briefly, and for the benefit of any readers not intimately familiar with HVAC, an HVAC system cleans polluted air by continuously exchanging stagnant interior air with fresh air from outdoors, and it purifies the new air by filtering. What’s more, an HVAC system heats and cools indoor air to suit seasonal needs.

Other benefits of a contemporary HVAC system include:

• Compatibility with smart building technology
• Compatibility with clean energy options, including solar and geothermal
• Greater operational efficiency
• Durability
• Moisture consistency
• Quieter operations
• Reduced environmental impacts
• Increased resale value

Today, smart HVAC design can help projects earn the points for LEED certification. Here are some sample LEED credit descriptions that apply directly to HVAC system design and installation:

• Fundamental commissioning of building energy systems: An opportunity for the project team to meet, discuss and verify the type and required performance of the building’s HVAC system
• Minimum energy performance: Demonstrate that the system meets or exceeds energy consumption performance targets
• Optimize energy performance HVAC: Install an HVAC system that complies with specified efficiency requirements
• On-site renewable energy: Incorporate on-site renewable energy systems to offset building energy consumption – including HVAC energy consumption
• Fundamental refrigerant management: Demonstrate zero use of CFC-based refrigerants in the building’s HVAC&R system
• Enhanced refrigerant management: Select refrigerants and HVAC&R equipment that minimizes or eliminates the emission of compounds that contribute to ozone depletion and climate change
• Minimum indoor air quality performance: Meet minimum specified requirements regarding ventilation for acceptable indoor air quality
• Outdoor air delivery monitoring: Install outdoor airflow monitors to measure
the minimum outdoor air rate of the mechanical ventilation system
• Increased ventilation: Increase breathing zone outdoor air ventilation rates to all occupied spaces to exceed minimum specified rates. For mechanically ventilated spaces, use heat recovery, where appropriate, to minimize the additional energy consumption associated with higher ventilation rates
• Indoor chemical and pollutant source control: In mechanically ventilated buildings, install new air filtration media, in regularly occupied areas prior to occupancy, that provide a minimum efficiency reporting value
• Controllability of systems – thermal comfort: Provide individual comfort controls for a percentage of building occupants in workspaces to enable adjustments to meet individual needs and preferences
• Mold prevention: Provide HVAC systems and controls designed to limit space-relative humidity during all load conditions

Making a Difference

If you are reading this article, chances are that you are a practicing HVAC system professional. Given trends in the marketplace, and the accelerating push for healthier indoor air quality and greater system efficiency, you may want to consider researching programs that can provide valuable expertise in the techniques of green building. If you are a business owner, you may also want to consider it for certain employees.

LEED offers several professional credential options. The LEED Green Associate credential is ideal for individuals who are seeking a well-rounded, general understanding of LEED and sustainable building. That might include business owners, building owners, developers and contractors, planners and regulators, or even educators and their students.

For those seeking a more advanced professional credential, earning a LEED AP credential arms you with in-depth knowledge about specific types of green building, as well as expertise in a particular LEED rating system.

As demand for green building expertise continues to grow, and as the citizens and government of India become more concerned about growing air quality issues, earning a LEED Professional Credential signifies that you are a building industry leader who is aware, and taking timely and constructive action to make our nation more sustainable for generations to come. And though green building, alone, will not solve India’s air pollution issues, it can make a tremendous difference – especially when combined with other efforts being implemented by leaders in government, the sciences, and business. And in time, if everyone does his or her part, even if that part is seemingly insignificant, we will succeed in turning this crisis around. Already there are major initiatives underway. They include convening city-specific advisory groups, developing comprehensive local and regional action plans, educating the public, reducing the burning of solid fuels and garbage, improving the efficiency of power plants, and generally decreasing reliance on fossil fuels. At the national level, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change, recently announced that India will strengthen the National Clean Air Programme in key cities. The programme’s five-year goal is to cut pollution levels by 50 percent. Again, if we all contribute, that goal, ambitious as it is, will be achieved.

India is and always has been a highly resilient country. Our people are intelligent, hardworking and resourceful. Given that legacy, we will – as a people and as individuals – demonstrate to the world that we are leading the way on the path to a healthier, more sustainable future. And along that path, there is plenty of opportunity for green building professionals with related HVAC expertise.