Leading edge research in the Built Environment is exploring the distribution of microbes found inside buildings. Many researchers have investigated other contaminants, but not microbes. Because we spend 90 percent of our time in buildings, the Built Environment has a major influence on health. Learning about it cuts across many fields, but keeping an eye on Built Environment research is in the interest of any company whose products or services go into a building – from HVAC designers to cleaning services. Findings can dramatically affect the business.
To glimpse the potential impact, see a TED talk by Jessica Green, a leading researcher in this area. Her data summary confirms that by being sealed and recycled, air inside a hospital may be worse for occupants’ health than the air in buildings with more leaks, as has long been suspected. Since a hospital is a destination for pathogens in incoming patients, not filtering them out sets up scenarios for pathogen transmission – “hospital diseases” like MRSA. Inside, more microbes come from people and hang around; outside they blow away in the “fresh air” – which may contain allergens that we want to keep outside.
So far, researchers like Green have only identified a major concern; no recommendations. Even with a great deal more knowledge, solutions are apt to involve complex trade offs. However, parties may be willing to collaborate on each building (they’re all different) to create a good indoor ecosphere if they realize that it is in their collective interest. But doing this suggests that companies should move closer to being Vigorous Learning Enterprises than they are now.
Useful, older research may not be well known. Some studies examined how much vacuuming cleans an indoor environment vs. scuffing more particles and microbes into the air. Some vacuum cleaners are much better than others, but none are perfect filters. To eliminate a major source of contamination, one proposal is to get rid of carpets harboring microbes and other particulates – not good for carpet companies.
Ability to research Built Environment microbiomes is a recent development. To nail down the identities and sources of a variety of microbes, researchers are capturing microbial DNA and doing analytical comparisons, using at least one data sharing site. This is taking them both into genetic studies and into the mathematical interpretation of huge data sets, an area called Big Data, coming on rapidly. If you are not into that, it’s a good idea to dig in, at least by using Google, because no matter what your business is, something involving Big Data may start affecting it in some way soon.
Another reason to become a Vigorous Learning Organization. Unfortunately few organizations yet see that developing the ability to change as fast as needed is crucial to their performance – and survival. Everyone in such an organization makes learning integral to their work, and collectively, not only as individuals or as departments.