Paradox Between Decarbonization and Indoor Air Quality in the Built Environment

In the past few years, many efforts to provide sustainable solutions in today’s commercial buildings that can reduce the carbon footprint, have been implemented. These often use strategies to reduce energy use as well as use energy from renewable sources. In particular are the building HVAC systems, which are the largest user of energy. The recent pandemic stressed the importance of providing clean and healthy air to reduce the spread of airborne illness. Traditional strategies to improve indoor air quality can often times work at crossed purposes to reducing energy use and reducing the carbon footprint.

New strategies using advanced air cleaning technologies can help to achieve both goals of providing clean and healthy air while promoting decarbonization. Also transparency is critical, as modern building occupants are well aware of the impact of indoor environmental quality and the importance of decarbonization and demand to see the efforts and progress of the building to provide a safe, healthy and sustainable space. Technologies that can monitor indoor environmental quality in real time are a critical part to integrate into these strategies.

This paper will study how traditional methods of providing clean and healthy air can often result in greater energy use and increased carbon emissions. Also studied are how newer and proven strategies can provide the indoor air quality needed while helping a building to reduce its carbon footprint. Also studied are effective ways to monitor the air quality to track and communicate successful outcomes. A real-world case study will be discussed as an example of an integrated strategy.

The term literally means the reduction of carbon. This simple premise involves many complex strategies to accomplish the goal of reducing global carbon emissions. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the by-product gas of the burning of fossil fuels such as natural gas, oil and coal. These become greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases absorb and reflect heat radiated by the earth, preventing it from escaping it back into space as it naturally would, trapping the heat in our atmosphere. Almost like a dome covering the planet. The planet will then become warmer producing climate change, and potentially disastrous environmental impacts.

The built environment, our buildings use a major portion of the energy produced in the world. In the US, buildings account for 40% of all US energy consumption and a similar proportion of greenhouse gas emissions. HVAC (Heating, Ventilating and Air Conditioning) accounts for 38% of buildings energy consumption, equivalent to 12% of final energy consumption. All statistics agree, the energy needed to condition air in buildings is the single major user of energy worldwide. However, the vast majority of this energy is produced by fossil fuels. For example, renewable energy only generates 20% of electricity in the US, the great majority of energy is produced from fossil fuels and their carbon emissions. Therefore, in order to decarbonize, less energy produced by fossil fuels must be used. This can come in two different ways, more available renewable energy production and/or improved energy efficiency and less overall energy use.


Tony Abate is the Vice-President of Operations of AtmosAir Solutions in Fairfield CT. Tony is a certified IAQ professional and has many years of experience in IAQ testing and analysis and bi-polar ionization air purification. More information can be found  at: