Raefer Wallis - Architect and the founder of GIGA

Posted on 01 July 2020

Raefer Wallis

The real estate industry generally has been very much asleep at the wheel.  Everyone knew this was coming, everyone knew this would hit a global scale at some point in time so if anyone should have been prepared it should have been the building owners having been speaking about this for the past ten years and again it requiring a pandemic to get people to respond.

Susan Freeman

Hi, I’m Susan Freeman welcome back to our PropertyShe podcast series brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London real estate forum where I get to interview some of the key influencers in the world of real estate and the built environment.  We are currently recording the podcast digitally so please do bear with us if the sound quality is not up to our normal studio standard.  Today I am delighted to welcome Raefer Wallis.  Raefer is an Architect and the Founder of GIGA an independent third party combining the development of building standards with Cloud technology to increase accessibility and impact of healthy buildings globally.  Working at the intersection of healthy buildings and Cloud technology Raefer has pioneered standards for data quality which are now used internationally and serve as foundations for both research and origin, GIGA’s two primary areas of focus.  RESET is the world’s first building standard to assess and benchmark the health performance of buildings using continuous monitoring.  Origin is the world’s largest hub of data on building materials.  Regularly invited to lecture round the world Raefer’s ground breaking work has been featured on news channels and in the press around the world so now we are going to hear from Raefer Wallis on the importance of healthy buildings and literally what is in the air that you breathe.

Raefer welcome to the digital podcast studio.  You’ve been hailed as a guiding light in the pursuit of healthier buildings and I think that was even before the Covid crisis hit us so we’re delighted to have you here today.  I believe you’re originally Canadian but I think most of your career to date has been spent in China so can you tell the listeners where you’re based now and just a little bit about your work.

Raefer Wallis

Well first off thanks for having me Susan and happy Dragon Boat Festival actually, it’s celebrating just giving you a clue as to where I am right now.  I am in China, calling in from Shanghai and yes I have been here for the past nineteen years, originally started as an Architect but then just trying to solve problems at a larger scale I shifted over to digital data on building materials, specifically healthy building materials, looking to solve those issues at scale and as a by-product air quality, trying to at the time specifically resolve the problem of chemical off gassing from materials and track that with sensors and that wonderful work took us into tracking pretty much everything else, articulate matter of various sizes, to CO2, SOX and NOx and other gases that make their way indoors and ideally shouldn’t be there. 

Susan Freeman

Yes and I think that’s something that we are all thinking more about now and maybe it is something we should have thought more about in the past but the Covid pandemic has really shone a spotlight on the health of buildings and somebody said and in fact it could have been you that your building is more relevant to your health right now than your Doctor just in terms of determining your well-being, I mean is that right?  I mean is the building, the air quality, its something that we should be thinking more about?

Raefer Wallis

It’s a shame that it’s taken a pandemic to wake us up.  I mean it’s always the same with basic human nature and you need a crisis to get into gear and obviously building spending as everyone knows over 90% of time indoors you shape environments and of course then they shape us.  But in that over the past ten/fifteen years I have often been asked by clients the age old question I can’t focus on everything, what should I focus on? And the answer has always been the same, it hasn’t changed you know in a decade and a half or two decades it’s you breath 15,000, 12,000 to 15,000 litres of air per day, if you don’t get that right the rest doesn’t really matter and again you can survive three minutes without air and three days without food and three weeks without, sorry the other way around, without water and so the air quality piece and has always been the most important place to start but once again its taken a pandemic to get people to realise, to realise this and more or less to be blunt, to wake up to a lot of information that’s been out there for a long long time and there really isn’t much new about what’s in the media today.  It’s been discovered before, it’s been spoken about before, what’s new is really just the mass awareness to this topic.

Susan Freeman

So it could be one of the very few positives that come out of this pandemic that it has been a wake up call for all of us so I mean air quality was important from the point of view of productivity and obviously that is something that is still very important but now with Covid, people are also thinking about where the virus is and germs and things that are floating round in the air so should people be asking to see stats on air quality before they take a lease of a building now?

Raefer Wallis

It’s a matter of time before that is mandatory.  Again all that is, it’s an obvious yes, it’s just a matter of time before it gets institutionalised as the number one priority and the fact that the data is available, is readily available there is no reason why no one should not be asking for this so we have already started seeing that as early as 5 years ago where a lot of the issues at the time were focused on carbon dioxide where people were finding that they just could not get below for example the 1000 dpm threshold in the buildings that they were in and everyone falling asleep in the afternoons and we would go in or send Consultants in and find that the air coming out of the ducts, the air being delivered before people even breathe into it was already at 1000 dpm so it was already at limit and by the time you breathe into it then of course there is just no way they would get underneath and this is the way buildings were being run and in many cases are still being run because no one is ever checking and so there we started seeing people ask for this data, show me your historical CO2 data before I sign the lease.  People who had been bitten by this and had become familiar with the data and now obviously that is going to get, or is in the process of being kicked up at a super scale where its, I want to see historical PM data, I want to see your historical CO2 data, I want to see the VOC data, basically I want to have a full diagnostic on how capable you are at managing your building before I move in, or before I sign a lease. 

Susan Freeman

And it is interesting because again the Covid crisis is a shining a spotlight on this and building owners, landlords are finding themselves responsible for the health of all the people that work in their building.  I mean does this change the way a landlord should be thinking about its responsibility and the way it’s working with the tenants and other occupiers in its buildings?

Raefer Wallis

Yeah you know I preach a lot about shared responsibility between landlord and tenant and I continue to be shocked at how new a concept that seems to be whereby it is impossible and unrealistic to expect a landlord to solve all problems within a building not when the tenants are in fact responsible for most of what is being created within the building in terms of “pollutants and waste” and even down to energy consumption and so this idea of landlord and tenant working closer together as a team and identifying what and who is responsible for the performance of what item down to waste and air quality and so on is really starting to become, we see, one of the main driving factors to helping both parties achieve their goals and the smartest building owners that we have been working with have just started cluing into this and setting up systems to be able to better manage that but it’s a shift and it’s where we tend to play a large role in in terms of guiding folks on how to do this and as you know we run a building standard as well as a material data hub but in the building standards called RESET is digital, its entirely based on data quality, monitored and real or continuous time and a lot of that is really designed to help the building owners and the tenants understand who is responsible for what because when you’re having those conversations they’re often tense conversations and therefore pretty much one of the reasons why it was created was a bi-product of those tense sort of relations to have a third party in-between to help point and carve out who’s responsible for what and why, how do you share data and what data should be shared and what should be, what’s realistic in terms of outcome for both parties.

Susan Freeman

That’s interesting, well the word collaboration is one, anybody who knows me knows that its one of my favourite words so very, very pleased to hear you talking about that but it certainly seems that this is something, I mean we’re certainly looking at these issues in relation to lease provisions because you know one is almost having to write like new, rules and regulations to establish from the outset how the parties are going to work together because I think its difficult for a building owner to get on top of all this and monitor and have the best available data if the tenants aren’t obliged to be part of that operation. 

Raefer Wallis

Not only is it difficult but it’s impossible.  There is also a really important shift happening where you are asking a little bit in the beginning about monitoring air quality, monitoring and so on and using that as an example, people are only starting to understand what it actually means.  Sort of,  a couple of decades ago when the intranet came along and people, I get it theoretically but I don’t quite understand how it’s going to transform the industry, now we do and it’s the same thing with real time data on items as important as air quality within buildings, people understand theoretically what it means, very few people, I would say 1% of the real estate industry out there and that’s probably an exaggeration really understands how its going to transform how they operate buildings and how they sign leases and just using that as an example I’m often coming across building owners who are saying ‘yeah we’ve done some air quality monitoring and to be honest it hasn’t been a great experience.  We’ve had all these issues, we see it as a growing liability’ and then as a standard well okay tell us, ‘what went wrong?’ ‘Well we’ve been installing, we’ve been following some guidelines and we’ve been installing monitors in tenant spaces’ and we’re like ‘woah woah woah, stop.  Stop right there, there’s your problem’, the amount of liability we see people signing themselves up for unconsciously by not knowing what they’re doing and one of the classic ones there is this recurring theme of seeing landlords installing things like air quality monitors within tenant spaces so that’s … I often give the example, that’s like being asked to take care of somebody else’s 16 year old, it’s just, it’s a recipe for disaster.  Why would you want to monitor the air quality in a space that you do not control?  It makes no sense.  You should be monitoring in a space that you do control and these are the type of really critical details that tie in to building operations, building liability, tenant relations which are, sound boring but are critical in how we are going to be restructuring our relationships with real data enhanced on an ongoing basis.

Susan Freeman

So is it more a question of the landlord requiring the tenant to do these things so requiring the tenant to monitor other things within the tenant space so that one can have a whole picture for the whole building assuming it’s a multi tenanted building.

Raefer Wallis

Exactly I mean in a multi tenanted scenario not to go down this rabbit hole too deeply but its really a dialogue between and a set up where the building owner is monitoring what they control so in this particular example if we stay focused on air quality for a moment it’s I will track and communicate the quality of the air that I am delivering to you dear tenants before you do whatever you do with it including breath into it so this is what I am responsible for and then we can engage together where you will monitor within your space, let’s set up some guidelines so that we know the data you’re collecting is the same quality, we can actually compare and then we can figure out how to optimise that relationship.  So based on what you’re doing within the space.  Either helping you solve some issues within your space or helping improve some of the central mechanical system but that alone requires the creation of an engagement programme, a tenant engagement programme which traditionally over the past three/four years has been focused on signing up for yoga classes, getting you a better discount at your restaurants down in the shopping mall, getting you an early taxi or an early coffee, those have been the basis of tenant engagement programmes and those are now going to shift to actual performance tracking and performance management.

Susan Freeman

And is that happening?  Also I would be interested to know if you know there is a difference in attitude between Asia, you’re working in China and I believe you also work in North America.  Are there different attitudes you know between Europe, America, Asia?

Raefer Wallis

The obvious answer to that one is yes, enormous difference in attitudes.  One of the things I have loved about China and Asia in general we work also in India is that the geography here is much more centred on the relationship as opposed to sort of business relationship as opposed to the legal relationship and so the area here, this general geography, sort of the A pack region is most likely to suit one another.  It’s less of an indigenous society and so that allows for more experimentation, faster evolution, faster innovation, we get a lot more done here than anywhere else which is why despite our headquarters being in Canada I spend most of my time here, it’s just a perfect petri dish for experimentation.  The US by far has been the laggard continent, no surprise there being the most indigenous of the three you’ve just mentioned but given the implications of Covid and the new liabilities involved in that we’re seeing the US probably going to leapfrog Europe by that same force of nature.  What was holding them back before is now you know what there’s no more waiting around we have to grab the bull by the horns and you have to deal with this because now its on our doorstep, so in typical American format and Europe there’s been some incredibly innovative projects that have been done in Europe but none that we’ve seen really tackle this tenant/landlord relationship in a performance based manner.

Susan Freeman

Interesting, and should landlords have seen this coming or was this something that you know it was a pandemic, they happen sort of once in a hundred years.  Should they have been prepared for this?

Raefer Wallis

God I hate to say it but the honest answer is yes and I’ve often been caught saying that the real estate industry generally has been very much asleep at the wheel and the building owners are very much to blame for a lot of the poor reaction that’s out there.  So many of the building owners are international or at least are invested in international portfolios and one thing that I’ve been saying over the past several months is there’s nothing much new about this pandemic.  There’s you know again sitting in Asia prospective in the last nineteen years this is our fifth health crisis and once you’ve been through your four others you kind of get used to the way you should respond and how buildings should be prepared and so on and so forth and very little of this is new there’s been all this debate around even things like Covid is airborne, no its not airborne and anyone who is half of an expert from the beginning was of course its airborne we’ve known this for the past five to ten years just from particulate monitoring.  All the information has been there, there’s really very very little that’s new and with the property owners that have international footprints that have been involved in some of these health crises in Asia previously everyone knew this was coming, everyone knew this would hit a global scale at some point in time so if anyone should have been prepared it should have been the building owners starting with the top tier ones and then trickle down from there but most of the top tier ones as mentioned are cross invested into various geographies.  So very, very much asleep at the wheel and I know this for a fact from having been speaking about this for the past ten years and again it requiring a pandemic to get people to respond. 

Susan Freeman

Yeah well as I suppose if something good can come out of the pandemic then that would be great.  You’ve said that this crisis you’ve described it as climate change in training and obviously you know we talked about the fact that this should be a wake up call.  When you describe it as climate change in training what exactly do you mean?

Raefer Wallis

If you zoom out sort of the … humans are very self-centred animals and if you sort of zoom out of that perspective for a moment this is an easy one.  Isolate everybody for a few weeks, example as was done not only China, Mongolia is a better example, New Zealand has done a great job, there’s a ton of countries out there that have done a great job so far but isolate everybody for a few weeks and largely this can be resolved and so for the macro prospective and over simplifying this is an easy one.  Whereas once we get into climate change issues that has been accumulative over decades and once those issues start to hit regionally how do you reverse those?  I mean the time to reverse them is equally decades and so learning to respond to a crisis like this one is what I mean by climate change in training.  This is a small crisis compared to what’s up and coming with climate change crisis where especially those that are going to be hitting certain regions harder than others even though there obviously are global issues, the effects are going to be much longer, much deeper and so how we’ve often talked about building resiliency and topics like this.  Speaking about building resiliency on a one year cycle for Covid for example, small potatoes. Building resiliency over 20 years due to climate change, much bigger deal and inclusive of all the usual topics you know that’s going to affect air quality, it does affect energy, it’s all the same topics just on a much larger timeline, in a much deeper scale.

Susan Freeman

That’s interesting because I think one of the concerns when the Covid pandemic started was that all the traction that we gained acting on climate change would be lost because people were so distracted by having to cope with the you know, immediate threats of the pandemic so it is interesting what you’re saying is one should regard it as a wake up call for the bigger longer term problem and really focus on that and not regard it as something different which is good and what should property owners be doing now?  Obviously they have the immediate problem of trying to restore trust you know with their tenants and occupiers and giving them confidence in coming back to their offices and other buildings but what should property owners be doing?

Raefer Wallis

Without question the future of real estate revolves around data and how that data gets used in obviously a million different angles but I’m only going to touch on one or two and I continue to be amazed at how few developers and building owners and operators are actually engaged in the conversation.  It’s typically having to do with leasing and items like this some energy data but very little in terms of health performance on an ongoing basis and some of the analogies I give are well lets talk about security, what’s currently being done in health management right now is the equivalent of having a security system that takes a picture of your entrance once a year, right?  That makes no sense from a security and safety point of view you want a camera that’s recording everything at the entrance running 24/7 from a security point of view.  It’s the same thing from a health and safety point of view.  You don’t want an annual health check on your building, you don’t even want a quarterly health check.  The performance of buildings changes daily and so having people start to engage in ongoing costs, ongoing data, really getting a sense of what’s the policy they’re building, how’s their building performing and how does it change the way they will need to operate those buildings.  That’s really having people start right now to wrap their heads around that is priority number one because if you allow me for a moment you know when we look back at the 4 or 5 health crises that we’ve been involved in over the past 20 years and then you project that back 2000 years over just history in general you tend to see two trends; the first is that human nature doesn’t change, people are always going to be people, they have the same fundamental needs.  The human behaviour does not change.  What changes is infrastructure and that’s a really important sort of semi philosophical piece for building owners to remember and again if I bring it back to what we know one of the items we know best on air quality and we see a lot of folks for example just peppering air quality monitors around the space sort of little gadgets that have been purchased and dropped on office desks that is part of the behaviour piece.  They will eventually be unplugged, picked up, moved around and thrown in the waste basket, its not infrastructure and so the building owners, the operators really need to think in that way where all the strategies that have failed over the past 4 or 5 health crises are all the ones who haven’t been woven into the fundamental infrastructure of the building.  Both the physical infrastructure and the operational infrastructure, that was a long answer to the question but building owners, operators really need to be engaging into this field, turning their buildings into small labs and thinking how to make this a core part of their infrastructure.

Susan Freeman

It’s going to be a different way of operating isn’t it and one of the things that has become apparent over the last couple of months as people respond to Covid is that in the west there are more concerns about data sharing and privacy which don’t seem to be an issue for instance in China and one sees it you know how China responded, you know the Government said this is what you have to do to open your building again, you have to have you know thermal testing and you have to have apps tracing people and here I think property owners are concerned that their tenants are going to react negatively because they feel their privacy is going to be infringed.  I mean do you think we’re going to be able to persuade our tenants to share data you know in the way that they need to in order to get the best results from all these sensors?

Raefer Wallis

The answer is yes, it’s already starting to happen we have a couple of cases in indigenous North America, that are starting to do that so if that’s not proof then nothing is but the key is most people think your data sharing is a one way street so its share your data, it basically means give your data away to somebody and they’re going to do something unknown with the data and that’s kind of scary and its shifting that paradym to this is what happens when you share your data, this is what we will give back and that’s been the fundamental shift in these conversations as we help building owners set up these tenant engagement programmes is you cannot just be asking the tenant for data you must be giving data back and this has been one of the key pieces where anybody who has invested in ESG reporting and things like this knows that’s its really hard to get this data and a lot of the data if you’re a tenant in the building you need to get it from the landlord and so you know suddenly I was mentioning earlier this year where we had cases like this where the tenants are being asked for their data and the tenants are saying ‘are you crazy?  I’m not going to give you my data, what are you going to do with it?’  And once you explain that ‘look we will give you the results back and we’ll give you some building results too and its going to be used for ESG metrics and reporting on your side’ then unanimously the response has been great, ‘I need that data too sure I’ll share my data if you give me the results back’.  So as long as that’s the paradigm it becomes possible.

Susan Freeman

That’s encouraging.  And, one thing I am fascinated by, you talked about how temperature and humidity affects viruses and I know you made a comment that you could almost predict which cities Covid was going to hit based on, you know, the temperature and the humidity levels.  How does that work and how can you control that in a building?

Raefer Wallis

Yeah, again I need to caveat here that this is nothing new, this is information that has been around since the 1960s and the 1980s so, I don’t want to pretend it’s any breakthrough of science, it’s old science, there is a whole bunch of people that were able to make these predictions as well just based on this data and what’s new is really the awareness through it but what’s been clear for a long time is that, for example, low humidity has a negative impact on the immune system, dramatically lowers the ability of the body to defend itself against viruses.  Meanwhile the same low humidity increases the survival rate of viruses so you put that combination together and it’s not the only parameter there’s a bunch of others, it’s having people in proximity and all these other parameters but you put those two together and it has a definite impact on the number of cases, not the only impact but triple the immune system plus increase the survival rate of viruses, that’s a pretty nasty combination especially when this hits in winter when most buildings tend to be drier in winter and also cooler so of course when temperatures are cooler, our immune system needs to work harder and what we saw a lot of was these areas that were hitting this sweet spot in terms of temperature humidity and at the same time being told to just ventilate, bring in all the outside air you can so you are doing multiple things there, you are bringing colder air in, that’s often dry so you are weakening the immune system, increasing the survival rate of the virus, then you are bringing in particulate matter which only reduces the immune system further so you are really compounding the error by a direct application of the mantra of ventilation, so we were seeing sort of these things happen together across these geographies and able and… able to spot the areas around world that were going to hit this sweet spot in terms of temperature humidity long before it happens every year so there is no massive sort of Wizard of Oz predictions there, it’s all pretty black and white but again temperature humidity is part of it but it definitely highly impacted, highly or impactful part ends, that came through sort of loud and clear just when looking at the data, but again I want to stress it’s not the only factor. 

Susan Freeman

I think you are right, I think it’s the awareness that wasn’t there before.  So, can a building be a safe haven?  Can a good air filtration system actually screen out these viruses that we all so concerned about at the moment?

Raefer Wallis

Again, my answer to that is yes, absolutely.  For some reason we seem to be learning everything over again.  You know, one thing that’s really been aggravating me is the one liner of ventilates, ‘ventilate as much as you can’ which is to be quite honest, a very irresponsible thing to say because it really depends on your outdoor conditions and your indoor conditions.  We were seeing buildings where it was 15 degrees Celsius in the office, people were getting sick in the office because it was too cold to work in and have to go home and that’s completely ludicrous and so what seems to have happened over the past few months is throwing out a wealth of knowledge on filtration and what we know from filtration and now slowly that’s starting to trickle back in, people are starting to look at, ‘Well, okay, maybe recirculation isn’t so bad if we’re filtering’ and starting to ‘Oh yeah, look at your studies from five, ten years ago or new studies that have said this’ so, it’s a matter of time I think before people calm down a little bit, the quality of the way buildings operate obviously goes up, mechanical systems are improved, mostly based on knowledge and science that already exists to achieve sort of the effects of the question you just asked where, yes, in the end we make buildings as, I want to say safe havens because nothing is every 100% safe but using filtration intelligently, using ventilation intelligently, yes buildings can and have shown to be places that can manage these parameters. 

Susan Freeman

That’s, that’s positive and was also wondering, you know, with older buildings, can you retro-fit them and is it hugely expensive to make them as safe and attractive to people as a sort of state of the art new building?

Raefer Wallis

I’m happy you asked that question because I love old buildings and it’s where I spent most of my time as a young architect, retro-fitting old buildings and the answer there is again, yes.  In many ways there’s more opportunity in a lot of these old buildings than new buildings.  With very zonal systems, localised recirculation units that are there to scrub out whatever, either liquid particulate matter, solid particulate matter, CO2, VOCs, NOx, whatever the issues might be but going back into the old buildings often opens up opportunities to do much deeper changes and strategies where reducing the energy frequents of the ventilation system by 30%.  Those are completely realistic targets that we’ve seen and been able to help on existing building after existing building so, in many ways I am most excited about existing buildings because, as we know that’s the bulk of what’s out there and it’s the bulk of the problem but there is no reason why an existing building shouldn’t be able to hit the same level of qualities as a new building or even exceed it.  One of my favourite buildings in the world dates from the 1960’s, it was retro-fitted in the 1990’s, has not been retro-fitted since and is still the most high performing building in the world and it sits in the heart of Delhi, called the PBC, anybody whose, the Paharpur Business Centre, it’s an iconic building for anyone who is in the air qualities space. 

Susan Freeman

Also, one of my questions is whether there is evidence that healthy buildings, and obviously we all want healthy buildings, whether there is evidence yet that they do have a higher value because one of the things that is going to drive this is knowing that, you know, your building that you are investing in and retro-fitting is going to have a higher value at the end of that. 

Raefer Wallis

Higher value is questionable.  Maintaining value is a definite yes.  I would be more worried about losing value than anything from just not having the right infrastructure in place, from potential liabilities emerging and all of those pieces so, is a healthy building going to raise the value of a current building?  Maybe.  Typically we have seen a slight jump in the ability to close rent and reduce lease time but more than anything we’ve seen stabilisation of rents in markets that are dropping in things like this, just being better prepared for things like the pandemic, you know, so many of the buildings that we’ve worked on Asia had nothing to do when the pandemic hit, they were already, they were already prepared, they had the data in hand, the systems were already there so those are buildings that are able to recover instantly and that has a definite economic impact. 

Susan Freeman

Yes, I think lots of this is actually going to be occupier driven and also funding driven because, you know, there is going to be a point where that’s what people want so that is certainly going to, I think, drive change. 

Raefer Wallis

I think probably the last piece there as well is that we are seeing the air quality data has often been compared with energy data and in many cases, energy data has been worth more as in some ways it has been around longer and it’s starting to play into trading of carbon credits and things like this so it has a higher financial value but now we are seeing air data having obviously a higher or a dramatic increase in value again from a proof point of view and also a liability point of view so making sure that the data is in hand to show well a building is operating, how resilient is it, do I need to invest in a mechanical system, what is my risk in terms of an insurer looking at the building and so all those elements are all going to have an impact on value of real estate but I would say more from an insurance than a building valuation perspective.

Susan Freeman

It’s interesting you mention insurance and I know that’s something I’ve heard you talk about how actually insurance is going to be pretty much a driver in terms of, you know, how we build and how we fit out buildings and I am not sure that again that’s something that we’ve thought about enough and I just wondered, I mean are you seeing the insurance companies actually now coming back on things that they wouldn’t necessarily have come back on before? 

Raefer Wallis

We definitely are.  Again, China is in the front seat for this and I have mentioned this before but people are often shocked to hear that there are some of the world’s largest insurers, mainly in China, who have been working on this for three to four years already, healthy building insurance, and it’s based upon data, data and data quality, you have data you get insured, you don’t have data you don’t get insured, and now we are starting to see, and I can’t mention who but some bank institutions who are in charge of loans to real estate owners and operators who are looking into this data as well and looking into again, not just the results but the quality of the data.  Is it self-reported?  How are the monitors installed?  Where are they installed?  What’s the quality of the monitors?  Because all of that data then helps underwrite their evaluation of the loan that they want to make or how they are going to insure.  So a lot of this is embryotic in North America but the questions are being asked and it’s clear that the directions are being taken. 

Susan Freeman

So that’s something else for us to think about and I have a final question for you, Raefer which since we have been talking about air quality and we are all thinking about travelling abroad possibly as soon as we can and you are probably travelling at the moment, what about air quality on planes because they are talking about hospital grade, you know, filtration and amazing sanitation but I know, you know, invariably when I get off a plane I’ve got a sore throat or I’ve got a cold or something.  Should we be concerned or is that outside your area of remit?

Raefer Wallis

Oh, you have no idea how many times I have brought air quality monitors onto airplanes for the past I don’t know how many years and it’s probably the moment that was most striking to me was being on the tarmac in Delhi and it was PM2.5 was 350 outside which is an absolutely disastrous number and I was actually flying on Air India just and internal flight going to Bangalore or something like that and the air inside the plane was about 300 until they closed the door, within three minutes of closing the door PM2.5 was at zero.  The air filtration… the airline industry has been way ahead of everybody else on this, it’s medical grade filters within the planes and the control of that is honestly pretty amazing.  A PM2.5 throughout the flights is pretty much zero the entire way through and the only time there is a VOC spike is when there is food being made and so that’s a…

Susan Freeman

What is the VOC spike?

Raefer Wallis

A chemical off-gassing and so there’s the different types of chemicals being off-gassed right?  There’s the nasty ones like formaldehyde which are very dangerous but there’s others like what comes from red wine, some basic alcohols which are okay and so the fact that there was chemical off-gassing while food was being produced means, okay, this is just food related VOCs, I’m not going to fret about this.  CO2 was, I have no idea how they manage to maintain this but I have taken long cross-Pacific, cross-Atlantic flights where CO2 is actually incredibly well controlled and the main issue I think why people have been getting sick on airplanes previously is a lack of control for humidity, going back to where we started this call, and so you are sitting dry on a plane, you are there for many hours of being dried out like an apricot and your immune system starts to take a hit and then you get sick and you feel jetlagged and so on.  Up until the day where the Dreamliners started coming out with much better control of humidity, and a complete tangent here because they’re carbon fibre bodies as opposed to metal so they are not scared of the rust and I remember watching the humidity on that flight for the first time and then how I felt coming off the flight, jetlagged passed in no time, I didn’t feel as wrecked as I normally did and it really had everything to do with the humidity because all the other parameters were the same.  So, I am one of the least concerned people about taking an airplane and worried about getting sick on it, if I am it’s because it’s a long flight.  Short flights and dry flights, who cares, the body doesn’t respond, you need to be exposed to dryness for a long time for the body to be affected but on long international flights, I don’t want to do any advertising here but I definitely would look for the Dreamliner. 

Susan Freeman

That is so interesting.  So, actually I now feel a lot happier about getting on a plane and obviously humidity is the thing to look out for.  So, Raefer thank you so much, I mean that was absolutely fascinating and although I don’t think I have got you to say no in answer to any of the questions, I think you have given us an awful lot to think about so thank you very much. 

Raefer Wallis

A pleasure Susan.  Thanks for having me. 

Susan Freeman

Thank you so much to Raefer Wallis for shining some light on the importance of air quality and healthy buildings and how the Covid crisis really needs to be taken as a wake up call for climate change.  Plus, I don’t know about you but I now feel a lot more confident about air travel this summer.  So that’s it for now, I hope you enjoyed today’s conversation.  Please stay safe and join us for the next PropertyShe podcast interview coming very shortly. 

The Propertyshe podcast is brought to you by Mishcon de Reya in association with the London Real Estate Forum and can be found at Mishcon.com/PropertyShe along with all our interviews and programme notes.  The podcasts are also available to subscribe on your Apple podcast app, and on Spotify, and whichever podcast app you use.  Do continue to subscribe and let us have your feedback and comments and most importantly suggestions for future guests and of course you can continue to follow me on Twitter @Propertyshe for a very regular commentary on all things real estate, PropTech and the built environment.

Raefer Wallis is an Architect and the founder of GIGA, an independent third party combining the development of building standards with cloud technology to increase the accessibility and impact of healthy buildings globally. 

Working at the intersection of healthy buildings and cloud technology, Raefer has pioneered standards for data quality which are now used internationally and serve as foundations for both RESET and ORIGIN, GIGA’s two primary areas of focus:

  • RESET is the world’s first building standard to assess and benchmark the health performance of buildings using continuous monitoring. Working in collaboration with the World Green Building Council and the Woodrow Wilson Institute, RESET also manages the non-profit Plant-a-Sensor campaign.
  • ORIGIN is the world’s largest hub of data on building materials and a proud supporter of the mindful Materials collaborative. ORIGIN’s set of tools includes MATTER, an advanced tool for owners managing building material data within their projects.

Regularly invited to lecture around the world, his work has been featured by the NYT, CNN, CBC, TED, WSJ, Guardian, Globe & Mail, Architectural Digest and many more.

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