Updated August 3, 2023 – These days you often hear the word sustainability in newscasts, around the web, or in corporate emails. It is a term that’s becoming more and more important as the environment takes centre stage, with talk in Canada and around the world about becoming more sustainable and environmentally friendly. We have fewer and fewer resources available for use on our small planet and we now have the daunting challenge of how to take advantage of the resources we have, without causing irreparable damage to our world. One of the easiest ways become more sustainable, save energy, and reduce your carbon footprint is to use high-quality, greener air filters in your building.
In this article, we will focus on environmental sustainability as it relates to reducing energy consumption, waste, and labour, and on how it all relates to sustainable buildings, indoor air quality, well-being, air filters, and air filtration systems.
What is the Definition of Sustainability?
Sustainability is an all-encompassing term that can include labour sustainability, energy sustainability, economic sustainability, health sustainability (which includes human, social, economic, and environmental considerations), political sustainability, sustainable development, and environmental sustainability.
A growing number of voices, led by non-governmental organizations and even the United Nations now state that all of these elements must be considered together to create a sustainable future for the planet. For example, a country cannot substantially improve its environmental conditions without political sustainability. Also, sustainable development cannot be achieved by ignoring glaring environmental concerns and/or not dealing with them in a timely manner.
Sustainability includes health and well-being. It also measures how business decisions impact people, both positively and negatively.
One of the tenets of sustainability is determining whether something can keep going at its current rate for the long term. For example, can we keep consuming the same level of fossil fuels without greatly impacting our shared future in a very negative way? Are we using too much energy from non-renewable sources currently, to have a sustainable future, or do we have to reduce our current rate of energy consumption? Does sacrificing our future for the sake of the present make sense?
Environmental sustainability of buildings
One of the biggest impacts on sustainability is building sustainably. The Canada Green Building Council states, “We provide the building sector with innovative standards, verification services, education, and training. Our market research and government advocacy efforts encourage the programs, investments, and policies that will accelerate climate-friendly, zero-carbon buildings, and retrofits.” –Canada Green Building Council.
“Commercial and institutional buildings in Ontario accounted for 35.6% of buildings in Canada and represented 42.9% of the total floor area. These buildings consumed the highest share of energy in Canada, at 41.6%.”-Statistics Canada www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/160916/dq160916c-eng.htm
“Buildings are responsible for 40% of global energy consumption and 33% of greenhouse gas emissions.”World Economic Forum
It is very clear that creating sustainable buildings would certainly kickstart our drive towards sustainable development and a green future because buildings currently contribute a great deal of emissions and consume an excessive amount of energy.
What is a sustainable building? The criteria
The highest form of building sustainability would include a holistic approach. It’s a building that incorporates nature into its design, the design is cognizant of good mental health and well-being, and it is built on repurposed land instead of being built with sprawl.
In a sustainable building, high-quality air filters produced with maximum energy efficiency and particle capture efficiency play a central role:
- They remove harmful particles from the air
- They help to reduce airborne diseases
- They ensure clean indoor air for building users
- They reduce energy consumption
- They reduce carbon emissions
A modern, green building is called biophilic (biophilia means “a love of nature”).
Fossil fuels: Reducing carbon footprint- Reducing CO2 emissions
How can air filters reduce your fossil fuel usage and carbon footprint?
The best way to reduce fossil fuel usage with air filters is to reduce the amount of energy that is being used in an air filtration system. Fossil fuels are used in most countries to generate electricity and using the right type of air filter can reduce energy consumption. How to Save Energy with Air Filters
How can I reduce my carbon footprint with air filters?
You can reduce your reduce CO2 emissions and reduce your carbon footprint by using a variable frequency drive (VFD) system for the fans in your HVAC system. By using a VFD, you can actually regulate the level at which the fans run from 0 to 100%. You can run the fans at a higher speed, using more electricity, when your building is full of people, and run them at a much lower speed, using much less electricity, when the building is empty.
By using a VFD design, you can greatly reduce energy consumption and reduce your carbon footprint and still have clean indoor air in your building. How VFD-controlled fans can reduce energy consumption
Decarbonization and Net Zero
What is Net Zero?
Net zero has become a buzz term lately to describe a process that seeks to reduce net carbon emissions progressively towards zero. This can be achieved through carbon credits trading or by using more renewable energy resources such as wind and solar panels.
The United Nations states, “The science shows clearly that in order to avert the worst impacts of climate change and preserve a livable planet, global temperature increase needs to be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Currently, the Earth is already about 1.1°C warmer than it was in the late 1800s, and emissions continue to rise. To keep global warming to no more than 1.5°C – as called for in the Paris Agreement – emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.” -United Nations Climate Change Net Zero Coalition.
HOW REASONABLE IS IT TO AIM FOR A TARGET OF NET ZERO EMISSIONS?
It has recently become much more reasonable to aim for net zero emissions, especially in relation to buildings. For example, the City of Vancouver, Canada states, “A zero emissions building (ZEB) is highly energy efficient and uses only renewable energy.” “We plan to transition to zero emissions buildings in all new construction by 2030. To achieve this, we’re setting limits on emissions and energy use in new buildings, and will reduce these limits over time.”
In its Net Zero Coalition communique, the UN states, “More than 70 countries, including the biggest polluters – China, the United States, and the European Union – have set a net-zero target, covering about 76% of global emissions. Over 1,200 companies have put in place science-based targets in line with net zero, and more than 1000 cities, over 1000 educational institutions, and over 400 financial institutions have joined Race to Zero, pledging to take rigorous, immediate action to halve global emissions by 2030.” https://media.un.org/en/asset/k1i/k1i9moptag
Because renewable energy such as wind, hydroelectric, and solar power cannot supply every building around the world with enough energy to power it, saving energy is crucial. VFDs and high-quality, low average pressure drop air filters play a crucial role in helping to achieve net zero while using renewable sources of energy since they use less energy when less electricity is available.
REDUCING ENERGY CONSUMPTION WITH AIR FILTERS: CAN AIR FILTERS SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCE ENERGY CONSUMPTION?
Just installing a VFD system will not alone save energy and reduce carbon footprint, if it is not coupled with air filters that are designed to have the lowest average pressure drop. If you simply install filters that have a low-pressure drop initially, but quickly increase in pressure drop during use, the fans will have to operate at a higher amp draw to achieve the required airflow. If this happens, you will not reduce energy consumption and you will greatly increase the carbon footprint of the building.
To save energy you need a long-lasting air filter, which has a low loading curve, a low average pressure drop, and you should replace the filter before it reaches its rated maximum pressure drop. The recommended guideline for the most optimum time to change an air filter is at the point where the filter reaches twice its initial pressure drop at a specific airflow (eg: a filter with .32” w.g. at 400 FPM should be changed at .64” w.g at 400 FPM)
Real air filter sustainability means sustaining efficiency and energy savings over time
- The space available in HVAC systems imposes significant restrictions on the most appropriate type of system for a particular application (panel filter, bag filter, box filter, etc.).
- To make up for this, many manufacturers use electrostatically-charged air filters so that they are able to fit into HVAC systems in residential and commercial buildings with minimal depths (as little as one inch) and claim higher efficiency. The downside? Once the charge dissipates from these charged-media filters – which can occur in a very short period of time based on contaminant concentration levels, the efficiency can greatly decrease resulting in a MERV 13 rated filter decreasing to the efficiency of a MERV 8 filter.
- Despite the downside of poor efficiency and higher energy consumption, electrostatically-charged panel filters are still used by many manufacturers in order to artificially increase the efficiency of their filters.
- It is important to choose the right type of filter for your HVAC system in order to maintain its efficiency and sustainability.
- Air filters with equal MERV and MERV-A-ratings have been tested with any electrostatic charge removed through a conditioning step. The equal ratings confirm that the filter will maintain the same efficiency throughout its life in the system.
Read more: How are MERV ratings determined in Canada?
What is the Optimal System, a Multi-stage Air Filtration System or a Single-stage System?
There is a fallacy that using a multi-stage filtration system that incorporates a prefilter and a final filter in the air handling system increases efficiency. In reality, no matter how many filters you have in an air handling unit, the system is only as efficient as the final filter. For example, if you have a MERV 16 final filter and you have other filters in front of it, the overall efficiency of the system will still be rated at MERV 16.
Every stage of filtration adds resistance to the air handling system, which makes the fan work harder and in turn uses more energy creating a larger carbon footprint. Optimally, you can remove one (or more) of the stages without having a negative impact on the efficiency.
It is important to note that if you remove the prefilter and do not install a final filter designed to be utilised on its own, this may have a greater negative effect on energy consumption. Always make sure you are using an optimum final filter.
How to Choose Air Filters That Reduce Waste
One way to reduce waste is by using a physically smaller air filter or an air filter that can be compacted before it is disposed of. Also, it is very important to use air filters designed to last longer. This results in you contributing less to landfill sites. The Durafil® ES air filter can last up to five years depending on the application. Replacing the final filter less frequently leads to significantly less waste.
The Hi-Flo® ES, which does not require a prefilter, can dramatically help save energy. It is guaranteed to last a specific amount of time based on the application and can last one to two years. Instead of frequently changing out filters every six months, you will only have to change yearly or every two years, reducing air filter waste by 25-50%.
There are generally two ways to dispose of air filters once they have completed their service life. One way is to incinerate them and the other way is to bury them in landfills.
Landfill waste is quite problematic because as waste decomposes, it releases methane into the air and leaches lead into groundwater. Also, should no oxygen be present, the waste will not decompose at all.
The main concern for incinerating waste is that it can produce dioxins and other harmful gases in the process. Dioxins and furans can cause cancer and reduce immunity. In Denmark however, there is a clean energy plant, CopenHill, which burns waste and creates energy.
How to dispose of air filters
The best way to deal with air filters at the end of their life cycle is to recycle them, but at the moment, recycling air filters is difficult. Progress is being made on designs of air filter components to make them easier to recycle and especially to make them easier to break down for sorting at recycling plants. Some air filter media is made from materials which have already been recycled. Because the components that make up air filters are somewhat complex, it is an ongoing project to make them more recyclable.
- When producing recyclable air filters, it is important to make sure the design doesn’t cause air leaks within the HVAC system.
- Right now, recycling air filters can be expensive and laborious. The main problem is that multiple components are glued or bonded together mechanically.
- Presently, only the plastic, metal, and cardboard can be recycled. No dirty media is known to be recyclable.
- The key to recycling air filters is to be able to obtain proof that the company responsible for recycling them actually did have them recycled and did not simply dispose of them in a landfill. Camfil provides customers with a document to demonstrate the weight of the product that was recycled and how much material was recovered from it. Camfil also takes images of the entire process to maintain transparency
- By recycling air filters, a company can receive BOMA credits from Building Owners and Managers Association Canada (BOMA) for waste reduction and waste diversion
- Bag filters are a good option because they fold up into a small pocket as opposed to a large box filter
Filters used in hazardous applications (specific areas in hospitals, pharmaceuticals, nuclear, etc.) create a big challenge to recycling or disposing of used air filters. While air filters remove pollution, harmful chemicals, and gases from the air, at the end of their life, the particles found in the air filters present difficulties at the disposal or recycling stage as the collected contaminants may be considered hazardous waste. There are many regulations concerning used filter handling and each application will need to be analyzed individually.
Labour savings and cost savings with air filters
The best way to redirect labour costs is to reduce the number of filter changes. There are cases where companies have to schedule multiple employees for weeks just to change out air filters. That labour could be redirected to other projects and activities.
The change-out schedule could be INSTANTLY cut in half with single-stage filtration that doesn’t require prefilters. The next criterion is how to decrease the number of final filter changes by switching to a different style of filter while maintaining or improving efficiency and not increasing the average pressure drop. Many people forget about the other labour factors involved in changing filters such as transportation, loading/unloading the truck, moving them to the air handling unit, unboxing, installing air filters in the air handling unit, removing used filters, transporting to a loading area, and finally disposing into a landfill.
Does achieving sustainability through air filtration cost more?
At first, a quality air filter that is long-lasting and gives you maximum energy savings will be more expensive; however, over time with saving labour costs and buying fewer air filters, the quality filters will almost always be dramatically more cost-effective.
Camfil offers Life Cycle Costing (LCC) software that can simulate how much you will spend in each scenario. Filter cost, energy savings, and labour cost savings can be calculated using this tool. Using it allows easy comparisons between products.
The LCC software is data-driven based upon real life data collected at facilities around the world for real world results as opposed to theoretical calculations. The data includes CamLab data, and data measured from ducts that intake outside air from Riverdale, New Jersey (just outside of Newark, NJ, and 45km from New York City).
A good solution for sustainability is to switch to a single-stage filtration system. Retrofits are cost-effective and will save you money over time. Also, when using a box filter or a pleated filter, you can use a thicker filter. The thicker the filter, the longer it will last. Camfil often recommends a four-inch or six-inch air filter instead of a one-inch or two-inch air filter.
The standard prefilter life is usually one to three months for a one-inch filter, two to four months for a two-inch pleated filter, and six months to a year for a four-inch pleated filter
For further information, please use this contact form and an air filtration expert from Camfil will answer any questions you may have.
PROTECTING THE HEALTH OF PEOPLE, PROCESSES & THE ENVIRONMENT
Camfil has been a sustainable company from day one. For sixty years, Camfil has helped people breathe cleaner air. Together with customers, employees and stakeholders, a truly sustainable future can be established.
Camfil, Clean Air Pioneers
- To emphasise sustainability and become the number one sustainable air filtration company in the world, we launched an internal program in 2009, CamfilCaring, and published our first corporate sustainability report on a voluntary basis
- We are the first air filter manufacturer to introduce life-cycle costing (LCC) software, which allows the optimisation of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems for buildings
- We are actively involved in the standardisation of air filters, and we introduced energy ratings for our air filters before Eurovent Certita’s energy classification system was adopted
- We take our social responsibility seriously by providing optimum working conditions for our employees, backed by strong human resource management and local employee care and health programs. This global workforce helps us to steadily increase our annual sales and earnings so we can contribute to economic growth globally
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
Since its founding, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. Read more about Camfil Canada
Camfil Canada Inc.
Sources, Further Information
With contributions from Berni Baier, Camfil Canada Air Filtration Expert
Canada Green Building Council www.cagbc.org