Environmental, social, and governance (ESG) became an accepted universal framework worldwide in 2006, spearheaded by the United Nations Environment-Finance Initiative (UN FI). ESG has picked up steam in the past few years. Corporations, businesses, and even non-profit organizations have embraced the framework as a means by which to measure progress toward sustainability goals. Although at first, ESG was primarily about environmental sustainability, the social and governance aspect of the framework is now seen as an integral, indivisible part of ESG. In this article, we will focus on how to save energy and achieve your ESG goals with better air filtration and clean air solutions for buildings and workplaces.
What is environment, social and governance (ESG)?
ESG is a framework for setting key performance indicators (KPIs) and measuring the progress of environmental, social and governance goals. The goals are measured through a set of standards and best practices agreed upon worldwide. The most important metrics include greenhouse gas emissions, energy usage, waste reduction, and employee well-being amongst others.
Why is ESG important?
ESG encompasses all the non-financial opportunities and risks present in a company’s activities. Not only does ESG set KPIs and measure progress in achieving environmental, social and governance goals, but it also contributes to long-term success due to: financial stability, increased transparency and accountability, reduced corruption, employee retention, etc. It also makes stakeholders aware of how an organization is managing risks and taking advantage of opportunities. Other advantages of high ESG metrics is that companies with higher ESG scores tend to have better reputations, investors can look at EGG reports to determine if a company is worth investing in, and finally, good ESG performance is often an indicator of higher equity returns.
In a tight labour market, a prospective employee will look at a company’s ESG score as a positive indicator of an attractive work environment. Studies have shown that strong ESG performance can help a company increase employee satisfaction and entice prospective employees to accept employment. Engaged employees are more productive, easier to retain, and produce better results. Source: ESG as a Workforce Strategy marshmclennan.com/insights/publications/2020/may/esg-as-a-workforce-strategy.html
How is ESG organized and measured?
ESG is organized and measured in scopes – Scopes 1, 2, and 3.
Scope 1 emissions are direct emissions that are owned or controlled by the company or organization. Examples of Scope 1 emissions are energy generation and energy assets, fuels and sources such as fumes that produce greenhouse gas emissions, GHG emissions from all vehicles owned or leased by a company or organization, and GHG emissions from industrial capacity and manufacturing.
Scope 2 emissions are indirect emissions that come from the use of purchased, non-renewable energy from a utility provider. Examples are electricity (from a non-renewable source such as coal or oil), and natural gas.
Scope 3 emissions are indirect emissions that are produced in the entire supply chain or value chain. It includes; purchased raw materials and finishing products, other goods and services, fuel usage and energy consumption in production, personnel commuting to and from work, business trips and travel, transportation of raw materials, goods or services, and waste produced by operations. Scope 3 also includes outsourced activities.
For most companies, Scope 3 emissions dwarf Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions. Scope 3 emissions are also difficult to quantify and manage.
How can you achieve your ESG goals?
One of the best ways to achieve your ESG goals is to enact a comprehensive plan to reduce the need for more energy production by cutting back on energy usage in ESG scopes 2 and 3. Also, by generating your own solar and wind energy, however large or small, you can reduce your scope 1 environmental impact. Your company can also commit to using fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, or hybrid vehicles as they emit much fewer greenhouse gasses in comparison to internal combustion engine-based fleets. Some vehicles produce zero emissions.
To reduce energy consumption, unplug appliances and turn off computers when they are not in use. This can reduce up to 30% of energy use in buildings.
Make sure buildings are properly insulated. Poorly insulated buildings use much more energy than buildings that are fully insulated.
Use high-rated ENERGY STAR appliances, computers, peripherals, and air filters. These products can do a great deal to cut GHG emissions by using less energy and can save a company a lot of money over time. ENERGY STAR certified LED lights can reduce energy consumption by up to 90% and last at least 15 times longer than regular lights. energystar.gov/products/light_bulbs
For scope 3 emissions, it is important to gather as much data on suppliers as possible to analyze the supply chain. Once an environmental audit has been done, companies can lean on their suppliers to adopt a better ESG-related approach. With life cycle analysis of a product, from its formation with raw materials to its disposal, its complete environmental impact can be measured.
The European Commission has introduced many LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) mechanisms. The Canadian government has adopted LCA guidelines for energy and is developing frameworks for other areas of the economy.
“…LCAs have been used increasingly by industry to help reduce the overall environmental burdens across the whole life cycle of goods and services. LCA is also used to improve the competitiveness of the company’s products and in communication with governmental bodies. LCA is used in decision making as a tool to improve product design, for example the choice of materials, the selection of technologies, specific design criteria and when considering recycling…The benefit of LCA is that it provides a single tool that is able to provide insights into upstream and downstream trade-offs associated with environmental pressures, human health, and the consumption of resources. These macro-scale insights compliment other social, economic, and environmental assessments.”–EC statement on LCA in business and policy making
Incorporate power purchasing agreements (PPA) with energy providers
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “A physical PPA for renewable electricity is a contract for the purchase of power and associated renewable energy certificates (RECs) from a specific renewable energy generator (the seller) to a purchaser of renewable electricity (the buyer). A company enters into a long-term agreement with a third-party seller who promises to erect, maintain, and run a renewable energy system either off-site (off-site) or on the customer’s property.”
Government incentives and rebates for environmental goals
There are many energy savings-related government and private rebates and incentives for companies that invest in designing more energy efficient air filtration systems such as those that incorporate VFDs. There are also incentives for retrofit programs for companies and organizations. Some examples can be found here for British Columbia and Canada.
How to achieve ESG goals with better air filtration solutions
Replacing inefficient HVAC systems with new, more energy-efficient systems can go a long way in achieving ESG goals. An upgraded HVAC system with proper, high-quality air filters designed to maintain a low average pressure drop will not only reduce energy consumption but also provide cleaner air for employees and create a more attractive workspace.
Consider adding variable frequency drive fans (VFDs) to your HVAC system. VFDs automate the HVAC system, speeding up or down when the demand for airflow changes, using more or less energy to do so.
Once VFDs are in place, one method for saving energy is to replace air filters frequently, keeping the resistance to airflow low, allowing the fan to provide a high volume of air at the lowest energy use. The downside to this approach is the increase in filter costs, labour, and of course landfill.
A better choice would be to implement air filters that have the lowest average resistance to airflow, where they take much longer to reach their final minimum recommended pressure drop of 2X initial resistance, measured in kPA or inches of water gauge. Considering HVAC systems are responsible for more than 50% of a building’s entire energy usage, and 30% of that is air filters, it is a crucial consideration. In other words, 15% of a building’s energy use is directly related to the hvac air filter, whereas lighting is 17-19%. Source: eia.gov/energyexplained/use-of-energy/commercial-buildings-in-depth.php
Read related article on How to Save Energy with Air Filters
Choosing high performance, longer-lasting air filters, ensures fewer materials are used and less GHG emissions are produced in sourcing, less transportation of raw materials, less GHG emissions in material production and transportation, less maintenance and labour, less transportation of finished goods, less transportation needed to replace filters, fewer emissions from warehousing, and less waste and emissions created in landfills. Waste disposal of air filters emits methane, ethylene, and other gasses, which are worse than CO2 emissions for the environment.
Some air filters can be recycled, but in order to quantify actual waste diversion, the recycler must provide a 3rd party certificate of destruction.
Use air filters that are guaranteed to maintain their rated particle capture efficiency that have the same MERV and MERV-A ratings. Most filters that use an electrostatic charge, which acts like a magnet and temporarily increases the particle capture efficiency, will decrease in efficiency as the filter begins to load with dirt. The charge can no longer attract as many particles and the MERV value drops Read about MERV air filter testing
Using a MERV-A rated air filter ensures efficiency will be maintained throughout the life of the filter. By sustaining a high-level of air filtration, equipment such as heating and cooling coils are cleaner, and can work more efficiently, using less energy to heat and cool the building.
Conduct a full energy audit
There are many experts available to help you achieve your ESG goals, particularly in regard to energy savings. An energy audit will help companies find inefficiencies and opportunities for energy savings that are particularly difficult to identify without expertise.
Why is clean indoor air an important part of the social aspect of ESG?
Clean indoor air is an important part of ESG because employees value their health. Ensuring that a workplace has clean indoor air will encourage employees to remain engaged and motivated as they are assured employers care about their well-being.
Canadians spend up to 90% of their time indoors and much of that time is spent in offices or in other indoor workspaces.
A recent study found that air pollution kills 9 million people per year which is on par with deaths caused by smoking. Air pollution does not stop at the front door or back door of your workplace. Polluted outside air seeps into indoor spaces quite easily, and often indoor air can be full of more contaminants than outdoor air. Source: globalnews.ca/news/8843891/pollution-kills-9-million-people-globally-study
The good news is we can control indoor air quality. In a recent World Health Organization survey, 72% of respondents stated that they are worried about IAQ. Natural defence systems make it difficult for large particles to enter our lungs and our bloodstream, but smaller, more harmful particulate matter, PM2.5 and PM1, can easily enter our cardiovascular system and our bloodstream and damage our health. This can cause cardiovascular illnesses, cancer, dementia, and breathing problems.
The WHO has lowered the mean annual exposure limits for PM2.5 to 5 micrograms per cubic metre for outdoor air, 10 micrograms per cubic metre for nitrogen dioxide, and 60 micrograms per cubic metre for Ozone.
How does indoor air quality impact health?
- Clean air can help employees perform up to 60% better
- Good indoor air quality can reduce the number of sick days
- Good IAQ can make people happier
- We breathe 15 kilos of air every day and most of that is indoor air
- According to a study by Harvard School of Public Health, indoor air quality contributes to 61% overall higher cognitive functioning scores
- In well-ventilated offices, they found a 288% increase in strategic thinking
- According to a 2022 global study, clean indoor air even boosts productivity and problem-solving by 43%
- 6 in 10 employees say they will quit if their employers will not commit to creating a healthy indoor air quality environment
- Indoor air is more concentrated and confined than outdoor air
- Air Quality Life Index, from the University of Chicago, reported that “particulate air pollution takes 2.2 years off global average life expectancy. Comparable to smoking, three times more negative impact than alcohol use and unsafe water, and 89 times that of conflict and terrorism.” Source: aqli.epic.uchicago.edu/
- Indoor air can be up to 50 times more polluted than outdoor air
- PM1 contains a mixture of solid and liquid particles; black carbon, ammonia, water, sodium chloride, sulphate, nitrates, and mineral dust
What can be done to improve indoor air quality and achieve ESG goals for IAQ?
Monitoring air quality: Air quality monitors are inexpensive and readily available online or in hardware stores. They can measure air pollution in a local area, such as particles and gas emissions, e.g. PM1, PM2.5, CO2, and VOCs. It is important however, to use air quality monitors from reputable manufacturers in order to get accurate readings.
Maintaining temperature levels: With proper ventilation, HVAC systems don’t need to work as hard to maintain desired temperatures. This makes them more efficient at capturing pollutants.
Maintaining humidity levels: Ideal humidity levels are between 35% and 60%. At these levels, harmful particulate matter and gasses are less mobile and airbourne virus spread is reduced.
Investing in air purifiers: Air purifiers with individually tested and certified HEPA filters can remove a minimum of 99.97% of particles as small as 0.3 microns. Air purifiers and air cleaners with activated carbon filters can remove odours and harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from the air. Read more about VOCs here
Read about air purifiers and air cleaners
Read more about high-quality air filters
To consult with an air filtration expert on the topics covered in this post or for further information, please use this contact form and an air filtration expert from Camfil Canada will answer any questions you may have.
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, 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
ESG as a Workforce Strategy marshmclennan.com/insights/publications/2020/may/esg-as-a-workforce-strategy.html
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