39 min read

🎧 #097: Indoor air quality strategies and standards across 50 million square feet

“Joe Allen made this very clear business case around cognitive function that any real estate sales person with a pulse could pick up and say, 'Hey, if you're going to double cognitive function with better air quality, Class A offices must offer this increased air quality."


—Ben Myers

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Episode 97 is a conversation with Ben Myers, VP of Sustainability at Boston Properties, and Serene Al-Momen, Co-Founder and CEO at Senseware.

Summary

We talked about Senseware’s founding story, general trends in indoor air quality in real estate post-pandemic, how Senseware and Boston Properties are working together to deploy IAQ technology across the 50 million square foot portfolio, how Boston Properties approaches IAQ standards, and more.

Without further ado, please enjoy the Nexus Podcast with Ben Myers and Serene Al-Momen.

  1. Boston Properties (1:22)
  2. Ben Myers on decarbonizing 50 million square feet (2:52)
  3. Senseware (3:27)
  4. Joe Allen's Cognitive Function Study (16:38)
  5. Finding the signal in the IAQ noise with Kaiterra and DLR Group (18:31)
  6. Kaiterra (18:38)
  7. Abstraction Traction (39:31)
  8. Startup Therapy Podcast (51:29)
  9. Just the Good Stuff Recipe Book (51:53)
  10. The Hero’s Journey (52:14)
  11. Robert Keegan (52:19)
  12. Volts Podcast (53:09)
  13. WeCrashed (53:30)
  14. Khruangbin (54:16)
  15. Song Exploder (54:41)

You can find Ben and Serene on LinkedIn.

Enjoy!

Highlights

  • IAQ today (15:08)
  • The Clean Air in Buildings Challenge and what this means for the industry (20:31)
  • How BXP and Senseware started working together for water conservation (24:29)
  • BXP's IAQ standards (39:42)
  • Carveouts (50:48)

Music credit: Dream Big by Audiobinger—licensed under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

Full transcript

Note: transcript was created using an imperfect machine learning tool and lightly edited by a human (so you can get the gist). Please forgive errors!

[00:00:03] James Dice: hello friends, welcome to the nexus podcast. I'm your host James dice each week. I fire questions that the leaders of the smart buildings industry to try to figure out where we're headed and how we can get there faster without all the marketing fluff. I'm pushing my learning to the limit. And I'm so glad to have you here following along.

[00:00:31] James Dice: This episode is a conversation with Ben Myers, VP of sustainability at Boston properties and serene El moment co-founder and CEO at Where we talked about sense where it's founding story general trends in indoor air quality and real estate post pandemic. How, since we're in Boston properties are working together to deploy IQ technology across 50 million square feet. How Boston properties approaches indoor air quality standards, and much, much more.

So without further ado, please enjoy the nexus podcast with Ben Myers and serene El [00:01:00] moment. Hey, Ben and serene. Welcome to the show. Can we start with you, Ben? You've been on the show before. Can you just remind people if they have, or haven't seen your episode or listened to your episode, can you

[00:01:14] Ben Myers: give a little intro? Sure James. Thanks a lot for having me back. Ben Myers, the vice president of sustainability at Boston properties.

And in my role, I focus a lot on the built environment, energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste performance, and also all of our initiatives related to climate action resilience, including decarbonisation and our net zero goal of 2025. I also work on healthy buildings, which is why you've invited me back.

I w it was an honor to be on this podcast once, and I I'm so thrilled to be back again, to talk about healthy buildings with one of my favorites.

[00:01:51] James Dice: Me or serene, serene.

[00:01:53] Ben Myers: That's what I

[00:01:54] James Dice: thought was very sweet. So real quick though, we're going to talk about your guys' portfolio. Can you give a [00:02:00] little bit of the background on that before we dive in?

[00:02:03] Ben Myers: Absolutely. So Boston properties is a now BXP we've rebranded and we're a fully integrated real estate investment trust. We own manage, develop and acquire a portfolio of about 50 million square feet. We're located in Boston, New York, San Francisco, DC, LA, and now Seattle. And we are working on primarily class, a office buildings, but also have a portfolio of residential properties in a rapidly growing life science portfolio.

So fairly well diversified and, and fairly well located in gateways.

[00:02:39] James Dice: And yeah, the, I think the episode with you, we'll put it in the show notes. I think it's called Ben Myers on decarbonizing 50 million square feet, which is just no pressure there. Serena, let's go to you. This is your first time on the show.

So welcome. Thanks for joining us. Can you introduce yourself and give us your background please?

[00:02:58] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah, absolutely. I am [00:03:00] so glad to be here and also honored being with this good company, both you and Ben. And yeah, so I'm Serena Lohman, I'm the CEO and co-founder of a company called Senseware based out of the DC area.

A little bit about my background before since where I've worked in, in, in different roles. I, I would summarize that by um, work. The, that on digitization automation and data mostly in government type projects, where from a digitalization point of view, I would take, we take things like paper forms, turn them into digital forms, for example and doing a lot of that, that cost different us agencies government agencies.

Uh, Automating a lot of processes that were done manually and through people and computerizing that, and then using a lot of data optimization [00:04:00] of process through data system. So mostly government related work being in the DC area. And then at the same time I was doing my grad school so that and just to back out, I am software engineer by background.

That's how what I did for my bachelor's degree then went to business schools at Johns Hopkins, why working full time, and then also did my PhD at George Mason. And that work was also related to this. Does it digitization automation? So I did my health my work in, and the PhD project healthcare and improving emergency departments, operations and quality of service by looking at data on the resources, the beds, the nurses, doctors, and whatnot, and then using data to say, okay, this is how you need to change your workflow so that people would wait.

Yes. In emergency departments. Uh, That's all before sense where, and that um, [00:05:00] towards the end of my PhD, I met my co-founder and since we're Julianne's, that attack is in a conference in Portugal. And he was one of the speakers and he was talking about this technology that takes. That uses sensors like accelerometers to better assess Parkinson's disease patients severity levels, because the sensors will pick up on things that the doctors wouldn't naked eyes within.

And as he was looking at data, he realized, oh, another sense of like a gyroscope would be great to add to the mix, but he couldn't because that meant he had needed to redevelop that technology that he created. That accepts one sensor data. And that was for me, the light bulb moments. I was just in the audience.

I was there because my research was in health care as well. And met him after. And I said, what if we developed a technology that, where you can connect any sensor at any time without having to redevelop the core [00:06:00] technology. And he said, yeah, it's possible. We could do with. You know, that's basically was the start of sense where we said, okay, let's do it.

And that went to my basement and set up everything that we needed to set up to do it. He was more of the hardware side. So he took care of the hardware had my software background so that the software side of things, and since where it was born, Obviously we do different things today, then healthcare which I could get into later.

But yeah. We we had the very interesting journey to, to this point. So that's, that's another bit of my background.

[00:06:40] James Dice: Well, I'd love for you to catch us up now. That's a fascinating background. How did you get from healthcare to. What we're going to talk about today, which is I Q and buildings.

[00:06:48] Ben Myers: Yeah.

[00:06:48] Serene Al-Momen: That's interesting story as well. So, we started the technology connecting to different medical sensors, all in one system and also making it [00:07:00] very universal and for future group, because we knew that once we would look at some sensitive data, we will understand the need for other data. So that was a whole thing.

And we had that first prototype done and then we want to go to market with it, but it was, there was a lot of red tape for the healthcare space when you're talking about connecting medical sensor that go into patient into the cloud. So there was a lot of resistance there, so we didn't get the traction that we needed to keep going in that stage.

And it was just that, you know, hard realization very discouraging. But then, you know, picked ourselves up and we said, Hey, we developed this great technology that can connect to any sensor that's out there. Doesn't have to be healthcare's based sensors. So why don't we just pitch it more as such?

And we just signed up for a lot of those demo days and pitch [00:08:00] days and whatnot. And we went out and we talked about it more generically as he had as a technology where you can connect any sense at any point. And get real-time data in the cloud at Steve, we have without having to do much and very plugin kit, and we got a lot of it just from people that were working somehow in that real estate space uh, building environment.

And built environment. They came to us after the meetings and said, Hm. So can you then connect to my energy meter or this, you know, sensor on my cell phone or you know, this other sense that, you know, water meter or whatnot. And we said, well, meters to us odd, like sensors, they have the connecting data and they have an output for the data.

So. If they have, as long as they have an out, which we can connect to it. And so interesting discussions and and that kind of was the start of us pivoting more into the built [00:09:00] environment. As we started to talk to this people, we landed first customer second customer. And then the third then, you know, he's just got the faction that we didn't get before we knew that, you know, maybe that's the market that was more right for real time data and access for information.

And yeah, here we are fast forward, eight years later. That's all we have been focusing on from a market perspective. And I want to say just specifically, cause we're talking about the IQ today, the other quality application on our platform trends, the sensitive data has been there from the very beginning.

So it was like 2016, I think was the first time we, we integrated some of the IQ senses and that's as advanced as today, the temperature and humidity was kind of the. First iteration added CO2 at some point based on customer need. And then we actually got into the environmental type sensors. Does the sound in light [00:10:00] before the morning, the other air quality type sensor.

So it was this journey from, you know, from the beginning In terms of the sensitive data and then how that hold market just changed from accuracy of sensors and types of sentences that are now available, that we also can integrate with an offer to the market. So, yeah.

[00:10:21] Ben Myers: So I know you guys,

[00:10:22] James Dice: as an IQ

[00:10:23] Ben Myers: fender,

[00:10:24] James Dice: it sounds like you're, you're maybe known as that, but you do all types of sensors.

Is that

[00:10:29] Ben Myers: still.

[00:10:31] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah, definitely. It's still accurate. So it's just to kind of frame that and why it's important to have more than IQ is that even before COVID we, that specific indoor air quality monitoring application on our platform was tied to NAU. The search. So we would be involved in a lot of you know, the LBNL type research the DOE funded research around [00:11:00] music technology to improve.

HVAC operations so that you reduce consumption of energy and, you know, as they searchers were and the projects that were funded to measure and verify these muse technologies, we needed to, you know, help create a solution that. Capture energy data and IQ data, and together, all this data point can give them an idea of whether technology, new technology and innovation is working or not.

So that the multi data is, I think, has been important before. I think it will continue to be important and to the future. And we feel very good that we have this platform that can grow with a dataset, as people start to realize there's a need for us kind of things. So yeah, that's that's a big, you know, important piece that we have kind to keep people more.

[00:11:56] Ben Myers: Got it. Okay.

[00:11:57] James Dice: Two more questions on your background before we dive into [00:12:00] IQ stuff. One is what you mean by plug and play. So if you think about the IQ stack or the sensor stack, there are a lot of vendors that manufacture their own sensor, and then they do the entire rest of the stack as well. So can you talk about what you mean by that?

In the context of. Is it other people's sensors that you guys bring together into the solution? Or is it your full stack or how does, how does that piece work and then what makes them plug and play? Cause that, that word gets thrown a lot around, a lot in the industry a little bit. So can you, can you clarify that a little bit?

[00:12:33] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah. So like in plain, our world means that we're able to plug in any sensor to our core. Infrastructure. So we have bought hardware that has this patented decline technology that's called the universal sensor interface. And so we could take any sense there, whatever output that sensor is built to have and can just plug it into our universal [00:13:00] interface.

And immediately we are able to read that sensitive data translated into meaningful data into the class. Okay. Um, So that's really the, the plug and play nature. If we have, we don't develop our own sensors. We are basically the connection between sensors and the cloud. And we bring real time. We make sense.

There's IOT, if you all, that's a lot of people say private, make them connected real time sensors. Yeah, which also helps to just being future proof because we don't know all the senses they'll be available and we just feel ready to accept anything yeah. With this.

[00:13:42] James Dice: I like it. Okay. My last question on your background is you've mentioned, or you did not mention you failed to mention a role at Georgetown.

Can you talk a little bit about that?

[00:13:53] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah. So I've always believed that you learn, you apply and your turn [00:14:00] like that cycle. And so part of the returning back to the community was you know, getting this role at Georgetown university as an adjunct professor in the MBA program of the school of business.

And I teach three different courses, actually a fourth one coming up on intrepreneurship so different stages of building an organization. And just, it's a lot of fun given, you know, shedding a lot of real-world lessons learned and, and things like that. Just Springs. A lot of a lot of energy too, and yeah, it's just been amazing.

I've been doing it for three years now, four years, something like that.

[00:14:42] James Dice: That's impressive. And I'd second that teaching gives you so much energy. It also, it also makes you feel. Like, we're all kind of in this together. Cause a lot of what, what our foundations courses is sharing obstacles that I hope other people don't have to navigate around.

Right. And so you get so much energy [00:15:00] from that process, like helping people along, but also other people are sharing the solutions that they've come across. So yeah, totally

[00:15:06] Ben Myers: agree.

[00:15:08] James Dice: All right. Let's talk about IQ. I'm on my first work trip. Well, my second workshop, my first work trip, since the Omicron wave here in the U S right.

So, I'd love to just reflect real quick on just like general state of IQ. Where are we today? As we sort of, I guess, come out of the pandemic here I am in an office right now today. Um, As we come out of the pandemic, maybe start with you, Ben, how, how are you thinking about IQ today?

[00:15:35] Ben Myers: Well, I mean, it's evident that the client focus on IQ has fundamentally changed and we're getting a lot more inquiries from our customers around indoor air quality.

What measures, what management plan we have the level of filtration, how much outside air we're bringing in on a CFM per person basis. And we've done a lot of work, frankly, to commuting. Everything we're [00:16:00] doing out to our customers. We've increased filtration levels to a Merv 13 minimum. We've done everything.

In terms of testing that we're supposed to testing by annually, partnered with UL on that program. Pandemic response or closely with Fitwell on the adoption of the viral response module across our entire portfolio. And did a really robust assessment of ventilation capacity at all of our base building systems.

Now we're, we're on a journey and I think that this really started before the pandemic wasn't like pandemic, click something on for us with that. It was Joe Allen and the cognitive function study that Wheatley changed my. View of air and how little we understood about the air. We breathe, where EPA sets, maximum contamination limits for water.

There's dozens of them for drinking water. We know very little about indoor air quality. And then Joe Allen made this very clear [00:17:00] business case around cognitive function that any real estate sales person with a pulse could pick up and say, hey, if you're going to double cognitive function with better air quality class A offices must offer this increased air quality. Now I was sitting at, in the middle of all this, as it was unfolding, thinking about air quality through the lens of energy efficiency and carbon performance, and recognizing that over the years, many of the most impactful energy conservation measures had involved choking off ventilation air to buildings.

And so I recognize the real need for IAQ monitoring so that we didn't over optimize for energy efficiency and sacrifice healthy buildings at the same time. So when I, when I think about energy, and ventilation, and comfort, as like a trinity, say the holy trinity of indoor air quality um, anytime you over optimize for one, you sacrifice another and [00:18:00] with better indoor air quality sensing, I think we can solve the problem of providing healthy environments while also conserving energy and carbon.

And so that's what got me really excited about this technology. 1, 1, 3 FANUC dote. It was, it was 2018. I was still thinking about, okay, how do we do monitoring at scale in commercial buildings? And I was reading, I get a lot of magazines, so they pile up on my. I, I wish they were electronic, but I still get different building trade magazines.

And it was a facilities management magazine I was flipping through and I saw an ad from Kaiterra. Who've you've had on. So I actually reached out to Kaiterra through their website and. And he showed up like a few weeks later with a duffel bag of sense edges. And so I started around like 20 18, 20 19 with a sense edge on planes and trains set them up in conference room, set them up in our gym slash music studio slash playroom at home and [00:19:00] became obsessed with how different uses of the space changed parameters, like VOC, PMT 0.5 and carbon dioxide.

And, and from there I knew. With the cost coming down for these air quality devices and the business value and the proposition that Joe Allen had raised the cog effects. This was inevitable that buildings were going to adopt these at scale, not just for demand control ventilation, a few conference rooms, but more, more broadly.

And then the pandemic. Absolutely. Uh, Pour gasoline on that. And now, now I think if you aren't adding, IAQ sensing to your, your buildings, you're, you're missing the move.

[00:19:42] James Dice: Fascinating. Yeah, I think I've said this a lot of times in the podcast. I was one of those people that was choking down outside there.

Well, I would say it's more of a control sequence thing, you know, making sure control sequences were tailored to provide minimum outside air. And, and I think what I've realized is I was first like, [00:20:00] You know, this doubling of ventilation or whatever, you know, the kind of movement was I've realized that they're not totally in conflict as long as you're, you know, you know, managing both of them at the same time.

Like you said, in your case, Ben, you

[00:20:13] Ben Myers: said a Trinity fascinating.

[00:20:16] James Dice: I was wondering if we could talk about the recent, so there was a release from the white house in the U S now not all of our listeners are going to be in the U S here, but for the, for those us folks, I thought it was pretty wild to hear the white house talk about IQ.

Now there's a lot of smart people at CEQ at the white house, which We've had a couple of them on the show before. So I'm not surprised in that respect, but it's just, it's just a sign of where we're at as an industry and where the white house is talking about. Basically, you know, here are recommendations on indoor, indoor air quality.

Can you guys talk about what that kind of means? And, well, first of all, maybe what is it and serene, maybe we go to you for this. What is this clean air and buildings challenge. And then what do you think it kind of means for the, of. [00:21:00]

[00:21:00] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah, I can summer in my head, you know, do you think through it um, I summarizes in two things with what it is.

For first it's a call to action for leaders, building owners, operators of all types of assets, whether it's school commercial buildings and what not to assess that indoor air quality and make ventilation and air filtration improvements to help keep occupancy. The second piece that I feel is a part of this whole thing is for building owners and operators, to have to acknowledge that as sponsor Beatty for the quality of the air, that occupants are explosive.

So those are the two takeaways I want to say from what, you know, what it's trying to communicate and the overarching thing. And that's also related to it's speech by, by them. Is that how can we into the future co-exist with. Pandemics seminars COVID in case something like that's happened [00:22:00] and not have to disrupt businesses and schools and whatnot, because it happens.

So let's prepare for a future based on what we've learned from this this event. Uh, So yeah, that's, that's how, how I fell at the end to the point about, and just, you know, just the, this is a us thing. It was interesting once. And this a announcement that came out. I actually, a friend in in Dubai reached out to me and said, did you see this?

And she works in the government there, and it actually sent away, you know, away for a shockwave. I don't know, to the entire world. I think because people are looking at what the us is doing and now they're questioning, oh, are we missing something? Should we have something like that? And then I read an article about in the UK referencing this insane something about actually the UK government.

[00:23:00] Funding efforts specifically for schools. So they're paying for air quality improvement and monitoring in schools, they're make some monitors for free kind of to the schools and they're taking, you know, funding that. So, um, different things that this is, you know, it's great that the us is doing it.

We're doing it to, you know, something more, you know, as well. So I think it, it really will affect the world, not just.

[00:23:26] James Dice: Yeah.

[00:23:27] Ben Myers: Ben, what are your thoughts? I mean, it

[00:23:28] James Dice: seems like the list of what you guys have done and then the list of what they're recommending is pretty similar. So when I read that and I was thinking about you coming on the show, I was like, well, like a lot of this spends already been, you know, down the road on.

[00:23:41] Ben Myers: I'm going to speak for all the epidemiologists on Twitter that specialize in where equality and say like, we should have been discussing that in April of 2020, not April of 2022. So for me, it's too little too late and it's, doesn't really. Change, [00:24:00] what leading organizations were doing and paying attention to, if you were reading ashtray releases and OSHA and CDC and reading between the lines and speaking with the right people you knew all of this much earlier.

So while I'm happy that something from the white house create shock waves and brings more attention to these very basic issues around indoor air quality and the prevention of the spread of infectious disease. I wish it hadn't taken so. Frankly. Yeah.

[00:24:28] James Dice: Yeah, for sure. So let's jump into your, your guys' work together.

[00:24:32] Ben Myers: The

[00:24:34] James Dice: we're going to talk about IQ and like the projects you guys are doing, but it sounds like you guys started working together with water. Can you talk a little bit about how

[00:24:42] Ben Myers: that came about Ben? Yeah, so we set a 30% water use reduction goal. Around the time I started in full-time sustainability here at 2015.

And I had always thought as a lead AP, someone worked on green buildings since [00:25:00] 2005, that water was used in toilets and faucets. And we weren't really focused on process water. And when I went down to DC around 20 16, 20 17, I began to learn about how much water we were losing from evaporation and our cooling towers.

So it was, it was 30 to 40% of our water consumption in certain buildings. And I worked closely with Jeff Garner and our engineering team, bill Atkinson, down in DC to, to learn about a technology they had adopted that helped them control the amount they blew down. The cooling tower. So the water becomes contaminated over time.

It builds up with electrical conductivity. And if you measure ISI and monitor ISTE, you can optimize how much blow down you do. And save what I learned was a very generous quantity of water. So, okay. That one, once I saw it, I mean, if one theme, I think I'm getting from everything [00:26:00] serene said so far is their adaptive capacity.

They see problems and they quickly. A method of solving it through connected sensors. And this was the example of a company that came up with a very innovative solution for us that had an immediate impact. And that was our, our first installation of cooling tower water optimization by controlling.

Got it. So they're basically

[00:26:23] James Dice: saying when, when the electric what'd you say electric

[00:26:27] Ben Myers: connectivity? Yeah. When the, when the connectivity, when the, the salts build up to a certain level, that's when you should blow down, but not before, but not at a regular

[00:26:36] James Dice: schedule. Like probably most other people do fascinating.

How much savings was that?

[00:26:42] Ben Myers: It was significant. I mean, today our water use we've met our 30% goal. So it was, I mean, it certainly saved around 10% at some of those buildings. We've had various building by building, depending on the ratio of process or consumption from, from faucets and fixtures [00:27:00]

[00:27:00] James Dice: and serene.

Do you have a lot of clients that sort of implement that? Oh, what I would call a water conservation measure.

[00:27:06] Serene Al-Momen: So definitely On the cooling tower montaging side, Boston properties was the first to do it that way in terms of approaching the water conservation issue. But definitely trend setter, based on that use case, actually some of the largest cooling power manufacturers learned about it and came to us and said, you mean, is this to be part of that?

Their solution as they're selling their cooling tower is because that's when big issue then. They have customers are asking for looking for solutions. And so they did help with that. That definitely was the first, the other water tight, you know, conservation measures of not as expensive that we are involved in.

So just simply monitoring water consumption of water meters in real time, things like that. But yeah, lots of farmers is going above and beyond for sure.

[00:27:59] James Dice: Hey [00:28:00] guys, just another quick note from our sponsor Nexus labs. And then we'll get back to the show. This episode is brought to you by nexus foundations, our introductory course on the smart buildings industry. If you're new to the industry, this course is for you. If you're an industry vet, but want to understand how technology is changing things.

This course is also for you. The alumni are raving about the content, which they say pulls it all together, and they also love getting to meet the other students on the weekly zoom calls and in the private chat room, you can find out more about the course@courses.nexus lab. Start online. All right, back to the interview

[00:28:34] Ben Myers: Trend-setters.

[00:28:37] James Dice: Moving into ICU. Can you talk about how, you know, you know, the general process of, you know, you said you started out with the Katara sensor on the train and then you've, you've come a long way since then to kind of scaling up since where's product.

Can you talk about that, that journey to kind of selecting a preferred vendor and what that

[00:28:56] Ben Myers: process. Right. So I was a sustainability leader with an [00:29:00] idea that this IQ sensing was going to become relevant. And then the pandemic struck and I was named to lead our health security task force. So then I had a lot more people to share that idea with that I was leading in addressing the pandemic and we formed an air and water quality working group that became an IAQ technology working group.

Because of the need to vet and evaluate technologies. And we were looking at everything from bipolar ionization, that needle point ionization to UVC treatment and really narrowed our focus to testing, monitoring. Ventilating and filtering air. Right. And if you could do those things well, we thought that's, what's going to endure beyond the pandemic.

Those are the, those are the practices that will absolutely endure. So I was thinking about air quality monitoring, and I happened to go on a long bike ride with Jim Whalen out into the suburban areas north of Boston, which was great. Break [00:30:00] from these health security meetings. And we started talking about air quality and we started talking about IQ and we wanted to set up a little lab where we started looking at different air quality sensors.

And that's what we did sitting next to a collection of three different sensors here. We've got sensors in our offices and we started learning about how to install what the limitations were. How to how we should think about structuring a schematic for air quality assurance as a, as a building operator owner that doesn't control all the tenant spaces.

What sensitive for better suited for induct applications versus in room applications and how we begin to build out a process of workflow with all of our engineers in the buildings to make the data. You had a great podcast with Katara and DLR awhile back, and I think it was something like more signal, less noise.

That was the first thing I was acutely aware of is how important it was that we get the signaling, right? So that the [00:31:00] engineers could make the data actionable. And that was a early focus of ours with our working group, which involves engineering and Jim Whalen our CTO. Very

[00:31:11] James Dice: cool. So, so Ben, what was the like the process for getting to selecting a vendor in the sea of noise?

I would call it of all the vendors out there.

[00:31:21] Ben Myers: Well, first of all, we wanted to find a solution that met our objectives and we had an idea that we want to do continue with. Monitoring of air quality in the systems that we control. So it was really important that we had a solution that we could scale across our portfolio, that we could install and deploy timely manner that would measure accurately supply and return from our base building systems as well as outside air.

And so we, we looked at. Well, I mean the airflow airflow. No, no, not air flow monitoring supply there. The return here, we did look at the air [00:32:00] flow monitoring stations in air flow. Monitoring stations are really complicated and then there's large questions on whether they're accurate. Once you install them atrocious to maintain then is cough really hard to meet.

So we, we decided to go with sensors. And developed a schematic, developed a plan and began interviewing. And we really, we wanted a company that was going to adapt with us. And since we had proven their capability to adapt with us through the years we've been working with them and we, we especially appreciated their focus on accuracy and the quality of the sensors and that that came across in every meeting that it was about data integrity.

Getting accurate measurements and replacing sensors if you aren't working. So they're very good about acknowledging that we will have some sensors that fail. And, and so we, we set up an arrangement where we were able to do a first traunch of buildings. [00:33:00] We have 500 sensors being installed now about 400, at least are in across 40 buildings and we're growing our deployment now.

As we speak. Okay. And,

[00:33:10] James Dice: and so I'm hearing like accuracy is focused on accuracy is really important. Focus on maintenance is really important. Are there any other attributes that you said these are the deal breakers among all the vendors out there? We have to have

[00:33:22] Ben Myers: this. Well, I think that the wireless connectivity was huge too.

The fact that we could install electrical receptacles and plug them in and with a, a wireless mesh network with gateways and relays that we knew worked already. And from our DC experience was huge because getting the data out of the buildings had to happen and we, and we couldn't do it cost prohibitively.

So we knew we had the technology that worked and functioned in our DC. That was sense where technology and layering on IQ sensors was something we knew we could do with our in-house labor. Got it.

[00:33:58] James Dice: So can you talk about what [00:34:00] that solution looked like? In terms of where did you measure things? Cause you guys only have control over, you know, amenities spaces, central areas, corridors typically.

Right. So how, how are you thinking about what to measure versus what not

[00:34:14] Ben Myers: to measure? Sure. So I would describe our program. Landlord air quality assurance. And we're looking at supply side and return side, a representative sample from floors in buildings, and then carrying that against outside air. And what that does is by knowing the quality outside air across the same variables find particulate, Fios seas, relative humidity, temperature, carbon dioxide.

And then seeing what the supply side looks like. You can, you can test the efficacy of your filtration, right? If outside PM gets high and it's lower across the filter is great, how much lower. And we set the threshold for that. And so we align our thresholds for all of these [00:35:00] indicators, all these variables with standards like well and reset and fit.

And for now we're calibrating to, let's say the most restrictive of those standards for each of those variables. And so we want to see, we want to know outside air supply air, and then return air what we're getting back from the tenant spaces in our buildings. And so we look at those same variables now outside air and return air are gonna look very different.

Right. And we were excited about monitoring these patterns and begin beginning to understand. More about what we can do to control carbon dioxide in particular, within tenant spaces and how we can tune ventilation from a prescriptive pay double your ventilation rate from 20 to 40 CFM per person to more of a performance standard where we're plot providing the right amount of ventilation to control contamination with CO2.

[00:35:51] James Dice: So cool. Certain, can you talk about your guys's sort of commitment to accuracy like Ben talked about and then the maintenance side of things. [00:36:00] It's one of the things I've been thinking about over the past two years as the sensors have. Proliferated for lack of a better term. So you know, my background as an energy engineer, we used to use CO2 sensors a lot, and we also used to use fault detection, software a lot.

And one of the, like the classic faults is that your CO2 sensor is not accurate. Right. So can you talk about like what it takes to be accurate at first and then maintain that accuracy over.

[00:36:30] Serene Al-Momen: Yeah. So I, to us, the commitment to accuracy comes from the fact that we first see ourselves as a data company versus an IAQ company.

And. We just know that the garbage in garbage out. And so from a data, if we're just trying to give you data that answers your business questions, it better be good. And so that's kind of the core of why it's so important to us. Now, when we [00:37:00] talk about specifically, IAQ, what's the reason of having IEQ monitored.

You know, that I was talking to Dr. Mark Hernandez of university of Colorado, Boulder, that does a lot of work and on you type data and filtration, he likes to use the word cause from Reagan, I think trust, but verify. And so there there's a lot of investment that on like Ben was mentioning, improving air quality in.

We know that these, you know, just these things, these measures we'll work with. How do you verify that? And so if you're trying to answer that question, oh, I want to verify that these are working. Then again, the data needs to be accurate to answer those questions. So there are very important reasons for the data to be accurate.

Well, how do we, how do we do that? First of all one of our core principles is that when we select sensors, we go to the source of innovation. So. Integrating a particulate matter [00:38:00] sensor we look at who is innovating in that space, which manufacturer is innovating and we'd go to that source. Can we get their sensor?

So we try to avoid any that placated counterfeit type sensors, you know, and manufacturers, we like to work with. With the main men innovators. So that's one way we ensure accuracy. The second way we do comes back to our plug and pay universal sensor interface. We actually have 43 patents on that whole concept and the idea behind we, and we use that strength of the technology to rev on sensors very quickly.

'cause today. I can have a seat. I could go to the source of innovators for the CEO to RPM, and they would have that sensor, but specific with the IQ. You know, since the manufacturing world they're improving so much rapidly, very [00:39:00] quickly. So in a matter of months we see new campuses and we have a CO2 sensor.

They use better technology. And so what do we do is we're always looking out for those. And once there's a new version of the sensor we've used is out from the labs, we just switched it off and we can do it very quickly, given that universal, since they have their face, you know, innovation or IP that we have.

So those are the two ways we just ensure the accuracy sensor that we have. And I think, yeah, definitely important.

[00:39:31] James Dice: Cool. Yeah. Last week I wrote this newsletter called abstraction traction, which we'll put in the show notes and I would, I would include what you guys do as a sort of abstraction that's needed in the industry.

Like everyone can't figure out who has the best sense of. At all times forever. Right? So we need people like you guys to really nerd out on each different type of sensor and sort of extract the way that complexity. And I think that needs to happen more and more and more. Very cool. So Ben, you [00:40:00] talked about standards.

Can you talk about the journey. You know, you've mentioned, well, UL fit well so far. Can you talk about the, the, the journey there? And it sounds like some of them are they're helpful for different stages. And it sounds like you guys have also created your own standards. So can you talk about how, how that whole.

[00:40:18] Ben Myers: Sure we haven't publicly released our standard, but I'll give you a preview and okay. It's you heard it here first. Yeah. Yeah. And I, I just going back to what we were just talking about. There are a lot of talented people in the ICU space that we met with and we, and there were also a lot of great hardware solutions.

I think what we noticed. In our interview in a sense, whereas that they were, they really own their hardware solution and had demonstrated the capacity and the ability to work with our team members. And we are very hands-on as an organization and they pledged to work hands-on with us. It didn't feel like a sale.

It was more of a we're going to go on this journey together. And I really think that was what differentiated [00:41:00] them from the other very talented people we met with. So our standard. Based on first and foremost, reset. Not because we want to do it reset. Does we can't vary for a while. This is way too smart for us to deal his ideas, but we, we want to be able to position our buildings as reset, ready so that we can go forward and achieve a reset level certification.

At certain properties at the right time. And so first we want to understand what are these sensors telling us. But we absolutely want to be positioned in a manner that we can meet a reset certification or we could meet a well building certification. For the core shell, all of this is core shell, or we can eat well, we meet and exceed the Fitwell standard.

And so as all these standards and recommendations, UL now has a recommended recommendation for ICU monitoring that they've released all of these standards. We want to make sure that we're aligned. And it's, it's almost like [00:42:00] future-proofing more IAQ certification. Which I think is coming down the line, we're also doing manual testing.

As I mentioned twice a year, this is another layer of assurance that in real time, moving from more of like a snapshot to an analog view, it's digital, but say analog of what's going on through, through the entire year. And so if there are shocks or, you know, spikes that can be addressed with. And alerting is another thing we're working through now, how do you alert at the proper intervals for the right things to avoid creating noise?

Yeah. You read my

[00:42:36] James Dice: mind. That was where I wanted to ask you next. But first on the standards, the. Can you talk about in the context of what you guys are doing with the supply return outside air monitoring, how that leads into the

[00:42:48] Ben Myers: standard you've created? Yeah, sure. So the most important for the standards is our supply air and return air outside air is really just about efficacy [00:43:00] of the filtration so we can see how the filters are working and then the supply side, rather than mixing.

Bringing down the CO2 concentration we're seeing in the return or any other contaminants we're seeing the return. So we want to make sure we're getting enough outside air mixing to return the CO2 concentration as close to ambient as possible before supplying the air back into the tenant spaces. So the, the, the key component we're looking at for that.

The the key sensors we're looking at for the standard as a supplier sensors, what's going into tenant spaces. Are we below a threshold of say 750 parts per million carbon dioxide concentration? So there's a, there's a metric for each one of the variables, if you will. That, that is a threshold not to exceed.

So we're doing very standard threshold analysis through the sense where.

[00:43:57] James Dice: Got it. And then can you guys, [00:44:00] I want to go, you answered this first, Ben, and then I want to go to be serene to hear how you think about this, but obviously at some point the air and the space is not going to meet your standards. So like, what do you do after that?

You mentioned alerting I I've worked with some folks on the analytics side to think about, okay, what are the right, you know, FDD rules that need to be written? Like, what are the, the action items that need to happen after this happens? Right? Because ideally you're getting to a root cause. What's the cause of that fault.

What's the cause of that overage or a reason you're not meeting the standard. So how are you thinking about when that happens and how have you guys kind of operationalized.

[00:44:37] Ben Myers: It's the same as it should be the same as troubleshooting a hot or cold call. We go, we, we seek out the deficiency. Is there a damper that's not opening and closing properly?

Is there a fan that's not operating properly? Has something failed in the system? And that's what we're uniquely good at doing as an active manager of our properties, right? So we're not, we're not empowering a third party manager to do this work. We're doing it [00:45:00] ourselves. And so we, we really want to use it like a hot and cold call.

It's a deficiency that gets addressed in real. If, and when we see an alert, so that that's the intent. And so when, when we return when, when we have more heavily occupied buildings, which is happening right now, which is great we'll probably have a lot more to say about, you know, what, if anything, we we've saw as patterns.

And I think that's the exciting part is how we use this data to operate our buildings better because operational excellence and fault detection is clearly like where this goes.

[00:45:34] James Dice: Yeah, totally serene. And how are you thinking about that side of things?

[00:45:38] Serene Al-Momen: So a couple of things, one of the things we, we continuously try to introduce is more consultative data.

We call them. You know, the fancy word is virtual sensors. So we, we created calculate the data from the individual sensor data that gives you a little bit more of an idea of what the issues that you may want to look at. [00:46:00] So, as an example of that, we have this ventilation score, it takes into account particulate matter levels, three, two levels, and the sea levels are getting compact levels and that rated.

Over time that if we look at the shape and also this how smooth it is, we can say that your ventilation is performing well or not. So we need to cut that when one data points versus, oh, the CO2 levels on the PNL, like individual sensor, it's it gives you a little bit more of an idea of what it's a ventilation issue.

We did the same thing. For example, it creates a mold index. So if that is, you know, has, this is in that bad, you know, it was a bad threshold or, or whatnot. We know that, you know, you may be having that type of issue versus looking at just humidity levels individually. And particularly it doesn't necessarily always tell you the full picture of where can you go and troubleshoot.

So things like that have some, one way [00:47:00] we are helping our clients that bet they're troubleshooting. The second piece, which is back to giving back which is something very personal to me is that as we talk to these leaders like Ben and others in the industry and Weaver, and we like to be very close to our customers and learn about different ways, they are responding to some of the issues because we're, we're still at the very early stages of understanding the entire, you know, air quality and air quality improvements for sensors.

We want to capture that information and create guide guidelines or some, you know, she keeps, you know, someone else had this issue. How do we cross pollinate and help, you know, just yeah. Shortcut some of the guessing of what to do. So those are the two, two ways we were trying to help.

[00:47:57] James Dice: More and more people come back to the office. I think the last thing. [00:48:00] So you and I last summer, when we did our episode, talked about how you're kind of managing that IQ energy nexus, for lack of a better term more IQ equals more energy. I would, I would imagine that as more people come back to the space, more people more CO2 is created, more ventilation needs to happen.

So then therefore energy use would go up. How are you thinking about that today versus. Last summer. Any, any changes on

[00:48:24] Ben Myers: how you're thinking about that? Yeah, I am concerned about the impact of increased ventilation on air quality. I think one of the oxygen and energy performance, I think one of the. One of the mitigating factors is that we have heat recovery and a lot of our buildings, that's going to help take the curse out of that at least through the winter months.

And, and in some cases in the summer. But I do think we're seeing a rebound. I mean, we're, we're still operating at an energy tensity 20% below baseline for this time of the year. [00:49:00] And we're watching it closely. We're getting reports from hatch data. Every week I get a variance report that tells me how buildings are trending against the pre COVID baseline.

And we're looking for pops. All right. And then we'll drill into where we see large escalation. And figure out what's going on. So it is a concern remains a concern you know, increased energy use because tenants are coming back to work is a champagne problem. In my view, we want people to be enjoying the space.

We want to have our tenants back. We want to welcome them and we want them to feel it's safe. So that's, that's our primary objective at the moment. Yeah. I

[00:49:37] James Dice: was just going to ask you, and maybe that answers this question, but how do you like. Think about that problem, right? Because you know, on one hand they're saying we demand you to be at, or can't remember what your guys' is.

Carbon target is. On the other hand, we demand, you know, a great experience when our customers come to the office.

[00:49:57] Ben Myers: I think I don't want to. [00:50:00] Be disrespectful of investors, but it's not a key priority for them. Just like it's not a key priority for policy makers in our cities. They're not really concerned about that.

They want decarbonisation to occur and their operating partners are the ones that figure it out there. I think the primary object objective for theirs is to demonstrate that they're the companies in which they're investing are. Progress on climate action and a story about slowed climate action because of ventilation is not, not a story people want to talk about.

It's not just investors. I think it's everybody.

[00:50:36] James Dice: Well, damn it. We talk about it on this podcast. Uh, Well this has been so much fun. Thank you both for telling the stories about real world real world work going on. And the buildings. Can we close out with some carve-outs? So what, what book, movie, TV show podcasts, you know, any other thing you want to share?

Would you recommend people check out? Let's start with [00:51:00] you. Serene.

[00:51:00] Serene Al-Momen: Uh, Yeah, I did have to think about it, you know, just does so much. The company keeps me busy, but I do, I was just thinking, it was like, what are the things I do outside of work? And I think just the areas that I'm interested in, a lot of things that I used to start out.

So that goes back to actually my work, you know, as an adjunct professor. So I like this podcast, a couple of them How I built this by a MPS guide, as well as a great one. And the other one is typed up therapy, which is amazing to combine you know, reels situations that set up front, those go through and them how to deal with it, you know, burnout and.

And things like that. So that's the one I do a lot of food and health paid, you know, healthy food also stuff. You know, there's a couple of things there, a book called just the good stuff. Just nice recipes of things. We really crave like brownies or things like that that [00:52:00] are healthy or maintain a healthier way.

So that's a big passion of mine. And then a big other areas related to personal development and also leadership. So reading things like, you know, essays that related to the hero's journey by Joseph Campbell adult development theory by Robert Keegan, one of the Harvard university of education and professors, you know, all of the stages and how do you improve to a life and mature through these different five stages of development and things like that, I think will be really insightful.

For people. So I hope that's helpful. So this are a few things like.

[00:52:41] James Dice: I'd love for you to send me the, the top essay on the hero's journey. Put that in the show notes, but what's your favorite one? Send me that. I love that list. That's that's really fun. Thank you for sharing that. What

[00:52:53] Ben Myers: about you, Ben? I had no way to get so comprehensive, but that, that is, I got some of those written down.

[00:53:00] We. I, I love podcasts. I love yours, James. It's frequently on my pod role. I think David Roberts, the volts podcasts, he's doing some really good and important work around decarbonization and high voltage transmission and all the change that needs to occur. I leave his podcast inspired and also you know, concerned about how much we have left to do, and then like many.

Real estate executives in the office business, I share a guilty pleasure of, we crashed the Jared Leto interpretation is absolutely. Magnificent. I just started watching that or the region.

Amazing. So

[00:53:46] James Dice: that's great. All right. So mine is, I've been sharing books recently and believe it or not, I just can't, I haven't finished the ones that I've already talked about on past episodes on my books. I want to share my favorite band. [00:54:00] So I listened to this band. Probably, I think I'm in the top 0.5% of all Spotify listeners for this band, some way I have to be like in their top fan list.

I've seen him three times. I've seen him at red rocks last year. It's called Krung Ben. Yeah, they're they're based in Austin, Texas. It's a trio. I'd recommend anyone go check it out. They have great YouTube videos and. But I'd recommend their, their album. It's called the universe, smiles upon you, which I love that name as well.

So everyone is welcome. I'm just going to say, you're welcome. Now, if you've never heard of crunk, Ben, I'm giving you that gift

[00:54:39] Ben Myers: and you heard the the Rishi K Shareway song Exploder. No. Oh, you have to listen to that. It's incredible. They break down. So we won't forget one of their great songs and how to route it and all the stages absolutely.

Must listen to that. And then, yeah, Mordecai is one of the greatest albums with all the time. That's a [00:55:00] constant in our house using band.

[00:55:04] James Dice: I think we just got closer than we already were it been a little bit. But off the checkout that song Exploder, I didn't know that existed and you just gotta make my walk back to my Airbnb all that much better.

So thank you both for coming on. The show is a super fun.

[00:55:22] James Dice: All right friends, thanks for listening to this episode of the Nexus Podcast. For more episodes like this and to get the weekly Nexus Newsletter, which by the way, readers have said is the best way to stay up to date on the future of the smart building industry, please subscribe at nexuslabs.online. You can find the show notes for this conversation there as well. Have a great day.