Fresh air - what is it?

3rd of January 2023
Fresh air - what is it?
Fresh air - what is it?

Is it a bracing sea breeze? Is it a pleasantly-scented building? Or does it refer to an allergen-free environment? ECJ asks companies what the term “fresh air” means to them and their customers – and finds out how their products and systems freshen the air of publicly-used facilities.

Air freshening systems have become a common feature of public buildings worldwide, particularly in facilities such as luxury hotels and upmarket spas. But what does the term ‘fresh air’ actually mean?

The dictionary definition is “the air outside as opposed to in a room or another enclosed space”. So presumably, a good air freshening system should be able to mimic the scents and quality levels one would experience outdoors.

But how fresh is the air outside? Air quality is now a global issue with an estimated seven million people dying each year from indoor or outdoor air pollution. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes it as the biggest environmental threat to human health and estimates that 99 per cent of the world’s population lives in locations that fail to meet WHO clean air thresholds.

This situation can be attributed to a number of factors such as the burning of fossil fuels, forest fires, waste incineration and other industrial practices. So, does this mean we have steadily managed to ruin the quality of our air over the years through industrialisation?

Whether or not this is the case, things were little better in the mid-1850s when the therapeutic effects of fresh air first began to be appreciated. Nineteenth century hospitals and convalescent homes started encouraging patients to spend more time outdoors to help them to recuperate from infectious diseases and pulmonary conditions.

This was particularly the case in London: but England’s capital at the time smelt chiefly of horse manure and the air was thick with coal fumes and industrial emissions. So Victorian ‘fresh air’ was unlikely to have had an entirely positive effect on patients.

Today’s air freshening companies have a tough brief. The role of their products is to remove bad smells from the air and introduce new aromas in their place – preferably ones that people might associate with cleanliness and freshness. This is why outdoor scents such as pine,
citrus and floral options are so popular, along with the aromas of baby powder and clean linen.

But the term ‘fresh air’ can have different definitions depending on the environment in question according to Vectair’s vice-president of marketing Chelsey Schwartz. ”Fresh air can mean anything from air that has been cleansed or filtered, to an atmosphere where all malodours have been neutralised and where a pleasant fragrance is offered in their place,” she said. “For example, a hospital will have different requirements of fresh air to those of a hotel because each facility will have a unique set of visitors with different expectations.”

The use of a fragrance is a critical element in communicating to visitors that a building is clean, according to Schwartz. “In today’s world it is important to reinforce cleanliness in your facility via all the senses,” she said.  “One of the most effective ways of doing this is by leveraging fragrance to advertise your cleaning practices.”

Neutralise odours

She says a good air freshener should be able to eliminate malodours while also leaving behind a fresh scent. “It is important that such products are not designed to mask odours alone, but to neutralise them and use the created fragrance to communicate the cleanliness of the facility,” she said.

Vectair’s latest product is Vibe Pro which incorporates patented Vibrating Mesh Technology. This is said to deliver an ultra-fine fragrance mist that lasts longer than a traditional aerosol.

The term ‘fresh air’ refers to the sensation of olfactory freshness that certain spaces can provide, explains Prodifa’s commercial export manager Séverine Bossaert. “We associate fresh air with a seaside stroll or with a walk in the forest,” she said. “However, it is important to note that forests contain a high concentration of volatile organic compounds, or particles suspended in the air. But this doesn’t mean the particles in question are necessarily harmful to the body.”

Prodifa aims to strike a happy medium when developing its own fragrances. “We aim to incorporate natural products while also coming as close as possible to zero allergens,” she said. “The objective is to find ‘fresh air’ in the places where we live and work.”

According to Bossaert, the term can also be synonymous with an absence of bad smells. “A room that smells bad is often the result of an accumulation of bacteria linked to a lack of hygiene,” she said. “Products such as odour destroyers and perfume diffusers will mask this issue, but the source of the bad smell also needs to be addressed. At Prodifa we can treat a malodour and freshen the air, but it is also essential to treat the source of the odour to avoid its return.”

She says the presence of an olfactory signature is essential. “It speaks to the user’s subconscious and tells them that cleaning has been carried out and that the facility smells fresh as a result,” she said. “And a scented atmosphere often makes the environment seem more pleasant
and welcoming.

“But whatever people’s perceptions, I don’t think the air can be qualified as fresh simply because a pleasant perfume has been used.”

Prodifa offers a range of floor cleaners that incorporate a fragrance, and Bossaert believes these play an important role in the overall impression of a facility. “We often notice that companies opting for fragrance-free cleaning products choose to complete their cleaning regime with either a manual or automatic air freshening system to improves people’s perception of the environment,” she said.

According to Bossaert, air fresheners are not intended to be used to neutralise allergens or bacteria. “Only the cleaning or filtration of the ambient air will meet this need,” she said. “On the other hand, an air freshener can instantly stop an odour problem while the source of the smell is being  addressed, and this is particularly useful in a professional environment.”

She believes it is essential for a deodorising product to also offer a fragrant action. “Depending on the need to be addressed and the premises concerned this perfume could be fresh, discreet, powerful, fruity, sweet - or even close to the body’s own perfume,” she said.

Prodifa offers a wide range of air fresheners and room fragrances designed to create pleasant scents while also incorporating sustainability features such as reusable cartridges and recyclable containers.
According to Bossaert it is impossible to come up with a product that is capable of eliminating malodours and creating a fresh scent while also removing allergens. “The only way to completely remove allergens is by continuously ventilating or filtering the air in the room,” she said.

One organisation that aims to achieve this is Rock Capital. The company has come up with the “immune office” concept which uses air sterilisers in conjunction with ultraviolet radiation to filter disease particles from the air and kill them with the aid of UV-C light.

Healthier workplaces

Multiple heat exchangers are installed in the ventilation systems of immune offices to heat and cool the air as required. And dehumidifiers are employed to reduce the germ load and increase the comfort of office workers.

Rock Capital’s asset management managing director Andreas Wissmeier claims there is a growing demand for healthier office environments as a result of the global pandemic. “Even before the advent of Covid-19 it was clear that absenteeism tended to increase during periods of colds and flu, and that productivity decreased as a result,” he said.

“But throughout the pandemic it was noticed that relatively few employees were absent during the 2020/2021 flu season either because people were working from home or because they were wearing masks when they came into the office.”

The company plans to open its first immune office in Aschheim, Germany, in 2023 and among its first tenants will be global hygiene company Essity. The office building will be equipped with high-tech ventilation and hygiene concepts, UV-C air sterilisation units, self-opening doors and contamination-free heat recovery. There will also be green atriums, roof terraces, yoga areas, a concierge service and on-site sports facilities to further improve the healthy culture.

“The overall concept of the new office development convinced us that we can create working worlds that inspire our employees and create space for creativity,” said Essity board member in Munich Volker Zöller.

Rock Capital’s Wissmeier believes that healthy office spaces with clean air will be the next big thing. “According to a survey in which we polled 80 commercial estate marketers, 74 per cent said companies would like to lease healthy office spaces for their employees in the future,” he said. “And 90 per cent of respondents said they believed the needs of office seekers have changed as a result of the pandemic. This shows that demand for immune offices will only increase.”


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