Healthy Indoor Environment

The City of Los Angeles (LA) Mayor’s Office of International Affairs assigned a team of seven students to analyze types of indoor air quality and energy efficiency solutions that can be supported by city programs with strong ROI and effective reduction of pollutants and emissions. Julia Eubanks ’22, Oli Vorster ’22, and Nancy Zhou ’22 represented Occidental College and reported to the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office for International Affairs.

Indoor air quality (IAQ) is an important health factor that impacts everyone, every day. This blog post presents the research and findings of a student team tasked with producing recommendations to improve indoor air quality in Los Angeles

Where and how are cities effectively integrating decarbonization retrofits and indoor air quality incentive programs? How can Los Angeles learn from and adapt these programs for use in municipal, commercial, and residential buildings? These research questions led to best practices in seven global cities, focusing on increasing indoor-air regulation, bolstering retrofit incentive programs, establishing finance schemes for retrofits that include energy contracts between public authorities and private energy companies, encouraging increased monitoring in areas with vulnerable populations like schools and EJ communities, and finally through community outreach to educate folks on the health dangers of poor indoor air quality.

For ten weeks in the summer of 2020, the City of Los Angeles, through the Office of the Chief Sustainability Officer, collaborated with seven students from Occidental College, UCLA, Pomona College, and the Thunderbird School of Management at Arizona State University. The team was led by Jarod Majeika, a recent graduate of USC.

Case Study Research

Research began with data collection on global cities with policies or programs that addressed both decarbonization and indoor air quality. After coming up with a handful of examples, the cities were organized into a matrix to differentiate where and what type of intervention was of interest. This matrix categorized these programs into three areas of built design: residential, commercial, and municipal. Within these areas, data was sorted into themes such as residential cooking, air-quality monitoring, and built materials. Those cities with programs most applicable to implementation in Los Angeles were selected, and the team developed policy proposals from these global best practices.










Built Materials


Boston: E+ Building

Projects (Boston Planning











Indoor Cooking + Appliances




Beijing: Machinery  and emissions standards for CO2 reduction in catering industry







Paris: IAQ monitoring in public schools (partnership with

Bloomberg Philanthropies)

(a selected piece of the team’s research database)

The cities chosen include Boston, Beijing, London, Paris, Vancouver, Tokyo, Seoul, and San Francisco. The team interviewed stakeholders, academics, city-planners, and technology companies knowledgeable about the development and implementation of IAQ technologies and policy. No city has realized a holistic indoor air quality improvement program that can be transplanted in its entirety to Los Angeles. But many cities have piloted, launched, and re-launched programs from which successful features can be drawn.


Global city programming ranged from large scale initiatives such as city partnerships with utility companies and neighborhood councils, to more technical schemes, such as sliding pay scales or the use of low-interest loans. Competition models were also a popular approach to encourage program buy-in and innovative building design. Improving city-wide electrification was found to be one of the most effective methods to both decarbonize energy-use and improve air quality. The following are examples of municipal programs deemed relevant to potential IAQ and decarbonization policy and programming in Los Angeles.

Electrifying Cooking


Coal and gas cooking are a major source of indoor air pollution. Beijing implemented emissions standards on commercial and residential cooking machinery and established an information database regarding restaurant records of smoke emissions and machinery that is updated on a monthly basis. With the comprehensive control measures and municipal regulations, Beijing’s overall PM2.5 emissions fell 14.3 percent in the first  11  months  of  2019. In Los Angeles, a single cooking session with gas can lower indoor air quality to a level worse than the outdoor air quality of highly polluted areas of LA (CARB Residential  Cooking  Exposure  Study). Electric cooktops are a healthy alternative to coal or gas cooking stoves. Incentive programs to make these upgrades more affordable are essential to scale broad-based adoption of electric cooktops.


Heating and Cooling


Ensuring that electrified heat pump installation is the standard for both retrofits and new construction is critical. Heat pumps can heat and cool houses up to 3-5x more efficiently (UCLA Dr. Eric Fournier, Interview), than HVAC and space heating systems. In London the Better Boilers program provides free home efficiency and retrofit assessments for the public. (“Better Boilers - FAQs”). London used a sliding payment scale for its boiler replacement scheme based on socioeconomic thresholds. If recipients are on qualifying benefits (e.g pension credit, child tax credit) the boiler replacement is free. If individuals do not qualify for benefits they may receive a reduction in pricing instead. Los Angeles could adopt a similar approach through developing a payment system for rebate programs based on household income, which would help improve the accessibility of city programming benefits.

Indoor Air Quality Monitoring


In order to comply with new national policy requiring IAQ-monitoring in municipal buildings hosting vulnerable populations, the city of Paris collaborated with Bloomberg Philanthropies to fund IAQ monitoring devices in nurseries and elementary schools across Paris. Although there are no regulated standards in Los Angeles for IAQ monitoring, South Coast Air Quality Management District (SC-AQMD) has programming in collaboration with the LA Public Library  focused on educating people about IAQ and helping to sponsor the implementation of IAQ monitoring systems. Sensor technology for indoor air quality monitoring is quickly becoming cheaper and more accurate. Los Angeles should collaborate with emerging IAQ-monitoring technology providers in order to make indoor air quality monitoring widely accessible to everyone.



Based on the above findings on municipal programming, the team offered the following summary recommendations for IAQ and decarbonization work specific to Los Angeles.

1.    Explore zero carbon building retrofit targets in the Mayor’s Green New Deal & expand Los Angeles City Mandatory Retrofit Ordinance to include sustainability certification benchmarks, such as LEED gold certification requirements

2.    Partner with LAUSD and private contractors for IAQ monitoring, filtration technology, & data collection in schools

3.    Include sliding pay scale for LADWP’s Residential Energy Efficiency Rebate Program based on income to increase kitchen appliance and HVAC system accessibility for lower income Angelenos

4.    Collaborate with current commercial & business sector awards programs, such as Los Angeles Business Awards, Southern California Institute of Architecture Green District Competition, and the L.A. Area Chamber’s Small Business program, to include more IAQ and sustainability benchmarks

5.    Partner with local credit unions to offer low- and no-interest loans to homeowners & renters for electrification


Why is this research important?

Poor IAQ threatens the short-term and long-term health of all Angelenos. In 2019 alone, Los Angeles County experienced 57 days of unhealthy air for sensitive groups, and 27 days of unhealthy or very unhealthy air for the general population (Air Quality Days, EPA). Recent research shows that low-income African American and Latinx households experience a greater energy burden than any other racial or ethnic group in the city (Freddie Mac, NRDC). Decarbonization policies that sufficiently integrate housing, health, and sustainability in tackling the complexities of the built environment will create the cost-efficient and equitable solutions needed in our climate emergency while simultaneously addressing health problems caused by poor IAQ.


Team Members
Julia Eubanks, Oli Vorster, and Nancy Zhou Occidental College,
Virginia Paschal Pomona College,
Eric Miller Arizona State University 
Jarod Majeika University of Southern California 

Contact the John Parke Young Initiative on the Global Political Economy
Johnson Hall

The McKinnon Center for Global Affairs