Environmental Management Strategies For Built Environments

Dr. Michael A. Berry


Management is an organized system of making decisions and taking control. Management is the processes and routines we use to keep order and accomplish things worthwhile. Environmental management is the process of keeping things in their proper place, and in proper relationship to other things.

Environmental management is a necessary condition for human existence. It is an essential ingredient for the “quality of life.” How we live and exist in the natural and built environments depends on how we manage conditions.

Management is necessary because environments are naturally disordered and complex. If left by themselves, environments will become disordered. In fact, it is one of the fundamental laws of nature that all things seek disorder. Matter goes to energy and energy goes to matter. If not maintained constantly, an organized space heads toward chaos. Entropy is the measurement of disorder. It is inevitable that ordered spaces become disordered. This process is explained by some basic principles of physics.

Another way to view environmental management is to consider it as a form of health insurance.

Environmental management is the process we use to reduce risk and keep harmful substances away from humans or down to levels that will not cause harm. We manage risk in the financial world through insurance. Environmental management is too a form of insurance. In the indoor environment, the primary goal of environmental management is to reduce exposures of people and materials to harmful conditions and substances.

Previously, environmental management has been applied largely to maintaining or restoring the quality of the ambient or natural environment. Now we will extend environmental management practice and apply contemporary principles to built environments as well. Risk management is most effective in the environments over which we have the most control. We have most control over the built environment. These are also the environments in which we have the most exposure and likelihood of adverse effects. We have decreasing control and exposure as we move into the local, regional and global environments.

There are five basic methods we can use to keep pollution to any desirable safe risk level depending on what we are willing to pay. They are 1) source management, which includes source removal or source modification; 2) activity management; 3) design intervention and remedial actions; 4) diluTion; and 5) cleaning to include personal hygiene, maintenance, and restoration.


Source Management 

Every pollutant comes from somewhere; every pollutant has a source. If you get rid of the source, you will never have to worry about the pollutant. We might think of this as the first law of messes, “If you don’t make a mess, you won’t have to clean it up!” Pollutants are most effectively controlled at their source. Once a pollutant is in the environment, it is harder to track down and return to its proper place. Much more energy is expended in controlling pollutants that have gotten away from their sources than is spent keeping them there. Therefore, it is important to investigate all options for controlling pollution at the source. For example, we might be able to eliminate the source altogether. Or we might be able to alter the source so that it will stop polluting or stop emitting a specific pollutant. Or we might be able to capture the pollutant at the source so it cannot get loose into the environment.

Source Removal

The ideal, permanent way to eliminate pollution is to eliminate its source. Unfortunately, everything in the environment is a source of something. If that “something” is unwanted, it is by definition a pollutant. Obviously, we cannot remove all sources. That is too impractical or too expensive. As an environmental management option, source removal makes a lot of sense when the pollutants from the source cause serious harm or damage to the environment or to humans. For example, suppose your main source of heat at home is an old wood-burning stove. It leaks and emits particulate matter inside the house. This particulate matter makes breathing difficult for an elderly person. Previous repairs to the leak have not lasted. What’s your solution? Replace your old stove with a better- built one. As another example, imagine you own a motel. You allow smoking anywhere. Lately, more and more nonsmoking guests have complained. They detest spending the night in a room where they can smell stale smoke from tobacco products. You could try to mask the smell with a deodorant or remove the smell with air-cleaners. But both of these ideas are expensive. What is an effective solution? Disallow smoking and thereby remove the source of environmental tobacco smoke.

Source Modification 

Sometimes it is not feasible to remove a source. We need or like its function. But the source pollutes. What do we do then? We change it. As an example, the automobile has become essential to modern life. We can scarcely imagine daily life without it. But for decades, it was designed with no regard to its impact on the outdoor environment. But with the energy crisis of the early l970s and increasing deterioration of air in urban and suburban areas, automobile manufacturers introduced major modifications. They redesigned by shrinking car sizes to reduce fuel use, and they modified fuel systems by adding emissions controls. Similarly, in the indoor environment, we can redesign or modify the source so that we can keep on using them while they will pollute less.

Source Control 

We can control a polluting source by adding a mechanical device to it that will capture the pollutant at the source before it can be emitted to the environment. Source control is a “technological fix” designed to manage emissions at the source. The source is in no way removed from the environment or modified. Source control is so common that we might not even think of things around us as being in that category of environmental management. For example, the lint screen on a dryer and the catalyst converter found on the tail pipe of the automobile are mechanical devices or source controls that effectively reduce emissions.

Polluted air in and about hospitals can be the source of noxious odors, toxic chemicals, viruses or bacteria that can cause serious reactions in sensitive and sick persons. It can be a source of deadly disease for patients with upper respiratory disease, newborns, and individuals undergoing surgery. Consider an operating room. We like to have these as free of pollution at all times as possible. We control dirty air, oft en a source of infection, through a system of filtration, air cleaning, and ventilation. Source control is an effective means of managing pollution so long as the control technology does not break down. When it fails, pollution levels in the environment will rise. Moreover, the expense of this technology will vary, depending on what is being fixed. Providing smokestack controls for large industry can run into millions per plant. Controlling cooking wastes in the kitchen with a garbage disposal and a waste disposal bag is very affordable.

Activity Management

Other techniques for keeping pollution out of the environment, especially out of the built environment, are activity management, design intervention, and remedial action. In some cases, these approaches are refinements of source removal and source modification. However, when we think of these techniques, we should think of them in terms of how the built environment is designed, what activities we allow to go on in the built environment, and what we can do to keep pollutant levels down in the built environment when we find a problem. Entropy is a measure of how much a system has become disordered.  

Entropy of a single or isolated system always increases. When two systems are joined together, there is even more disorder. The entropy of any two systems combined is greater than the total entropy of both separate systems. In mathematical terms, entropy can be expressed as a formula E = n log n, where n is the number of things or events in a space. What this model describes is the following: If we have no activity or no elements in an environment, we have no disorder. If we have only one activity or element in an environmental space there is no interaction and we have no disorder. (e.g., E = 0 log 0 = 0 or E = 1 log 1 = 0). When we have two or three activities going on in an environment, interactions occur and we create disorder. If we have 50 things going on in the same environment we have high disorder. Th is higher disorder is multiplied far beyond direct proportion as the number of events and activities grow.

For example:
E = 2 log 2 = 0.6
E = 3 log 3 = 1.43
E = 50 log 50 = 84.9

The more things and activities we have going and the more variety we have in a space, the more complexity we have and the more disorder we have. This is called the law of requisite variety. The point of all this is simple. The more entropy we have — that is, the more disorder we have in an environment — the more management we need. Put in terms of environmental management, the more activity we have in an environment, the more cleaning and maintenance we need.

The need for order in the environment becomes clearer to us every day, especially as populations in the built environment increase. A city of 20,000 people requires less sanitary infrastructure than a city of 500,000 people. A house with a family of four needs more cleaning than a house with a family of two. An office of 500 white-collar workers needs more attention than an office of 20 workers. Schools need cleaning more oft en during the school year than the summer months. Gyms on practice days need less attention than gyms on game days when the bleachers are packed. If we accept the theoretical basis for order and disorder, we cannot fail to recognize that a healthy indoor environment depends on a management strategy that incorporates effective cleaning, maintenance and restoration.

Environmental management is the energy necessary to maintain order. The purpose of environmental management — especially cleaning, maintenance, and restoration — is to ensure that things stay in their proper place so that life continues, as it should, in a healthy fashion. When we order an environment or bring order back to it, we are managing it.

Activity management is the process of ensuring that a building is used for the activities it was built to accommodate. Every built environment is designed for a specific human activity. Homes, office buildings, laboratories, manufacturing plants, schools, hospitals, churches, warehouses, and barns are designed for specific and different activities. The activities that go on in each of these special environments generate different pollutants and pollutant concentrations. In most cases, built environments are designed to deal with their usual activities and resulting byproducts. However, if we perform an activity in an environment that it was not designed for, we can create pollution levels possibly harmful to health. For example, using large amounts of chemicals in a laboratory may be fully acceptable. The lab will probably have adequate ventilation and disposal systems for them. Using the same chemicals in a home may present serious hazards and risks. Similarly, office space is safe for some activities and not others. It is usually designed for people, desks, paper storage, and phones. If we start manufacturing things in an office, cooking and eating at our desks, or introducing products that emit excessive amounts of chemicals, we can create conditions of pollution that the building was never designed to accommodate. 

We often find that contaminated buildings are being used for purposes other than those they were originally constructed for. The solution for managing this kind of pollution problem is to control the activities that go on in the building. Consider solutions for inappropriate activities. You manage an office building where office workers frequently eat at their desks over carpet that can be cleaned only once or twice a year. In spite of thorough and regular vacuuming, the carpet is unsightly and in places odorous. If a certain type of polluting activity must go on (and employees do need to eat), you need to investigate how to redesign or modify the building to accommodate that activity. You could supply a staff break room with appliances for the staff and vinyl flooring for better cleaning. If it is economically feasible, you could set up a cafeteria or dining room that is frequently cleaned a special way.

Design Intervention

Design intervention is where we match the built environment with the activity that goes on inside so we can minimize human exposure to pollutants. Design intervention might include special ventilation systems that carry away harmful byproducts. It might also be the use of special building materials that don’t emit pollutants, such as wood products that don’t emit formaldehyde or paints that don’t emit large amounts of hydrocarbons. Design intervention also includes building a structure that can be easily cleaned. Hard, flat surfaces are easier to clean than textured or fleecy surfaces and thus more economical. Surfaces that can be cleaned easily are a must, for example, in hospitals and schools, especially if we know the institution cannot afford cleaning or will not clean frequently or properly.

Design intervention can make a contribution in environments for special people. Consider live-in communities for the elderly or adult autistic. Many residents in these places can and want to participate or take responsibility for routine cleaning. The design of their environment makes this possible. These environments should be simple, functional, but free of complexity such as lots of fleecy surfaces, and decorative arrangements that are hard to clean. For example, a carpet floor in these environments reduces slips and falls and keeps noise down. If carpet is installed, it should be very easy to clean. A cut pile nylon carpet with short fibers, for instance, is easier to clean and keep clean with a vacuum than a plush and dense wool carpet.

Paints on surfaces such as doors and window frames should be able to withstand warm water and soap. Semi-gloss and gloss paints are easier to wash than non-gloss paints. Areas in the environment that are at greatest risk of getting dirty should minimize the use of fabric covers or surfaces. Hard surfaces on furniture or in the kitchen and bath areas should be smooth and nonporous. These are easier to keep free of dusts, particles and microorganisms.

Design intervention is important when designing a new building or When remodeling an old structure for a new use. Even after we design our new building with a keen eye to reducing pollution levels indoors, we often find we overlooked something or miscalculated. This is where remedial action comes in. Here we add-on a pollution control solution. Remedial action may be as simple as putting doormats down. Or it may involve stepping up the airflow in the ventilation system, installing dehumidifiers, or increasing the frequency of cleaning activities. Remedial action may also include altering activities or redesigning part of the built environment.

There are many people who suffer from asthma and allergies that have difficulties in cleaning their homes. As they vacuum their carpets, floors and furniture, for example, fine dusts containing allergens pass through their machines and enter their breathing zones and eventually into their nasal cavity and lungs. In the process of cleaning, the particles (allergens) are not removed from the environment. They pass through the filter bag in the machine and over time accumulate indoors. Some who suffer from this have found a remedy. They have installed external vacuum systems that pull the particles outside the room or building and keep them from entering the environment once they have entered the machine. Often this requires nothing more than a modest amount of plastic plumbing from the stationary vacuum machine located under the house or in a outside utility closet to a few vacuum inlets located throughout the house. Another option is to use a certified leakfree vacuum with true HEPA filtration.


Once pollution has gotten away from its source and into the environment, we have three options for dealing with it. We can live with it, dilute it, or clean it up. Dilution is the process of making pollution less concentrated. The less concentrated pollution is, the less toxic or harmful it is. We dilute a concentration of pollutants either by removing some portion of it or By distributing it out over a larger surface or space. Pollution concentrations in water can be diluted by adding more water to them or by letting some of the pollution flow away. The same holds true for pollution in air. When polluted air is dispersed over a wide area, it becomes less toxic than when it is concentrated in a small, enclosed area in a building. Like water, air flows. As it flows, it carries pollutants away. Pollutants such as dusts or gases can be made less toxic by removing some of them from an environment or by mixing them up with less harmful substances. But when we vacuum indoors, we only dilute the concentration of dusts in the environment. As previously mentioned, some particles in dusts are left behind because they are too small or because the filter in vacuum machine can’t stop them.

There are always risks when using dilution as an option for environmental management. Some harmful pollutants may well remain behind. And harmful pollutants that were successfully removed from the immediate environment may go on to cause harm in another environment. Dilution is never the final solution to pollution. At best, dilution is a way of coping with pollution by keeping it at less harmful concentrations. The best place to manage pollution is at its source. Dilution is an interim step between properly managing the source and completely removing the pollutant if it should somehow get into the environment. Source management and removal should be given priority over dilution.


As an environmental management strategy, cleaning is the action we take to remove harmful pollutants and put them in their proper place so that humans and valuable materials will not be exposed to them. Cleaning occurs after a pollutant has entered the environment. In cleaning, we find, identify, capture, contain, remove and dispose of pollutants. Cleaning is not diluting. Cleaning is removing. We do not hide or brush aside and say we are cleaning. We must remove and dispose also. Cleaning is most effective when it is done in conjunction with the other four strategies: source management and modification; activity management; design; and dilution or ventilation. All five environmental management strategies must work together to keep indoor pollutants — gases, particles and biopollutants — at sanitary levels. Assuming that source management, activity management, design intervention, and dilution or ventilation have all been optimized to control unwanted matter, cleaning is still necessary.

Sources & Notes

Indoor management strategies were formulated in EPA’s Indoor Air Research Program and first published in Berry, M. A. Protecting the Built Environment: Cleaning for Health. Tricomm 21st Press. Chapel Hill, N. C. 1993.

Kolluru, R. V. Environmental Strategies Handbook — A Guide to Effective Policies and Practices. McGraw Hill. New York. 1994. This textbook presents a number of environmental management strategies consistent with those presented in this material.



Reprinted with permission of Michael A. Berry and Cleaning Science Publishing, LLC from the [month/season 201-] issue of The Journal of Cleaning, Restoration & Inspection


Environmental Management Strategies For Built Environments:  Created on May 15th, 2017.  Last Modified on May 15th, 2017


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About Dr. Michael A. Berry

Michael A. Berry, PhD serves on the Science Advisory Council of the Cleaning Industry Research Institute (CIRI).


Dr. Michael A. Berry retired from the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 after a 28 year career with that agency. In EPA he was a senior manager and scientist. He was the Deputy Director of National Center for Environmental Assessment at Research Triangle Park, NC for 22 years. During his EPA career, he had extensive interactions with private industry, trade associations, environmental organizations, governments, the federal courts, US Congress, universities world-wide, and institutions such as the National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Dr Berry is recognized internationally as an expert in the subject of indoor environmental quality. Between 1985 and 1994, he directed EPA's indoor air research program.

Since his retirement from EPA he has been a Research Professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where he taught several course and wrote numerous articles related to business and environment, built environments, and environmental science and management. He serves as a consultant to businesses and public institutions in the evaluation of environmental management strategies and policy. He directs research on the performance of products and services related to indoor environmental quality. Currently his research focus is the area of cleaning science and indoor environmental management programs for schools and universities.

Dr. Berry served as an Army Officer in Viet Nam 1967-68. He earned a Doctor of Philosophy in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a Master of Science in Management from Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. He holds both Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Mathematics from Gonzaga University.

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