Written by Ann Marie Aguilar, Director of Operations EMEA at International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)
We spend more than 90 percent of our time indoors, which means that buildings and everything inside, from the air we breathe and the water we drink to the furnishings and fixtures we use daily, can have a profound effect on human health and wellness.
Across the industry we’ve made amazing progress in ensuring that environmentally sustainable buildings are the new norm. Today green building is a global movement, and it’s easy to understand why green building certifications have been widely accepted as best practice across the globe. The proven energy and water efficiency, waste and greenhouse gas reduction that underpin every certification deliver a meaningful contribution to universally accepted global goals. And they save money.
It’s now time to expand our focus to improve the health and wellness of the people who live, work and learn inside the buildings. It is becoming increasingly clear that we must harness the places we inhabit for work, living, knowledge and fun as a tool to promote our personal well-being, just as the green building movement of the past two decades has come to symbolise environmental sustainability.
Building strategies that address our most basic human needs include design features as well as operational and policy protocols. Think of performance metrics such as air and water quality, lighting and comfort, as well as how the environment can promote healthy eating, physical activity and cognitive health. Creating healthy corporate cultures that weave in opportunities for mindfulness or connections to nature alongside the chance to rest and recuperate also provide important opportunities to enhance people’s happiness, satisfaction and productivity. As the premier building rating system exclusively focused on health and wellness, the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL™) utilises a holistic, evidence-based approach that addresses physical and mental well-being across all these metrics.
And it’s not just an “either or” proposition. Health and well-being are natural complements to sustainability, and both factors are critical when delivering a high quality building. We believe that organisations can and should look at ways to improve how their buildings perform, as well as how those buildings support the people inside to perform their best. Because WELL works harmoniously with international leading green rating systems such as BREEAM, LEED, Green Star and the Living Building Challenge, organisations can use both to positively impact the planet and people.
Building owners, developers and operators, as well as corporate tenants, are taking notice of the impact healthier indoor environments can have on people. The physical workplace has undergone significant changes in recent years, with companies recognising how design, construction and operation decisions can positively contribute to their employees’ health, happiness, satisfaction and productivity.
The extraordinary adoption of buildings that support people’s health is a strong indication of the value to both tenants and building owners. Last year we saw WELL surpass 300 million square feet of projects across more than 40 countries, and more than 20 percent of global adoption is originating in Europe.
For companies, investing in people and helping to improve their physical and mental health can be an economic approach as well. Approximately 90 percent of corporate expenses are tied to salary and benefits, which means the return on investment from healthier and happier employees can lead to tremendous cost-savings. So when employers optimise their workplace environments and cultures to encourage healthier behaviours, they are indirectly optimising employee productivity and performance.
As financial groups move to include health and wellness into their portfolio evaluation criteria, building features that promote health and well-being increase the value of the building based on greater input potential. Leading institutional investors are increasingly incorporating environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance of real assets into their investment process. As an example, GRESB, which assesses the sustainability performance of real estate and infrastructure portfolios and assets worldwide, now includes a “Health and Well-being Module” to evaluate how property companies and funds are promoting health and well-being.
As a result, we’re seeing organisations begin to take a portfolio-wide approach when reviewing how they can support people’s health and well-being. In response to these demands, WELL now provides a streamlined, cost-effective option for making incremental design, operational and policy improvements over time and achieving certification as an endpoint. This ongoing journey provides a pathway for implementing changes at scale and gives organisations a meaningful way to communicate to employees and stakeholders across the spectrum that health is a high priority for all.
By putting people at the centre of design and construction decisions, we can add meaningful value to real estate assets and organisations, generate savings in personnel costs and enhance the human experience. That sounds like something that’s well worth it.