Health and Well-being: Why Are We Talking about It? And Where Are We Heading?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Over the last year, the topic of health and well-being has rapidly emerged as a ubiquitous issue for the global real estate industry. There is a sense that it is the “next big thing”. The question here is why we are talking about this issue and where we go from here.

Let’s start with why: We’re talking about health and well-being because the design, construction, and operation of our built environment has a profound impact on individuals and populations. This includes our comfort and productivity, but that is just the beginning. As a society, we have run an amazing experiment over the last century. We have transformed our land-use pattern several times over. First, we transformed cities to help solve issues of communicable disease, clearing tenements and providing sanitation. Then, we transformed again, this time sprawling outward into auto-dominated suburbs, increasing risk of auto-related injuries and fueling health threats linked to sedentary behavior and social isolation. The point here is not to provide a history lesson – there are plenty of excellent sources for that (see CDC, AIA, among many others) – rather the purpose is to make it clear that there is no question that our built environment has a profound impact on human well-being. We don’t need to wait for a breakthrough research study. We know enough to act. The question now is what we do about it.

Let’s turn to where we’re going: As an industry, developers, fund managers and property companies need to start by clearly recognizing the nexus between their work and this issue. Cumulatively, real estate development can serve to create superior places – places that promote social interaction, enhance productivity, support physical activity, provide access to vital services, and contribute to happiness. Alternatively, real estate development can do – and frequently does – the opposite. Our journey from here starts by being able to distinguish developers, property companies and fund managers that are contributing positively toward the promotion of health and well-being from others that are neutral or, worse, lagging behind in this area. Simply put, investors should know whether companies and funds are intentionally acting to provide solutions or not.  This starts with a basic recognition that there is a difference. There are actions that create better places for people: some companies and funds are taking those actions; others are not. We should ask the question and know the difference.

These considerations motivate and underlie the new GRESB Health and Well-being Module. The Module is an optional supplement to the annual GRESB Real Estate and GRESB Developer assessments. The Module provides 10 new questions that describe actions companies and funds are taking to promote the health and well-being of their employees and their strategy to create value through products and services that promote health and well-being for their tenants and customers. We know that leading companies are acting in both of these areas. They are striving to provide workplaces that enhance comfort and productivity, while offering tenants spaces that provide a platform for health promotion along an increasingly wide range of supportive programs. We believe that these leading companies will have an advantage in attracting and retaining talent and desirable tenants. We believe that investors will want to use these new indicators to understand and engage with their investments to ensure that they are realizing emerging opportunities and effectively managing risks. We are looking to using the results from the Module to celebrate a new group of industry leaders.

The Health & Well-being Module will be available in pre-release via the GRESB website on March 14 and open for participation on April 1, alongside the GRESB Real Estate and GRESB Developer assessments.