The real estate industry in recent years has developed deep knowledge and expertise to address the dual challenge of profitability while minimizing negative environmental impacts of our buildings and communities. Real estate companies and employers have risen to the challenge to improve environmental sustainability, delivering innovative solutions on issues such as climate change, energy efficiency, and responsible use of natural resources.
Now the industry and employers are redefining sustainability to also place people at the center of design and construction decisions.
GRESB’s Health and Well-being module, launched in 2016, has provided real estate companies and funds with an important new tool to glean insights on how well they are promoting health and well-being in their internal operations, as well as through the products and services they deliver to tenants, customers and surrounding communities. And these groups are taking heed: more than 250 entities this year voluntarily used the Health and Well-being Module to report their progress, demonstrating a growing use of health and wellness metrics as part of the broader ESG analytical landscape and increasing our understanding on ways to improve people’s health through design, operations and programmatic strategies.
One of the main takeaways from this year’s assessment is the recognition that companies are positioned to create long-term value by establishing healthy workplace cultures among their employees. Putting people first and prioritizing their personal health and well-being offers the opportunity to make a tremendous economic impact on a company’s largest annual spend – namely salaries and benefits. But apart from integrating human-centered strategies at the design and construction phase of a building, how does a landlord or employer go further to directly engage the people who live, work and learn in these buildings on an ongoing basis?
A company’s single greatest asset is its employees, so the need to attract and retain quality employees has become increasingly critical to business success. According to a Deloitte study, 75 percent of business executives and HR professionals report they are struggling to recruit the top people they need, and only 17 percent feel they have a compelling employment brand. When it comes to solving this, an Economist Intelligence Unit 2016 survey found that employers that tailor corporate wellness programs to employee needs and make them more accessible over time may enjoy a competitive advantage in terms of attracting and retaining talent.
Fostering a culture of wellness where employees are inspired to take action and make wellness an integral part of their personal and professional mindsets is key to the success of any corporate wellness program.
TD Bank Group’s TD23 office in Toronto, Canada is no exception. While renovating its 25,000 square foot corporate office within Cadillac Fairview’s TD Centre, the company was also committed to building an extraordinary workplace as one of the main pillars of its corporate responsibility program.
Not only does TD Bank’s WELL Certified office incorporate health and wellness features throughout the space, such as optimal circadian lighting, enhanced water filtration, carbon filtration for air supply and a tranquility lounge. The company has created a voluntary TD WELL council, comprised of 10 to 15 people, to support ongoing engagement beyond the renovation and development of wellness activities that ensure the employee voice is represented. Other continuing education initiatives ranging from weekly features (think Walk & Talk Tuesdays or Fruit & Veggie Wednesdays) to health fairs and monthly wellness lectures have helped to recruit additional company stakeholders as advocates for wellness within the space.
Signage found throughout TD23 further reinforces the wellness features available to all employees and helps educate people on the benefits of health and wellness in the workplace. In fact, a 2016 SmartMarket Report by Dodge Data & Analytics revealed that 40 percent of healthy building owners are using features like signage, dashboards and intranet announcements, and building certification plaques to communicate their commitment to employee health and well-being, as well as engage the entire workforce in their mission.
The American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) has also redesigned its national headquarters in Washington, DC, to meet the highest levels of health and sustainability for the people inside. Its human-centric design foundations – biophilia, sound masking, rigorous water quality standards, circadian lighting and more – are coupled with policies and procedures that emphasize employee health and productivity. ASID has aimed to learn as much as possible about the impacts of buildings on health and wellness from the office itself, which serves as a “living laboratory for the design community”, as well as from the people who use the office regularly by conducting pre- and post-occupancy research surveys. Additionally, research by Cornell University found that employee satisfaction on the environmental quality of the office increased significantly, as did overall job satisfaction, perceived support by the organization, and perceived organizational productivity.
Changing corporate culture is no easy feat. But prioritizing wellness through a combination of design, operations and engagement programs offers the prospect of incredible reward for companies and employees alike, in terms of potential increased employee happiness, satisfaction and productivity. Real estate and other companies that take these initiatives forward by communicating directly with the people inside the buildings and among their marketing, facilities and executive teams will be best placed to capitalize on the benefits of a healthy workforce.
The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), whose mission is to improve human health and well-being in buildings and communities across the world through its WELL Building Standard (WELL), is a GRESB Industry Partner.
 Deloitte Human Capital Trends 2014: https://www2.deloitte.com/global/en/pages/human-capital/articles/human-capital-trends-2014.html
 The Economist, Intelligence Unit. The wellness effect: The impact of workplace programmes, 2016: https://www.eiuperspectives.economist.com/sites/default/files/EIU_Humana_Wellness_fin_0.pdf
 Dodge Data & Analytics. SmartMarket Report 2016, The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: http://analyticsstore.construction.com/smartmarket-reports/HealthierBuildings16SMR.html?sourcekey=PRESREL