For many professionals working in the built environment, Health and Wellbeing still feel like relatively new buzzwords. In some ways this is surprising given that the subject area has been around for many years; for example, the term “sick building syndrome” was coined by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1986. In reality, though, the subject area has received a massive uptick in attention in recent years and a simultaneous increase in the number and robustness of relevant building standards: RESET was released to the public in 2009, the WELL standard (V1) was published in 2014 and Fitwel in 2015.
Perhaps in part, this is due to an increase in available academic research linking employee health and wellbeing with improved productivity, which significantly boosts the business case for it to be taken seriously. And arguably, being taken seriously it is…
- WELL boasts it has projects covering 195 million square feet.
- The health and wellbeing GRESB module will be integrated with the main GRESB survey in 2019. Indeed 32% of Real Estate participants and 52% of developers responded in 2018.
All of this makes me wonder whether Health and Wellbeing is now genuinely becoming mainstream?
Well, in my view the trajectory is certainly forward however, Health and Wellbeing certifications are not desirable for all buildings. Typically, these standards are being applied to new buildings and major renovations where clearly, the application of Health and Wellbeing will always be easier with a blank canvas. For me, the challenge really lies in the integration of Health and Wellbeing improvements in existing buildings. According to Defra 80% of the current UK building stock will still be standing in 2050; thus there is a huge imperative to address what can be done to make the spaces in which we work and inhabit supportive of long-term health and mental wellbeing.
As a first step towards achieving this goal for existing buildings, we work with clients to baseline the Health and Wellbeing credentials of their portfolios. This identifies gaps and key opportunities that will make a material difference and optimize the available budget. Whilst it may not be possible to redesign the fabric of the building or available daylight, improving the cycling facilities can enable tenants to switch their mode of commute. ‘Enable’ is the keyword for landlords here. Although more direct interventions are possible through improvements to the ventilation and thermal comfort following a review of the building management system and the installation of sensors. These are but some of the scalable solutions that can be considered regardless of the inherent constraints of a building.
Going a step further if Healthy Buildings are to become mainstream this must be tackled in conjunction with the understanding that buildings do not operate in isolation. The fact that the built environment can make a positive impact to enable ‘Healthy Placemaking’ needs to also be considered. Linking the internal with the external does move the goal post but it is all the more necessary if we are to be truly successful at enabling healthy outcomes for tenants and communities alike and fostering resilience.
The WELL Community standard seeks to address this and it will be interesting to track its adoption. Taking an integrated approach further boosts any derived benefits from interventions made at the asset level. Returning to the example of the improved cycling facilities within the building. Where this is made in conjunction with improved access to local cycling routes outcomes can be further enhanced. Approaching Health and Wellbeing as part of a joined-up strategy that situates the building in its locality will ensure we create truly Healthy Buildings and urban environments that serve many generations to come.