Putting People at the Center of Sustainable Building Design

October 15, 2016 By Eliza Clark

Eliza Clark

Stop for a moment and take a look out your window. While not a measurable environmental benefit, we all know implicitly that daylight and quality views improve our overall mood, health and productivity.

Historically, more tangible criteria like energy efficiency and recycling practices have received the most broad-based adoption by businesses. With humans spending 90 percent of their time indoors on average, it’s time to expand and strengthen our focus on how our built environment impacts the health and wellness of people.

This should pique the keen interest of businesses, as Gallup estimates that actively disengaged employees add up to an estimated $450 – 550 billion in lost revenues each year. Many employers already know that investing in the health, happiness and wellness of employees is a mutually beneficial proposition, with the reward of reduced health care costs and increased productivity and efficiency. What they may not appreciate is the dynamic connection between human health and the built environment.

Light, air, access to nourishment and physical activities within built environments can have a significant impact on the health and quality of life of building occupants. That is why the green building industry is expanding its expertise beyond construction materials and practices to focus on how buildings can impact the health and habits of human occupants – both positively and negatively.

The WELL Building Standard®, an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being, helps clarify this connection. Designed to work in concert with the LEED Green Building Rating System, the Living Building Challenge, and other leading green building standards, the WELL Building Standard is third-party certified through the Green Building Certification, Inc. – the same body that certifies LEED projects. WELL is grounded in the belief that human health and wellness should be at the center of design, and advances a core set of criteria across the whole building:

Air: Optimize and achieve indoor air quality.

Water: Optimize water quality while promoting accessibility.

Nourishment: Encourage healthy eating habits by providing healthier food choices, behavioral cues, and knowledge about nutrient quality.

Light: Minimize disruption to the body’s circadian rhythm using window performance and design, light output and lighting controls, and task-appropriate illumination levels.

Fitness: Utilize building design technologies and knowledge-based strategies to encourage physical activity.

Comfort: Create an indoor environment that is distraction-free, productive, and soothing.

Mind: Promote health and wellness awareness by providing regular feedback and information about the environment through design elements and state-of-the-art technology.

Proof of the far-reaching impact of indoor air quality within the built environment is growing. From the first onset of “sick building syndrome” reported 30 years ago, to last year’s Harvard School of Public Health study highlighting improved cognitive performance among employees working in green offices, there is a clear health correlation between buildings and occupants.

According to the World Green Business Council’s The Business Case of Green Building, optimizing building air quality alone could result in an 11 percent improvement to productivity. The ripple effect of indoor air quality extends to our productivity, health, and overall well-being and happiness – all factors in how we function in our professional lives. The WELL Building Standard, and other green building standards like LEED and the Living Building Challenge, recognizes a building’s connection to its environment, and its occupants by fostering a positive relationship between the two through design and healthy behavioral patterns.

Windows and doors have a longstanding role in connecting building occupants with natural light and ventilation, as well facilitating views to the outdoors. As fellow humans that also work inside buildings, we know that connecting people with daylight and natural beauty outside our windows is the most powerful way our company can help to improve human happiness, productivity and wellbeing.

The introduction of the WELL Building Standard is well-timed to catalyze the continued evolution of green building practices across multiple industries. The industry is encouraged to see human health become a core focus for building owners, architects, designers and product manufacturers. This expanded emphasis will ultimately result in better outcomes for business, the planet and people.

Eliza Clark is Director of Sustainability and Environmental at Andersen Corporation.

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