Buildings are where people spend 90 percent of their time. But are the buildings where you live and work truly environments that help you be your best? Do they help improve your health and well-being?
Chances are, they are not – at least not yet. But increasingly, those who own, occupy and create buildings are focused on the so-called healthy aspects of facilities. Is there plenty of daylight? Does the air inside have low enough levels of carbon dioxide to help keep you from feeling tired? (We’ve all been stuck in stuffy meeting rooms.) Does the building provide a range of workspaces to match with what you are doing, and does it encourage you to move about? (Anything to combat the many hazards of sitting.)
Overall, are you comfortable being there?
Chris Pottage thinks about these issues daily, as a Sustainable and Healthy Buildings Officer with Skanska. He advocates for environmentally responsible and healthy solutions for buildings, both when they are being created and then operated. With health and well-being a focus of the 2017 Skanska Safety Week, Chris shared some perspectives on healthy buildings, including why we should expect to be in more of them.
What is a healthy building?
Chris: You can look at it from two sides: the technical side, and the experience side.
On the technical side, healthy buildings support health and well-being by providing a certain standard of indoor environment quality. That includes low levels of contaminants and high levels of fresh air. Also good amounts of daylight, but managed so people don’t suffer from glare and overheating, which affects concentration and performance.
A healthy building is also an experience. It is about walking into a place and feeling that it is a pleasurable and interesting place. A healthy building is a place that has an identity, a theme. It represents the organization and the people within it.
One thing is for certain: In a healthy building, you are very unlikely to sit there thinking, “I am too hot or too cold, or it is too loud.” A healthy building makes you feel comfortable.
(Note: This World Green Building Council report includes a helpful graphic identifying key elements of healthy buildings.)
Will I be taking the stairs more in a healthy building?
Chris: You would be encouraged to be more active, but it would be your decision to do so.
Those decisions would be facilitated by prompts within the building, such as the stairs being more inviting, accessible and a more pleasurable experience to use. Maybe the stairs have views out to the surroundings, maybe of nature. The main stairs would not look like a fire escape at the back of the building, and be under heated or under lit, with grey walls.
Yes, you would likely be taking the stairs more and being more active in a healthy building. But it wouldn’t feel like a chore or hassle to do so.
How do people benefit from being in buildings with healthy features?
Chris: Different buildings affect people in different ways. But by and large, healthy building features help decrease sickness and reduce the effects of allergies and bothersome aspects such as glare and intrusive noise. They aid in people being more alert and productive, and even help improve sleep from the additional daylight. For organizations, these can translate to significant cost savings through less sick leave, improved employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover.
The benefits of healthy buildings can ripple outside of the workplace. If you are learning about healthy food choices from having healthy foods promoted to you at work, you may share that knowledge with your family, helping them be healthier too. Such actions help lead to a healthier society.
What is the connection between healthy buildings and green buildings?
Chris: There are a lot of crossovers between green and healthy buildings, especially with light, air and materials. A lot of materials that are bad for the environment are also bad for people.
What is very important is taking a holistic approach: Considering all these aspects and coming up with one strategy that will provide the healthiest building possible in the most energy and carbon efficient manner possible.
Looking at the big picture, both healthy and green benefit society. Green buildings help by reducing environmental impacts and related risks, such as climate change. Healthy buildings encourage people to make healthier choices on a daily basis, helping them feel better and achieve more.
What is driving increased demand in healthy buildings?
Chris: A lot of the demand is from self-interest. Health is important to everyone. We care about our health: We don’t want to impede it, we want to improve it. In general, the health of the environment is less of a motivational factor for people.
Technology is a factor too. As we increasingly are able to monitor indoor environments and identify those that are not healthy, people are beginning to demand healthier spaces.
With staff comprising about 90 percent of costs for most organizations, it is just sound business sense that companies want to be in healthy environments.
What is the value of the WELL Building Standard, which is growing in popularity?
(Skanska recently adopted WELL for our Commercial Development projects in Central Europe.)
Chris: WELL is becoming the prominent standard related to health and well-being in commercial buildings. One of WELL’s real benefits is that it formalizes a methodological approach to delivering healthy buildings. Also, it packages health and well-being into something easily understandable and comparable across different buildings, much like the LEED and BREEAM green rating systems. With WELL, projects can earn certification on three levels: Silver, Gold and Platinum.
For this phone call, are you speaking from a healthy building?
Chris: I am speaking from home, an old social housing flat in central London. I would consider it a healthy enough environment. It faces south with lots of glazing so there’s lots of light, and there are quite a few plants around me. But it was built in the 1920s, so I don’t think the architect was thinking about healthy building design – at least not in the ways we are formally articulating it today.