Healthy buildings, healthy minds

The WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) was once again top of the agenda and generating a significant amount of interest at a seminar last week which attracted a range of stakeholders from across the commercial building sector.  This new system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and wellbeing is very much in its infancy, however there was a palpable buzz amongst attendees at the Healthy Buildings Conference.

Set to become a vehicle for placing people at the forefront of sustainable design of our buildings, the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) is a massive step in the right direction.  Creating sustainable buildings which make occupants feel better as well as happier and more productive should therefore be a given. It should also become part of the culture of a business.

An important element of designing healthier buildings is through biophilia – the innate human attraction to nature – which can have a positive impact on productivity and a company’s bottom-line. The effects of incorporating biophilic design were discussed at the conference by Ed Suttie of the BRE, who highlighted the enormous benefits with studies showing an increase in productivity by 15%.  In other words, it’s better for us to look at something that is living as opposed to something that is man-made.  Looking out at trees, birds and nature is far more beneficial to our state-of-mind than looking at concrete or roads for example.  One only has to look at the positive impact a ‘green walk’ has on mental health, so any sort of access to green spaces in architectural design will be an enormous boost to our mental wellbeing.

Another key area which generated debate was air quality and VOCs.  At some point in the near future we will be carrying around devices, whether on our phone or on our wrist, which will give us information on the air quality of any place we are in, at any given time.  When we become more aware of the air quality, then we will start to see local authorities, governments and companies be more interested in the quality of air that we surround ourselves in which has a big impact on buildings.  From the furniture, to the paint, to the flooring that is used within a building – all these elements will make a difference.  It’s also intrinsically linked to the information age and affection for data.

But a key question to the panel was who is going to take responsibility and who is going to drive this WELL agenda?  Is it the managing agent, the property owner or the company that leases the space? If so, is there going to be more value in terms of pounds and pence within that building as a result of it being WELL Certified.  My view is the driver for WELL is about the operational expenditure in the longer term, not the initial capital expenditure.

The overall feeling throughout the day was very positive. In terms of the market and size of the opportunity and how the WELL Building Standard™ could develop was very exciting for people in the room. WELL represents a new way of operating and isn’t a trend. It will become part of the mainstream, the norm, and the way to do things.  We’ve come a long way since the early part of the 20th century when workers and their environment were treated very differently indeed.

Written by: Darren Evans, Managing Director, Darren Evans Assessments.