WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, Director of Sustainability, Brenda Kingston, discusses the benefit of incorporating the WELL Building Standard® in infrastructure design.
Thousands of global studies have established the undeniable link between an individual’s environment and their health.
The results of one such study conducted by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2011 found that, 70% of the chronic diseases that accounted for 90% of all deaths in Australia, could be directly attributed to an individual’s environment and behaviours. Given this strong link, and considering the amount of time we spend indoors (around 90%) it is clear that our indoor environment, especially our workplaces, have a significant influence on our health.
Yet, it is only recently that this link between health and environment has become an area of keen focus in the building and construction industry with this interdependency now influencing and directing much of our building design around the globe.
What is the WELL Building Standard®?
Established by the International WELL Building Institute, the WELL Building Standard® promotes the concept that the health and wellbeing of individuals should be the central focus that guides building design and development. The standard is used to deliver improvements to workplaces based on the latest available research. WELL also utilises a performance-based system that measures buildings across seven well-being areas of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, mind and comfort.
The importance of the WELL Building Standard®
It is critical that we consider how in the early stages of design, we can incorporate initiatives that will promote good health and increase the wellbeing of occupants.
The International WELL Building Institute recognises that historically the focus of healthcare has been on treatment rather than prevention. But with rising costs of healthcare and increased risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer, this focus is shifting towards the latter. Education and facilitation of healthy lifestyle habits is a fundamental aspect of prevention.
For building designers and developers, the WELL Building Standard® and the research behind it, provides an opportunity to create spaces that positively impact occupants as well as providing a building product that has a value-add and is differentiated from other building stock on the market.
Healthy building initiatives
Given the importance of providing ‘health-supporting’ buildings how can we take active steps to make buildings healthier for occupants, particularly in workplace environments where we spend such a large percentage of our time?Some of the key initiatives that are currently being delivered include:◊ The elimination of poor ventilation design and inadvertent pollution of indoor air
◊ Creating easy access to clean filtered drinking water to encourage hydration
◊ Providing good thermal, acoustic and visual comfort to create a peaceful atmosphere that encourages productivity and reduces stresses
◊ Promoting healthy eating through understanding occupants’ behaviour, providing nutritional education and supplying healthier food options in workplace kitchens or canteens
◊ Using natural light and installing lighting that promotes positive physiological responses associated with alertness and productivity
◊ Designing spaces in a way that encourages occupants to opt for the stairs rather than taking lifts
◊ Developing and implementing activity incentive programs
◊ Locating workspaces in highly walkable neighbourhoods that provide end-of-trip facilities to promote active transportation
◊ Providing sit and stand workstations
◊ Developing places and opportunities for people to be physically active during work-time.
The Bottom Line
By facilitating optimum health and wellbeing outcomes for occupants, the WELL Building Standard® is likely to provide a significant return on investment for both occupant businesses and building owners alike.
Businesses should see an increase in productivity as workers are engaged and happy in their workspace. This finding has been supported by a recent survey conducted in the first WELL Certified™ office, the CBRE Corporate Headquarters in Los Angeles, USA. When polled, 94% of employees confirmed that their new office space had a positive impact on their business performance while 83% said that they felt more productive.
Building owners may also benefit financially by charging premium rates for these ‘enhanced productivity’ and healthier workplaces.
Looking to the Future
The WELL Building Standard® marks part of the beginning of a shift towards dual sustainability in infrastructure that focuses on environmental sustainability and also considers the sustainability of the occupants themselves. In better understanding the impact that buildings can have on the health and wellbeing of occupants we can effectively incorporate measures that promote people’s health in our future-ready building design and development.
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