Is this the year for health and wellbeing?
The harmonisation of the BREEAM and WELL standards, plus a new health and wellbeing module in the annual GRESB survey are significant milestones but are investors ready?
Report from – Damien Carr
The alignment of the BREEAM and WELL standards announced by BRE and the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) in November last year marked a significant milestone for the health and wellbeing (H&W) agenda in the UK.
The partnership was a direct result of feedback from BREEAM customers who wanted to improve H&W in their buildings but were concerned about having to carry out parallel WELL assessments. Since then BRE and IWBI have worked together to compare performance requirements, harmonise evidence and streamline the process of achieving dual certification, publishing a guidance document in February.
Meanwhile GRESB, which benchmarks environmental, social and governance performance in real estate and infrastructure assets, added an H&W module to its 2016 survey, albeit as an optional supplement.
But what are the current attitudes to H&W on the ground, particularly from owners of operational buildings, which after all make up the majority of commercial real estate properties? Building4Change caught up with Paul Sutcliffe, co-founder and Director of EVORA, a company that delivers sustainability solutions, from board-level strategy and policy setting, to asset-level performance improvement programmes. Sutcliffe, a qualified chartered environmentalist, has worked in a number of industries, but for the past 10 years has specialised in commercial real estate, working with organisations including Schroder Real Estate, Standard Life Investments and Grosvenor.
Are you seeing an increased interest H&W solutions from your clients?
An increased interested in H&W, yes, but a lack of clarity on how to provide this. Many of our clients participate in GRESB and this year, in addition to the H&W module, one question in the main survey asked if the respondent has completed H&W assessments. This single question has helped raise H&W profile among those clients who are more involved in management of existing buildings. There is also recognition that tenants are interested in the topic.
What is driving them to invest?
Again, in my experience – and in terms of existing buildings – clients are investing time in investigation and consideration of H&W rather than wide-scale roll out of programmes. There is a recognition that H&W is of interest to tenants in particular; detailed assessment schemes may be difficult to understand in full, but the basic premise that a healthy and well workforce is more productive makes common sense and does not need much explanation. In certain circumstances and for certain buildings in certain markets, clear communication of an H&W strategy at asset level may help to attract and retain tenants.
What are the main barriers to commercial building owners investing in solutions?
For many it’s still a relatively new topic and although the principles are understood, there is a risk that as an industry we make things too complicated. For example, the WELL standard has been based on 11 body systems [such as the cardiovascular and digestive systems] which is interesting but is not the usual terminology used in real estate. It is interesting to see the move in January to describe the standard in terms, such as air and water quality, that we as a profession are more familiar with and I fully support BRE and WELL working together to ensure alignment.
The Minimum Energy Efficiency Standards are coming into force in 2018, is there a place for similar regulation for H&W?
Beyond basic health and safety requirements such as water quality, then no. The H&W movement should be driven by industry.
What should a building owner think about first when considering to invest in health and wellbeing?
H&W should be incorporated into fund and asset strategies. Like sustainability, I cannot recommend a one size fits all solution. The owner needs to consider H&W in accordance with other plans for the building such as the planned length of hold, tenant expectations, and tenant demands. However, like any approach, analysis of performance is needed first to inform development of action plans.
What office building stands out as being an exemplar of sustainability, health and wellbeing and do they offer any lessons?
A good question. There are lots of examples out there in literature. But ultimately buildings need to be designed for a purpose and also need to be adaptable. What would I want in an ideal building? Natural light, excellent air quality, clear communication of performance information and flexibility to move around the building and to sit where I want. We have just moved to the Hop Exchange in Borough, London. It’s a converted Victorian exchange so is architecturally interesting; our space is clean, full of natural light and the location is fantastic. It suits us but would only work for an organisation of our size and type, and this is a good illustration that tenant demands are different; an exemplar for H&W means different things for different people.
Paul Sutcliffe will be talking about the H&W challenges for operational buildings at the Healthy Buildings conference on 3 April, 2017.
The event will explore the health and wellbeing agenda from the landlord and tenant perspective and the challenges for implementation. Most importantly it will describe the practical steps owners and tenants can do to improve buildings within their existing budgets through improved thermal comfort, air quality, lighting and biophilia.
When: 3 April, 2017
Where: Arup, London