Healthy buildings will be here to stay
Good engagement, a strong business case backed up by data and a sense of shared responsibility were all on show at the Healthy Buildings conferences, suggesting health and wellbeing is not just a fad
Report from – Dr Paul Toyne
(Image courtesy of One World Trade Center)
Earlier this month I chaired the Healthy Buildings conference which explored ways to improve health and wellbeing in existing commercial properties. Organised by BRE in partnership with EVORA, the day featured a stellar cast of expert speakers who spoke to a packed audience at ARUP's London HQ.
The programme gave a platform to developers, landlords, architects, building services engineers, fit-out contractors, as well as occupiers, with detailed specifics on biophilic design, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, acoustics, water and thermal comfort. There were lots of fascinating presentations – more than I can do it justice to here. Instead, I will share my three main observations of the day.
Health and wellbeing (H&W) resonates with people on many different levels
I was struck by the high level of audience participation and how most people stayed until the end of the day, rather than leave after the lunch as is often the case at conferences. Why is this? Because in my view the H&W agenda resonates with people, engaging them on many levels, be it technical or emotional; H&W is a global trend that is not likely to go away. And rightly so, because who is not interested in their own wellbeing while working in an office and the impact that an office environment can have? Another subject of interest to the audience environment professionals was being able to understand their role in the value chain that provides these improvements – be it through design, product innovation or behavioural change. This I hope bodes well for wider adoption of H&W solutions.
Business case evidence for H&W is strong and expectations will increase
The day demonstrated the strong evidence that shows clearly the benefits of a healthy building for office occupants and how that translates to commercial benefits for employers and the landlord. It is stating the obvious that no-one wants to design and operate unhealthy buildings, but knowing what elements are essential to H&W and measuring their positive impacts is necessary to convince those who are solely influenced by the bottom line. Various speakers made reference to an array of studies that demonstrate just that. There is no longer the argument that the data is lacking or not market specific enough. Furthermore, I believe that it will be important for commercial office developers and landlords to act and demonstrate how they are improving their stock to their customers to protect their brand and reputation and their market share.
Collaboration and shared responsibility is driving the agenda
Finally, it was clear throughout the day how delegates and speakers felt a shared sense of responsibility for delivering better buildings and a genuine show of collaboration between developers, building managers and the occupiers to achieve this. Landlords and developers were acknowledging their responsibility, arguing that H&W was more than just the building but extended to improving the public realm. What, for example, is the point of improving indoor air quality if the moment you go out of the building for a break or for your commute, you are hit with air pollution. Developers talked about creating the right social infrastructure both within and outside the building, dealing with not just environmental concerns but social concerns such as homelessness. Throughout the day examples were given on how the different stakeholders were working proactively together and with their supply chains to deliver H&W outcomes.
So what does this all mean?
All this suggests that H&W is not a fad or a trend that will go away in a few months. If you consider it as a global trend, covering lifestyles, diet, exercise and technology to monitor performance, then there is no reason to exclude buildings from being part of the mix. Next time you are in your office ask yourself are you in a healthy building? If you don't know the answer ask your landlord and soon you will open up a discussion that can only lead to better buildings. That is after all the goal we all want.
Watch the presentations for yourself on the BRE Conferences YouTube channel.
Dr Paul Toyne is an independent adviser on the sustainable built environment and professional chair of conferences and events. Find out more about him on www.paultoyne.com or follow Paul on Twitter @Paul_Toyne.