In his bestselling book, “The Tipping Point,” author Malcolm Gladwell observed that “in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.” In the building industry, it seems we’re at a tipping point in that, since the early 2000s, a series of
trends has reshaped the way buildings are designed, constructed and operated (for the better)—and it’s not over yet.
These movements are converging to the point where we find ourselves today: at the forefront of the wellness trend in design and construction that promises to alter the built environment yet again. And the need has never been greater. According to the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), Washington, corporate health and wellness are a major concern for U.S.-based companies. In fact, nearly 50 percent of employers say health and productivity programs are essential to their company strategy while 91 percent of employers report offering health and wellness programs beyond medical cost savings. Further, IWBI reports the physical workplace is one of the top three factors affecting job performance and satisfaction, citing a study in which 90 percent of employees surveyed admitted their attitude about work is adversely affected by the quality of their workplace environment.
Add to this the mounting evidence-based research linking buildings to human health and it’s clear green building and wellness are interrelated.
“We have always grappled with questions around the real impacts the environment has on our health and wellbeing but haven’t always had clear design direction” explains Mara Baum, AIA, LEED Fellow, WELL AP, WELL Faculty, and vice president, sustainable design leader, Health and Wellness at HOK, San Francisco. “We’re now learning much more about the direct scientific basis behind the health impacts our buildings have on our bodies and minds.”
Drawing a correlation between rising health-care costs and the amount of time people spend indoors (up to 90 percent on average), Baum says the time for market transformation is now.
“If you consider the significant health problems we as a society are facing and the massive health costs these health problems are incurring and then consider the research that links these problems with specific conditions inside and around buildings, then connecting these dots can become a call to action,” she says.
Well, Well, Well …
Much like USGBC did in the early 2000s, calling for the building industry to rethink its position and impact on the natural environment, IWBI is issuing a similar challenge as it relates to human health. With the launch of its WELL Building Standard, a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact the health and wellbeing of occupants, IWBI developed the program as the first building standard to focus exclusively on people. It takes a holistic approach to health in the built environment by addressing behavior, operations and design.
Although its focus may be different from LEED, the WELL Building Standard is designed to work harmoniously with LEED to optimize building performance for human health and the environment.