Wellness and Happiness: The Next Built Environment / CSR Frontier

Update 30/11/16  BREEAM and WELL Alignment review – more good or less bad?

Update 27/10/14:  The International WELL Building Institute launched the WELL Building Standard Version 1.0, as a publicly available standard which focuses on enhancing people’s health and well-being through the built environment, at the inaugural WELL Building Symposium in New Orleans. The WELL Building Standard v1.0 can be applied to new construction and major renovations of commercial and institutional buildings, tenant improvements, and core and shell developments.

Original post …

Salutogenesis – a term we should become familiar with.

It describes an approach that focuses on factors that promote human health and wellness, rather than on factors that prevent disease and ill health (I am indebted to my partner Prof. Soo Downe for introducing me to this concept from the world of childbirth and health, but that has profound implications for built environment sustainability)

And whilst wellness and health is a relatively new emergent for CSR – the built environment is now right at the center. Designing and constructing sustainable buildings isn’t rocket science, we have the methodology and technology, but designing and constructing buildings that improve wellness and health, not just reduce the negative impact on health, is the next frontier for the built environment sector.

It is one that requires different design thinking, requires collaboration with others in the health sector, and it appears to be rising rapidly on the CSR agenda. For example,

  • “Companies that ignore the environmental and social impacts of their buildings could risk miserable workers and low productivity,” Russ Blinch wrote in Guardian Sustainable Business
  • Scandinavian firm Sustainia has based its Guide to Co-Creating Health report on the correlation between what’s good for the planet is what’s good for you — and that healthy people are the single most important resource within the transition to a sustainable future.
  • Increasing the safety of buildings; promoting safe, careful use and management of toxic substances at home and in the workplace; and better water resource management are three of WHO’s 10 facts on preventing disease through healthy environments.
  • Nonprofit BSR argues in A New CSR Frontier: Business and Population Health that companies have yet to realise the full potential of extending health and sustainability initiatives across their entire value chains to include suppliers, local communities and the general public

The Built Environment Sector

And there is encouraging and inspiring approaches emerging from within the built environment sector itself, for example:

  • The WELL Building Standard is the first protocol of its kind to focus on “improving human wellness within the built environment by identifying specific conditions that, when holistically integrated into building interiors, enhance the health and wellbeing of the occupants.” The WELL Building Standard is a performance-focused system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing including air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and importantly mind.
  • Workplace Productivity and Health from the World Green Build Council reports on the emerging body of evidence suggesting that the physical characteristics of buildings and indoor environments can influence worker productivity and occupant health and well-being, making a robust business case for health, wellbeing and productivity improvements in green buildings.

While these are welcome signs, we need to be cautious of building approaches that focus solely on energy performance without considering occupant long term health.

Setting it apart from the more established building certification schemes, the Living Building Challenge from the International Living Futures Institute, a regenerative sustainability approach that falls in line with my definition of salutogenesis – focusing on doing more good, not ‘just’ less bad – majors on health across its petals and imperatives.

For example, the Red List of Materials, (within the LBC) takes a precautionary principle approach, (if there is any doubt a material or design may have any negative impact on health we should not be using it), It encourages biophilia thinking in design, (ie the health benefits arising from association with nature), along with air quality, natural daylight and more

Greening the Construction Office

And it’s not just a design issue for the built environment, but one that construction organisations are in need of addressing. For example temporary office and working accommodation for construction projects can benefit greatly from a health and wellness approach. Recently U.K. Building Editor Sarah Richardson discussed the problems of stress and ill health in construction workplaces, not a new issue as The Health and Safety Executive found in 2007. With 88 percent of those working in U.K. construction experiencing some kind of work-related stress, perhaps it’s not surprising considering the often-dire site office accommodations.

In fact, when was the last time we saw any thought given to health issues, effective daylight and fresh air or greenery within the office?

Martin, through Fairsnape is a built environment consultant, strategist and advocate for sustainability, CSR, social media and collaboration. He provides commentary on the sector at http://www.fairnsape.com.

This article was originally written for CSRWire

Advertisements
This entry was posted in comment and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.