How the Physical Environment Affects Health and Wellness
Building occupants are beginning to demand that their indoor environment not just be comfortable, but also contribute to their own health and wellness.
We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and the buildings where we live, work, relax, and learn deeply impact our health, well-being, and productivity. Building owners, managers, tenants, and most of all building occupants are beginning to demand that their indoor environment be not just comfortable (not too hot or too cold, not too noisy, etc.), but that it contribute to their own health and well-being.
In the past, health and wellness were often ignored as facility managers strived to lower energy costs in buildings. Lamps were often replaced with minimal concern for improving lighting quality, and mechanical systems were replaced and controlled with only moderate concern for indoor air quality. With LEED, the focus became more holistic, addressing broad sustainability goals, including interrelated operational issues such as energy efficiency, water use, materials, waste management, and indoor environmental quality, as well as some measures to improve occupant health. Now, primarily due to occupant demand and an understanding that the cost of personnel far exceeds the cost of energy and even the cost of rent and taxes, health and wellness are becoming part of overall sustainability strategies. At the same time, new rating systems have been created, including WELL and Fitwel, that focus exclusively on occupant health and productivity.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined that our physical and social environment contributes over 50 percent to our state of health. Lifestyle and health behaviors come next, then medical care, and then genetics. According to the World Health Organization in its 1948 constitution, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” While it may seem that energy is one of the largest contributors to costs in buildings, according to the World Economic Forum and others, salary/benefits make up 90 percent of those costs, rent/operations 9 percent and energy just 1 percent. This raises the question, what measures should facility managers be focusing on?
Because salary and benefits account for such a high percentage of building costs, saving energy or rent at the expense of occupant/employee health, wellness, and productivity appears to be a poor business decision. In addition, employees are increasingly interested in working in healthy environments with desirable amenities where they feel good.