Targeting Toxic Exposure from Materials Another Key to Occupant Health
Last of a 4-part article on using building design and operations to support wellness
And of course, when it comes to occupant health in buildings, the classic frontline strategy of limiting or eliminating toxic exposure through careful materials selection is always a best practice. “The great thing about reducing chemical hazards in building products is the science is very solid, and it’s one of the most effective and rigorous ways to improve human health,” says Bill Walsh, executive director of the Healthy Building Network. The market is moving towards ever more transparency and disclosure regarding the chemical makeup of products, granting the necessary insight for facility managers to be able to select between products. “More than 100 product manufacturers are involved in the Health Product Declaration Collaborative, which is the standard format for communicating information about building ingredients and related health issues,” Walsh says. “That is another indication on how the market is focusing on human health and manufacturers are responding to that.”
An elegant impact of hazard reduction by avoiding certain chemicals in products is that the effects ripple back up through the entire supply chain, Walsh says. Not only do facility occupants get a healthier environment, but also facility staff gets a healthier workplace, as do product installers, as do the workers in the manufacturing facility. “All told it’s a very powerful method of producing healthier buildings, healthier materials, and a healthier material life-cycle chain,” Walsh says.
Pursuing wellness can seem like a tall order, especially given the fact that it is not as readily measurable as energy efficiency. But despair not. Every facility can take some steps towards wellness, regardless of use type, budget, or location. The thing that is the same in every case is the process, says Frank. The first step is to decide what you’re trying to affect — childhood obesity? Workplace sedentary behaviors? Access to parks? “You can set your outcome and work backwards to identify the strategies that are most likely to result in that kind of impact,” Frank says. “It’s just a case of being aware of it at the outset of a project in order to minimize costs and maximize on the opportunity.”
Resources for Learning More about Wellness in Facilities
Whether facility managers are looking to increase physical activity of occupants or pursue more comprehensive wellness strategies, many organizations are working on creating vetted guidelines to follow. Here is a sampling.
WELL Building Standard — A performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health in existing and new commercial and institutional buildings. Currently, WELL v1.0 is geared towards office buildings, with typologies for retail, education, restaurant, commercial kitchen and multifamily residential in pilot phase.
Active Design Guidelines — Building design strategies for promoting active living in commercial buildings, through the placement and design of stairs, elevators, and indoor and outdoor spaces. Also discusses strategies for urban neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces. centerforactivedesign.org/guidelines/
Building Healthy Toolkit — Coauthored by the Center for Active Design and the Urban Land Institute, the document covers 21 evidence-supported recommendations for enhancing health outcomes in real estate, focusing on physical activity, healthy food and drinking water, and healthy environments and social well being.