Why Occupant Wellness Strategies Make Financial Sense
The WELL Building Standard has been instrumental in guiding facilities managers to implement financially meaningful health and wellness strategies.
One simple fact exists for virtually every commercial building: It has to pay for itself. To a commercial owner, that value may be to generate more revenue than cost. To a corporate owner/occupant, it is to keep employees more productive than they cost. Even a warehouse needs to save more by protecting its product than the cost of letting the product sit outdoors.
When it comes to human-occupied square feet in buildings, there is a commonly cited rule on the scale of building cost: the 3-30-300 rule. According to that rule, utility cost is pegged at $3 per square foot, leasing cost is $30 per square foot, and the wages of the employees in the building amount to $300 per square foot. While this is more of a metaphor than a rule, it does give a fairly accurate representation of the scale businesses face in housing employees in buildings. Neglecting taxes, we could say that shaving 10 percent off the leasing cost has the same financial impact as saving 100 percent on utilities, or that improving productivity of employees by 10 percent affects the bottom line as much as free rent.
The WELL Building Standard, administered by the International WELL Building Institute, is one of the first worldwide building certification systems to focus on occupant health and, ultimately, productivity. This addresses the “300” in the 3-30-300 rule.
Does this mean that facility managers should focus only on WELL? Absolutely not. To drive true financial stability and resilience, facility managers cannot forsake sustainability for wellness, or waste energy for happiness. Thanks to programs like Energy Star, facility managers have been getting more energy efficient in operating buildings, helping the global environment. According to Energy Star, the average office building is consuming about one third less energy today than about 10 years ago. Thanks to LEED, we have been reducing the overall environmental impact of buildings. Buildings have (or should have) a cooperative relationship with the outdoor and indoor environment and how they affect people and the business within them. It is critical that a synergy of energy efficiency, space effectiveness, and productive, healthy indoor environments be part of a single operational equation.
Synergy among systems
Synergies among strategies to improve energy efficiency, sustainability, and wellness start with building orientation and design. Sunlight glare or harsh lighting can be distracting and cause eye discomfort, reducing the productivity of staff. Noise can be just as distracting, and materials that reverberate sound rather than deaden it can reduce productivity as well. Temperature from solar heat gain or poorly insulated walls and substandard HVAC can have a dramatic negative impact on productivity and can increase the likelihood of absenteeism.
WELL’s guiding focus is to promote operational methods, materials, and technologies that help people be healthier, more productive, and happier inside the built environment. It has seven core concepts of indoor quality: air, water, light, nourishment, fitness, comfort, and mind.
These qualitative concepts work in harmony with the quantitative measures found in Energy Star and LEED. For instance, a WELL design feature like demand-based natural ventilation can reduce the energy used to condition outside air. A WELL credit of natural light with automatic lighting controls can reduce the power used by the indoor lighting and can reduce the need for HVAC cooling energy as well (which also improves HVAC life expectancy). Noise mitigation is increased in buildings with better insulation and multi-pane windows. This also improves energy performance and worker comfort simultaneously. Carefully selected building structure and infrastructure systems that are properly operated create an additive benefit by reducing operating costs and enhancing worker productivity.
WELL also addresses a variety of principles based on worker fitness to reduce absenteeism. Variable height and standing/walking workstations may at first seem insignificant, but improving the health of multiple employees even a little can have a significant cumulative benefit. WELL credits like having healthy, natural foods to snack on reduce the likelihood that employees will snack on unhealthy processed foods. The health of employees is linked to the likelihood of absenteeism and turnover. An improvement in worker heath reduces training and hiring costs.