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Reflections on Earth Day During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Happy Earth Day! Today is the 50th anniversary of the annual celebration dedicated to saving our planet. Back in 1969, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by Rachel Carson’s seminal environmental book Silent Spring, and concerned about environmental degradation, started a teach-in on college campuses about environmentalism. This eventually evolved into the first Earth Day in 1970.
Today, Earth Day certainly looks different than in past years. Sure, we’ll still put our heads together to refocus on environmental strategies in buildings that have benefits both to the planet and to organizations’ financial health. But how we — both FMs and occupants — are interacting with our buildings these days is very different than ever before. And that change will continue for the foreseeable future.
In the past, we’ve looked at ways facilities managers can celebrate Earth Day in their buildings. This year, none of those things are possible. Buildings are empty. Workers are telecommuting. And no one knows what the new normal for work in general, but environmental strategies specifically, will look like when this is over. (Of course, there are still ways FMs can focus on efficiency during this pandemic.)
One thing we do know is that healthier people have dealt better with COVID-19 than people with underlying medical conditions. This underscores the criticality of making sure buildings where people spend 40-plus hours a week are actually contributing to health, rather than acting as a detriment.
Thanks in part to rating systems like WELL and Fitwel, and increasing evidence of financial benefits for the organization as a whole, health and wellness as a facilities strategy had really started gaining momentum prior to the pandemic. Therefore, it's reasonable to assume that when occupants return to buildings, health and wellness strategies will move from a “nice-to-have” to a “must.”
Health and wellness and sustainability are natural companions, so today as we think about 2020 sustainability strategies, as well as what the new normal for work will look like when we all return, one thing seems clear: Health and wellness strategies that also complement sustainability initiatives should be the priority for everyone in the buildings industry. After all, as Rachel Carson once said, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature.”