Navigant Research Blog

Focus on Occupant Health and Well-Being Is Transforming the Commercial Buildings Market

Krystal Maxwell — October 25, 2017

There has been growing interest and demand for occupant health and well-being in commercial buildings. Historically, occupant health policy was more limited and focused on preventing accidents and exposure to hazardous materials. In recent years, there has been a shift from the minimal safety requirements to improved health, increased productivity and performance, and enhanced occupant comfort.

Occupant health and well-being is a notable theme. The focus of the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo this November is human health. Educational sessions covering this area range from The Wellness/Energy Nexus – a Case for Effective Design (WELL Specific) to From Lab to Workplace: Research Advancing Health & Wellbeing.

Based on the human health educational track at the conference, it is clear that conference organizers and speakers alike view this as an essential building trend. It is a trend observed at Navigant Research and discussed as a driver in the upcoming report IoT for Lighting. I’m looking forward to attending Greenbuild to further explore this trend and learn about efforts to promote health and well-being through lighting and building technologies.

Motivation for Human Health in Buildings

A report from the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) 2013 Summit on Green Building & Human Health is titled Health is a Human Right. Green Building Can Help. While much in the development of green buildings and occupant health and well-being has progressed since 2013, the notion that health is a human right has not.

The trend to focus on human health and well-being within buildings can largely be attributed to attracting and maintaining talent in office workplaces, incentivizing students or shoppers to build environments that focus on their health. Many green building features, such as energy efficient lighting paired with more sophisticated controls, provide motivation via energy savings in addition to improving the health of building occupants. Beyond lighting, occupant health and well-being can be prioritized through improved indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and sound quality.

Promotion of WELL-Being through Standards and Certifications

Founded in 2013, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit organization driving the promotion of health and well-being in buildings. The WELL Building Standard, launched in 2014, is based on medical research that analyzes the connection between environmental health, behavioral factors, health outcomes, and demographic risk factors that affect health with the built environment. The WELL Standard covers seven core concepts (air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind) to create a flexible building standard.

Currently, there are pilot programs in progress across various areas, including multi-family residential buildings, education facilities, retail buildings, restaurants, and commercial kitchens. The aim of the pilot programs is to test and refine how WELL can best apply to different building and space types. The standard continues to evolve based on new evidence, and to incorporate new technologies. A WELL certification is a declaration of that building’s commitment to the prioritization of its inhabitants.

Certifications Setting an Example

The USGBC has incorporated the Integrative Process for Health Promotion in the LEED certification for new construction. Participants can earn credit by beginning in the pre-design phase to “achieve synergies that promote health across disciplines and building systems.” They can also work with a public health partner to help determine how to promote health and accomplish related sustainability goals.

While the USGBC and IWBI are not required across buildings and are voluntary certifications, the significance they place on human health in buildings is helping to promote these values and drive increased focus on these trends. These organizations can provide tools and resources for building owners and managers and can help drive the adoption of building elements focused on the health and well-being of building occupants.

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