Healthy buildings are an emerging hot topic at industry events and in facility trade publications. In September 2017, I participated in the half-day Healthy, Adaptive Buildings Summit at this year’s GreenBiz Verge Conference. The conversations were invigorating, shifting from environmental justice to workplace transformation and back again. I was left with a lingering question: Are healthy buildings the next overhyped trend? Does the movement aim to encompass technology and business but will fail because of a misguided, yet well-intended focus? Not if industry leaders refine their message.
The panelist noted the similar lack of a common lexicon, or a range of definitions that reflect the wide stakeholder groups showing interest in the idea of healthy buildings. The opening panel discussion during the summit reminded me of ongoing conversations I have in the broader building technologies arena on terminology: Is the building smart, intelligent, a structure of connected technologies made up of systems? What threshold defines that next generation space? Panelists shared their differing, yet parallel points of view and these definitions resonate with me:
- Health is basic, the absence of things wrong.
- Well-being is how you feel about your health, and how you respond emotionally.
- Wellness describes the proactive steps you can take to maximize both.
These descriptions clarify health at a personal level, but how can these ideas be extended to buildings? Healthy buildings can describe the effects from equipment operations on energy consumption, sustainability, environmental justice, and even employee productivity. If stakeholders can align their messaging, there is a great opportunity in the movement to make healthy buildings the next umbrella concept for the facilities industry. The answer is adaptability—flexibility in how to deploy and use technology in addressing multidimensional business objectives. The second theme of the summit, which is a valuable dimension that can showcase technology as a means to the wide-reaching goals of the healthy building movement.
JLL’s 3-30-300 Calculator has become the go-to metric for explaining why the intelligent buildings market has pivoted and the focus has moved from energy up the chain to that big 300 number—the cost of people and the aim to improve productivity. This metric is powerful because it speaks to the heart of the business perspective. While sustainability, social responsibility, and other potentially amorphous corporate goals are important from a branding and positioning standpoint, the bottom line still drives investment. If the healthy buildings movement can use technology and the data and analytics from the intelligent buildings market to quantify productivity, the investment is worthwhile. This is no simple task; data is key. There are so many variables that affect the measure of productivity and the industry has failed to create a single equation to measure the 300 just yet.
New Calculation of Adaptability
Thinking of adaptability as a lens on how to select and deploy technology for use in multiple ways may just be the framework the industry needs to make healthy buildings a substantial initiative, meet multiple stakeholder needs, and move away from surface-level buzz. Real-time data on occupancy and movement, indoor air quality, feedback on comfort, and data on business output could be valuable measures for a new calculation of adaptability. The measure of adaptability is also attractive as a way of reframing the conversation in line with the focus on the occupant we hear in the market more and more. Can adaptability describe the healthy building movement and provide the data that key decision makers need to characterize how their facilities are best in class? I would argue this approach can create a common conversation around dynamic systems with automated, ongoing performance improvement and a way to root the soft concept of health in the stiff framework of technology enablement.