Buildings account for one-third of the world’s greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations. While there’s certainly an opportunity to improve that performance through sustainability measures, taking those actions also can address the fundamental elements that make for a healthy and productive work environment.

Research sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) indicates that Americans spend more than 90 percent of their time indoors. Considering this, the buildings where we live, work and play have a profound impact on our health and well-being — and high-performance, sustainable buildings are rising to the challenge and creating built environments that are part of the solution. 

Sustainable buildings are moving beyond energy efficiency to provide health and wellness features — from fitness rooms to rooftop gardens — aimed at boosting productivity, innovation and job satisfaction.

Sustainable Designs for Cold Climates
Sustainable Designs for Cold Climates

When looking to enhance wellness in our buildings, Bentall Kennedy aims for long-term tenant appeal by delivering access to healthy, attractive and productive spaces in communities that provide social amenities, such as high walkability and transit scores. While these initiatives focus foremost on reducing a building’s carbon emissions footprint, they also positively can affect human health and quality of life. After all, tenants and their employees tend to be more productive and creative when they’re comfortable and have easy access to amenities that promote health and wellness.

Employees are starting to demand amenities that support their health and well-being goals, particularly millennials who tend to gravitate toward urban live-work-play neighborhoods. As a result, according to a report by the World Green Building Council (PDF), forward-looking companies are increasingly choosing and prioritizing sustainable buildings, situated within sustainable communities that will attract and retain top talent.

Talent in innovative sectors such as technology, healthcare and education tend to prefer working for companies that share their values and reflect those values within the corporate culture. These individuals are seeking workplaces and communities that offer an urban lifestyle environment, with amenities such as green spaces, bike lanes, easy access to public transit, electric vehicle charging stations and pedestrian-friendly city planning.

Green building certifications such as LEED, BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) BEST and Energy Star demonstrate in quantifiable terms a building’s commitment to sustainable design principles. While certifications are important and provide a baseline measure for sustainability, what makes a building stand out is its amenities that demonstrate a visible commitment to the well-being of both people and our planet. Buildings that effectively use natural light and outdoor spaces — such as a rooftop garden — or flexible indoor and outdoor spaces that provide for a variety of locally driven, healthy eating options are also highly appealing to employees seeking an urban lifestyle environment. 

Sustainable Designs for Cold Climates
Sustainable Designs for Cold Climates

While these amenities can help to attract and retain talent, a growing body of research finds that green design features lead to healthier, more productive occupants. For example, workplaces with natural light, thermal comfort and minimal contaminants in cleaning agents help to reduce absenteeism and enhance job satisfaction, according to research from the World Green Building Council. A recent Harvard study reinforced this idea when it found that cognitive scores of occupants in green buildings were 61 percent higher than those in conventional environments.

Building wellness certifications such as Fitwel — a globally recognized and high-impact certification of buildings’ health and wellness features — and WELL provide tools for developing health and wellness strategies in the workplace. The Fitwel certification system, for example, provides a framework for improving building design and operations to support individual and community health, while the WELL certification system provides best practices in design and construction to support human health and wellbeing. Bentall Kennedy became an official Fitwel Champion in 2017, making a formal commitment to building wellness strategies.

The Octagon, a 500-unit apartment building on New York City’s Roosevelt Island, uses solar and fuel cell technologies to minimize emissions and uses waste by-products for heating. In addition to these systems, the site includes amenities that focus on health and well-being such as an ecological park, playground, bike paths and express bus service to subway and tram lines.

Another example is Latham Square, a boutique office building in Oakland, California. The building successfully achieved LEED EB: O&M Platinum certification in 2017, becoming the only multi-tenant building in the market to earn the highest recognition for ongoing sustainable operations. A lobby renovation was completed in 2017 to provide casual gathering areas, coffee bar, conference center and lounge that enhance the tenant experience of health and well-being.

The emerging focus on including health and wellness in building design and operations provides an opportunity to address challenges associated with recruitment, retention and productivity. In turn, successfully addressing these challenges can enhance tenant loyalty and reduce obsolescence.

A commitment to health and wellness in the built environment supports a simple yet impactful equation: Do better for the environment + create healthy and productive environments for tenants and their employees = growing sound and sustainable value for investors.

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