Wellness. That phrase, as it applies to buildings, has endured drastic change over the last couple years. What was once a matter of fitness, healthy food, and good lighting quickly became all about frequent cleaning and air filtration due to the impact of a deadly respiratory virus. Today, with COVID-19 surging again as many businesses go back to work in person, there is sure to be even more debate about what exactly property wellness is supposed to mean. Is it about building safety, or is it about the productivity and state of mind of the occupants within?
In reality, this is a false dichotomy. A building being safe is a prerequisite for the productivity and healthy state of mind of the property’s occupants. The latter cannot be attained without the former. But there is a more nuanced question that today’s owners need to think about as they’re planning, building, marketing, and managing their properties: Is property wellness one-size-fits-all?
To answer that question, we need to establish a couple of points first. First of all, it is useful to contextualize wellness. The nonprofit research and advocacy organization the Global Wellness Institute defines wellness as “the active pursuit of activities, choices, and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” It is also important to consider wellness within the context of sustainability; a building that pollutes or is responsible for greenhouse gasses impairs the long-term wellness of its occupants as well.
There is often a give and take between building wellness and sustainability. Better indoor air quality usually requires more filtration and more circulation—in other words, more energy. Understanding the sustainability implications of changes to a building is rather straightforward and there are a number of technologies that can track energy use for a building at an incredibly granular level. Understanding the wellness outcomes from a building’s design and management might seem much less obvious. As most of us are willing to admit, people tend to be a little harder to read than properties.
But the body of evidence for a building’s effect on health is much larger than most people think. According to Joanna Frank, President & CEO of the Center for Active Design, “Sustainability is a relatively new field of study, most sustainability efforts for buildings have been done using trial and error. People think it’s the same as health but there is over 100 years worth of research established to help us understand what makes a healthy building.” The medical community has established, for instance, that people need the right amount of light, the right amount of airflow, and a suitably low noise level to stay healthy, focused, and productive.
To help building owners and tenants better understand how their buildings are performing in relation to wellness, a number of wellness certifications have emerged. These can vary in terms of scope, cost, and recognizability. We have recently tasked our research team to put together the important information about all of the wellness certifications for our new report, What is the Best Wellness Certification for Commercial Properties? No matter what your definition of wellness, there seems to be little doubt of its importance for occupiers. But in regards to the unique nature of each building and the even more unique psyche of each occupier, it is safe to say that building wellness is not one-size-fits-all. What might be paramount in one property could be less so in another. Even still, wellness certifications play an important role in helping the industry and the population at large understand what buildings are and are not doing to help us stay healthy and happy.