Emerging standards and solutions: Why healthy commercial buildings matter

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Healthy commercial buildings are a serious topic among real estate professionals today, but why are we suddenly paying so much attention to it? According to Harvard Professor and Director of the Healthy Buildings Program, Dr. Joseph Allen, it could be because in most countries, we spend upwards of 90% of our time in buildings. In some places, such as Dubai, that number can be over 95%! Sadly, the World Health Organization states that indoor air pollution causes 14 times more deaths than outdoor air pollution.

We also care about healthy buildings for business reasons. Typically, workforce or staff costs (salaries and benefits) are about 90% of the cost of doing business according to real estate service firm JLL in their well-known ‘3-30-300 Rule’. And, building owners want to avoid liability related to the health and safety of their building occupants.

In the case of ‘sick buildings’, building owners have been found legally liable for health damages to employees from an unsafe or unhealthy work environment many times over the years. Just think of the dangers of asbestos, a material that was finally regulated in the 1970’s and is still central to many lawsuits today. And of course, corporate occupiers just want to get the maximum productivity from their employees – something a healthy work environment can help them do.

In some cases, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of the health issue. The sick building syndrome (SBS) is used to describe a situation in which the occupants of a building experience acute health- or comfort-related effects that seem to be linked directly to the time spent in a particular building. Typically, no specific illness or cause can be identified. The complaints may be localized in a particular room or zone or may be widespread throughout the building.

As evidenced by SBS, occupant health in buildings can be impacted by many things. Among these, air quality is critical. Air quality includes measure like CO2, CO, particulate matter, VOC’s (volatile organic compounds), etc. Your buildings also need clean water and energy, and they should use materials that do not emit gasses such as VOC’s. Lastly, people comfort helps to keep occupants happy, healthy and productive. Even factors such as relative humidity, temperature, ambient lighting and noise can impact well-being and productivity.  According to the US Green Buildings Council’s 2018 report, green buildings can positively impact public health, and improving indoor air quality can reduce absenteeism and lost work hours due to asthma, respiratory allergies, depression and stress. Building occupants also self-reported improvements in productivity.

Because of the importance of human health on the bottom line, global standards are emerging. The WELL V2 standard is the first standard to focus exclusively on the impacts of buildings on human health and wellness. WELL V2 consolidates previous iterations and pilots into one WELL for all project types and is designed to accommodate diverse space types and geographies to incorporate and respond to new evidence and public health concerns.

There is also a new standard in commercial healthy buildings called RESET. This standard is based on IEQ or Indoor Environmental Quality and Material Data gathered through sensors.  RESET looks at all factors detailed above that impact the environment within a building – things like air quality, materials used, natural resources such as energy and water, and building comfort scores. The RESET Standard has become the global reference for data quality on materials, air quality and building health. In March of 2017, both organizations announced a strategic partnership to align applicable areas of WELL and RESET to improve indoor air quality.

For Schneider Electric’s part, we are on top of this trend and the emerging standards. We understand the impacts of occupant well-being on our customers’ bottom lines and we are developing solutions to address their challenges. Our new Connected Room Solution leverages SmartX IP sensors and controllers to monitor and control room climate and works together with Schneider Electric’s Engage Comfort mobile app to allow for individual comfort controls. When combined with EcoStruxure Building Operation which manages HVAC, fire safety and lighting control (among other building systems) and EcoStruxure Workplace Advisor, which provides advanced wellness analytics such as proactive monitoring of Co2, temperature, humidity, noise, light, and VOC levels, our solutions help our customers meet the latest standards and more importantly, create a healthy working environment for building occupants.

For more information on healthy commercial buildings, visit our commercial real estate website, and I encourage you to read “Your Building Might be Making You Sick” by Professor Joseph Allen, Harvard School of Public Health”.

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  • Peter Cholakis

    5 years ago

    The built environment plays are critical role with respect to both economic and environmental outcomes. The issue remains, however, the real property owners in general have forsaken their stewardship roles.

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