Doctor’s orders: The criteria for a healthy building

It’s generally recognized that our environment impacts hugely on the state of our health and any building in which we spend a significant amount of time will certainly have a role to play in our general wellbeing…

So what makes for a healthy building and how can we achieve it?

Changing concepts

The success of a building, and its impact, has been measured on it’s energy performance and carbon footprint in recent years, however, the goal posts have since moved and we are now expecting an all-encompassing tick list that includes employee health, wellbeing and productivity.

The term ‘healthy building’ is the next generation of green, sustainable living for some experts. It refers to a thinking that supports the physical, psychological and social health and wellbeing of people in buildings, acknowledging that most people spend the majority of their time indoors.

Benefits of these buildings go beyond resource-efficiency, encompassing health, wellbeing and the experience of spending time in the buildings.

Making better choices

There are certainly greener choices and more sustainable options that can have a positive impact on a building’s inhabitants. These are the stalwarts of a healthy building as they continue the green thinking that most of us are now familiar with.

For instance, natural light is far better for us than artificial light, while blasting air-conditioning and suffocating heat can be incredibly detrimental.

Key essentials

Clean air is a vital factor when it comes to maintaining good health and so the standard of air conditioning and filtration is important in the working environment. Any systems should be checked and serviced regularly for effectiveness and air quality should be monitored.

As mentioned above, light is also critical to a healthy building. Excessive brightness can cause visual discomfort and headaches and there has to be some control set to minimize direct and overhead glare. The ideal is a mix of light strengths and sources, depending on the task in hand. Similarly, temperature should be carefully monitored to keep it at its optimum.

The WELL Building Standard

There’s a recognized criteria for what formally constitutes a ‘well’ building and the elements consist of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

A US model, the WELL Building Standard is evidence-based, supported by research into the connection between the buildings where we spend the majority of our time and our health and wellness. It provides the opportunity to measure and monitor various impacts, giving guidelines which help us when considering physical conditions, workers’ perceptions and, ultimately, financial outcomes.

The finer points

It’s not just about the physical building. It’s about how that space is designed, what’s in it and the experience it allows; healthy dining options, access to water, the opportunity to exercise and all the extras that can offer comfort, as well as practicality, as you go about your work.

An integrated solution

Whichever way you work through the criteria ‘tick list’, this integrated approach has to be the way forward.

Understanding the basic conditions of a building and the impact it has on its inhabitants – and what can be done to improve that impact – provides a solid win. When you are aiming for a contended workforce and greater business success, it certainly should not be overlooked.

Making choices related to health and wellness make sense in the long-term, as well as the short and medium- terms, as those choices will ultimately play well in any bid to reduce sick days, while also improving productivity and, generally, helping to keep staff ‘onside’.

Note, any working space that nurtures its inhabitants is also likely to play its part in keeping employees focused, enabling them to perform better overall. This, ultimately, presents a strong business case for maintaining a healthy, working environment as now we’re talking finance and increasing profits.