Progressive companies are looking for buildings that improve their employees’ health and well-being. Progressive contractors are looking to build them. In our latest edition of Building Sight, we look at the increasing focus on wellbeing from a construction perspective such as how it could impact on the built environments we create, how technology is improving occupational health and the risk of psychological injury due to stress.
The buildings we work in have a profound effect on our health, mood, and, ultimately, our productivity.
A 2018 report by the World Green Building Council looked at 11 office buildings around the world to assess whether green features aimed at delivering health and well-being benefits actually worked.
The report found that occupants had fewer days off and felt happier and more productive.
There were financial benefits, too.
For instance, an office refurbishment for Sherwin Williams in San Salvador that added natural light and acoustic insulation, improved air quality, and used low-volatile organic compound (VOC) materials, led to a 44% reduction in absenteeism equating to $85,000 savings each year.
Cundall’s WELL-certified building at One Carter Lane in London led to a 58% reduction in absenteeism and a 27% drop in staff turnover, saving £200,000 ($158,000) a year.
The WELL Building Standard is one of a handful of certification schemes for healthy buildings. Set up in 2014 by US organization Delos Living, it looks at hundreds of building attributes, grouped into seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and the mind. As of June 2019, it had certified 179 projects, with nearly 2,000 registered in 51 countries.
Fitwel is an alternative standard, while researchers from the Healthy Buildings Program at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health have developed a simpler approach called 9 Foundations.
Several built environment giants have thrown their weight behind the healthy building movement. In 2015, Lendlease formed a global alliance with Delos, promising to pioneer the standard in Australia, Asia, the US, and the UK.
Lendlease, Arup, CBRE Group, and Sino- Ocean Group were all founding members of the research program, Well Living Lab, which promotes the study of the relationship between health and time spent indoors.
Multinational developer and contractor Skanska is also a devotee of the WELL Building Standard. “WELL fits with our values,” says Sofia Ekerlund, leasing manager with Skanska in Sweden. “We say that we build for a better society, we commit to customers, and we care for life. It felt right.”
In Sweden, Skanska trialed the WELL principles in its own office and is applying some of the lessons it learned in the construction of a new office building, Epic, in Malmö.
Features include a bicycle hotel with showers easily accessible on ground level and towels from reception, a central staircase to encourage people to walk to their floors, and a restaurant selling healthy food.
“They are small things, but I think they will make a big difference,” says Ekerlund.
Because Sweden is already well-advanced in terms of environmentally friendly and sustainable building design, some aspects of healthy building design were already “the norm” there, says Ekerlund.
“It’s important for us in Sweden to be leading the way in terms of the environment and how we do things,” says Magnus Friberg, a partner at Marsh JLT Specialty in Sweden.
Skanska’s Epic building — as well as its new HQ in Warsaw (see box) — will also benefit from biophilia (connecting with nature), an open square between buildings with green areas and small architecture, and an outdoor amphitheatre, create public space within the office complex.
Although biophillic design is covered in the WELL standard, Skanska has elected to give it extra prominence. “This is one of the categories that we believe will really make a big difference for our buildings in Sweden,” says Ekerlund.
For any contractor building toward WELL certification, there are some additional aspects they need to consider, compared to a standard build. Selection of materials is very important.
For instance, there are limits for VOC levels in paints, sealants, and insulation materials.
Although working with materials that don’t release toxic chemicals brings health benefits for construction workers, they can introduce quality-related risks, warns Friberg.
“With new materials, it’s important to understand them and install them in the right way,” says Friberg. “We have had examples here in Sweden where natural materials in combination with insulation in facades have been installed incorrectly in housing developments and caused trouble down the line.”
The WELL standard also requires contractors to have a tight control on dust. The standard’s construction pollution management section tells contractors to limit dust, keep stored materials clean, and to clean or protect new heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) ducting.
Skanska’s Warsaw HQ
Skanska is pioneering healthy buildings around the world. Its Warsaw HQ, located in its Spark C building, became Poland’s second WELL-certified office (BuroHappold just pipped it to the post with its Warsaw office).
Its features include human-centric lighting that harmonizes with natural circadian rhythm (or body clocks), a ventilation system that gives 30% more fresh air than standard systems, and 850 living plants. Skanska also describes it as “fully connected,” having invested €1.5 million ($1.7 million) in smart technologies.
German real estate fund KGAL Investment Management has purchased the first phase of Spark, building C — its first purchase in Poland. Building B has started to be used, and building A, a high-rise, has yet to be constructed.
It’s also worth noting that the WELL standard requires collaborative working during the delivery phase to find the right materials and solutions, which could introduce difficulties for contractors who aren’t used to working in this way.
Demand for Healthy
WELL is an onerous badge to acquire. It requires that the building be tested once in use, so the occupants’ fit-outs must also meet certain requirements.
For that reason, some developers are choosing to construct buildings that could be WELL certified, without going the whole way.
However, if Skanska’s experience is anything to go by, healthy buildings are definitely a pull for would-be tenants.
“Although it’s very hard to say that WELL is the only reason for the building’s popularity, I have worked for 12 years in this market and we have never had a building that we let out this early,” says Ekerlund of Skanska’s Epic development.