Our spaces may be green, but are they actually healthy?

Healthy buildings are being called ‘the next generation’ in green building, but what exactly is a healthy building? CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council Mahesh Ramanujam explains, “The built environment has profound effects on human health and the world around us. At their best, our buildings and communities are powerful promoters of health and well-being. At their worst, they contribute to some of the key public health concerns of modern society, from asthma to cancer to obesity” he said.

As these and other challenges continue to mount in our contemporary urban settings, all of us have an obligation to be more purposeful when addressing how human health relates to our built environment. One of these challenges is highlighted in a recently released peer-reviewed study by Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment which indicates that people who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide (CO2) have significantly higher cognitive functioning scores, especially in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy. It is only one of many more studies that are beginning to prove that a healthy workplace is not just good for the environment but also creates more productive employees. “In some studies, there have been 11% gains in productivity from improved ventilation and 23% gains in productivity from improved lighting design. These studies have shown that employees with adverse health conditions are absent more often, lose more work hours, and are less productive than employees without these conditions.” Ramanujam explains.

So how does the built environment practitioner go about creating healthier spaces? “There is no deep mystery about how to create healthier spaces” Ramanujam says, “but it does require diligence and attention to detail: The key components of healthy space have everything to do with creating space not for itself, but for people.”

As healthy buildings become more mainstream, market-based rating systems have been developed in many regions to recognise developments and excellence in the field. The world’s first building standard focused exclusively on human health and wellness, is the WELL Building Standard pioneered by Delos. This standard combines best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research.

But healthy buildings don’t begin and end with certification, says Ramanujam, “There is one undeniable fact that rings consistently in our faces: buildings have a lot to do with our external and internal environment, and have a major impact on both our health and the health of future generations. But there is an even more important fact that we cannot evade. It is a fact that we must live with, and one we will be judged by in the future: the fact that we can do something about the quality of our space, and we can do it with little or no cost. We simply need to pay attention, and build and manage our spaces as if we care.”

Follow the link to read the full WELL certification process.