Could Wellness Be the Next LEED for CRE?

Could Wellness Be the Next LEED for CRE?

Monday, August 31, 2015
/ By:
Carrie Rossenfeld

In the News

By Carrie Rossenfeld,

NEWPORT BEACH, CA—Providing workspaces and services that promote health and wellness among employees is a growing goal for corporations eager to attract and retain talent as well as reduce health-insurance costs, H. Hendy & Associates principal Jennifer Walton tells Walton is a provisional WELL Accredited Professional through the International WELL Building Institute. WELL AP is an advanced credential for experienced building professionals who are dedicated to building environments that impact employee health and well-being. We spoke with Walton exclusively about how corporate wellness programs will impact the commercial real estate community and ways the industry is beginning to embrace these programs. What are the most significant ways that wellness programs will impact the real estate community? Walton: A lot of companies had jumped on the sustainability wagon with LEED, and we saw how that transformed how people thought about their work environment and buildings and what they were doing environmentally. When wellness came about, I was excited because it makes sense that we are concerned about people’s health and well-being—they spend 90% of their time indoors, and we could really impact employees’ health in the corporate office designs that we do. We often think about how we can better organize an organization through their office environment, and we think about communication and things like that, but by making different choices about some of those same things, it could have a parallel benefit to their well-being.

In the specific well-being standard, they look at seven different categories—for instance, air quality, which is something LEED looks at—but not from an environmental standpoint, but from a health-and-wellness standpoint, as in what is the filtration of the space? Whereas LEED is strictly about energy and environment, the wellness standard looks at personal well-being: how is lighting in a space affecting not so much energy usage but a person’s circadian rhythms, which affects how well they sleep at night and therefore their daytime productivity. At nighttime, you’re supposed to be powering down and getting into sleep mode, so lighting there will be different from office lighting. With the addition of more collaborative space, many enclosed offices have moved from the perimeter of a space to the interior, with the workstations on the exterior, which allows more people to be exposed to daylight.

This also affects circadian rhythms and biophilia—the importance of connecting with nature in our daily life—so having a view of greenery, grass, trees and mountains while working in an office is important. There’s also a resurgence of plants in the office that clean the air. In LEED, there are points for daylight and views, but we’re starting to look at the human element of it and what that does for human health. There are all kinds of studies that prove productivity is related to human engagement, and that folds into and directly affects how companies are going to lay out their space to hit a target of productivity. LEED and wellness do dovetail—they are definitely complementary—and you can do both LEED and WELL since one doesn’t negate the other. Is wellness top of mind for most firms, or is this cause still in its infancy? Walton: I think it is becoming top of mind. For sure, getting a space accredited and getting a plaque on the wall is in its infancy since there are only a handful of spaces that have gotten certified. Many more are in the process of getting certified, but most companies have started to approach wellness programs on their own from an insurance standpoint—firms like GE Capital and Nestlé already have wellness programs. They’re not necessarily certifying their spaces, but they are reducing healthcare expenses since implementing certain programs such as offering a sit/stand desk—which any employee can get. The Apple watch can be set to beep whenever its wearer has been sedentary for 45 minutes to remind them to stand up, so sit/stand desks are important. What are the most cost-effective ways for companies to include a wellness program? Walton: The well-building standard addresses seven concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and the mind. Addressing air quality could get expensive because you’re looking at a building’s HVAC system, which they would eventually have to modify. Lighting could get more expensive if there’s little or no natural daylight coming in. Water is really easy—it’s surprising how much disease comes from water, and it’s easy to fix with a filter. Plus, water regulations are different in different cities, and bottled water may not be the best water out there.

With nourishment, it’s up to the employer how much they want to spend on this: it may mean not putting out donuts every Monday morning or looking at the sugar content of the foods in the vending machine. What are they providing? Most companies we work with are competing for talent and trying to retain existing talent, so I ask almost every company I’ve met with if they are providing lunch for their employees. Most are doing this one day a week, but some are doing it every day of the week. The question is what does that food look like, and can you make it healthy? Also, part of what goes with nourishment is educating employees on what is healthy food and how to read labels. Instead of bringing in cupcakes and cookies, companies can start to provide fresh fruit—the interesting thing is when fruit is cut up, people are more likely to eat it. But nourishment is something many companies are already spending money on.

Fitness is easy, since a lot of companies when leasing space probably have a fitness center in the building that’s free to use. Others give their employees insurance-premium breaks for spending a certain amount of time in a gym. Comfort usually has more to do with AC, but it’s also ergonomics. This could get costly, but it’s a pretty hot topic, especially with so many people getting carpal-tunnel syndrome. The mind is interesting and tricky. If you are a company that offers philanthropic events, opportunities for altruism and giving back, that goes to the mind, and so does the beauty of biophilia. What else should our readers know about this topic? Walton: A big part of wellness programs is education. Companies can provide a link to the wellness tip of the day, feature Wellness Wednesdays or offer thoughts or articles for employees to read that have to do with wellness. Outside of the design of the office, these don’t necessarily have to cost anything.