The Next Big Thing in Commercial Real Estate: The Occupant

The Next Big Thing in Commercial Real Estate: The Occupant

Monday, April 27, 2015
/ By:
Valerie Molinski

In the News

By Valerie Molinski, Crain’s Cleveland Business

In his recent presentation at the fifth annual Sustainable Real Estate Conference in New York, David Pogue, the global director of corporate responsibility for CBRE Group Inc., said the next frontier in commercial real estate is occupant experience.

While Pogue believes energy efficiency and LEED have been mastered successfully by design professionals, he feels we need to push further toward healthy offices, not just environmentally friendly ones. I agree. A focus on health and wellness is where sustainability is going next.

Sustainability is as much about wellness and occupant experience as it is about energy savings. So, why are these concepts sometimes forgotten when developing green buildings? It’s because it is hard to assign a monetary value to something so abstract. In an industry where every square foot can be quantified — including the money saved through using green materials and building practices — it’s often difficult to determine the dollar value of employee health and wellness. However, though they may not be an exact science just yet, there are proven ways to discern how green buildings will improve employee health and wellness, as well as benefit your organization financially.

Select the proper program for human factors The first step is selecting the right certification program. While there are many green building certification options, LEED attempts to address the built environment more holistically than many others, which might focus only on energy or other resources. As such, it’s often the best certification choice for companies dedicated to improving their employees’ health and wellness.

For example, LEED-certified spaces are required to be designed toward healthier and cleaner indoor environments, which translates into better occupant health — and potentially reduced health care costs for employers.

LEED-certification can improve productivity, too. Recent research has shown employees working in LEED-certified branches of the same financial institutions were more productive and engaged in their work than their counterparts in non-certified spaces. They also generated more revenue even when they were offering the same products and services across those branches. In all types of office spaces, not just financial, it’s been shown that companies which follow strict environmental standards for their workspaces see the results in higher productivity and improved performance as an organization.

Beyond productivity, LEED buildings also have been proven to be instrumental in increased recruitment and retention. Rob Watson, the executive editor of, has taken these intangibles and assigned them an economic value — a staggering $90 billion.

Clearly, it pays to pay attention to these “soft” benefits of green design. With programs like LEED paving the way, we have mastered the practice of making buildings that are better for the environment. It’s time to give equal weight to making these buildings better for people.

Enter the International Well Building Institute. This third-party certification system focuses on the people in the buildings, rather than just the structure of the building itself. Its standard is designed to work in concert with other green building rating systems and quantifies a building’s attempt to “harness the built environment as a vehicle to support human health, well-being, and comfort.”

The system works by examining seven factors a building should address to support health and well-being. These factors include air quality, water quality, eating habits, lighting level and quality, fitness, indoor comfort related to acoustics and thermal controllability, and finally, mental and emotional health.

View sustainability in property more broadly At the Greenbuild Conference in New Orleans last fall, Paul Scalia, the standard’s founder said, “Our intention was to push the sustainability notion in real estate beyond the environmental considerations and into human or biological considerations in the built environment, combining elements of health, well-being, and preventative medicine into architecture, design, and construction.” He wants to fully address those previously nebulous aspects of healthy building in order to reach better outcomes for occupants.

While addressing both environmental and emotional concerns seems like quite a lot for mere office buildings to address, these are all factors that we cannot continue to ignore. If we are trying to improve not only our impact on the planet but also our workspaces and bottom lines, we must strive to develop built environments that enhance the quality of life and health for those within them. Welcome to the next frontier of sustainability.

Valerie Molinski is the sustainability director at Vocon, a Cleveland architecture and interior design firm.

Source: Crain's Cleveland Business