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Well-being: the new bottom line

Property experts gathered in London for Clean Air Day on 21 June, to explore well-being in the built environment during a Carbon2018 breakfast seminar.

Well-being is certainly not a new subject, but it is one which has suddenly risen up the agenda for building owners, designers and occupants due to advances in technology changing the way we work, and the evolving needs of the UK workforce.

The next generation of employees, known as Generation Z, is not willing to compromise on health and happiness, viewing well-being as the ultimate bottom line. For organisations to attract and retain the best talent, and ensure good staff productivity, they must therefore be able to provide a healthy and comfortable workplace.

According to Dr Michelle Agha-Hossein, sustainability engineer at BSRIA: “Building owners and operators can play a vital role in making occupants happier and more productive by moving towards a more proactive approach to well-being.”

She has explored the functional, physical and psychological features that can be measured to assess the well-being of a building, ranging from energy and space and greenery and décor, to thermal comfort and indoor air quality.  

Dr Agha-Hossein stated: “Based on international standards, you can never reach 100 percent happiness in terms of thermal comfort in a work environment. There will always be approximately five percent of people not thermally comfortable.”  

She also stated indoor air quality is the most important factor. In the UK, around 40,000 deaths annually are linked to air pollution, making it the second biggest killer – only active smoking kills more.

Even more alarmingly, Peter Dyment, technical manager for air filtration at Camfil, added: “We no longer suffer from the visible pollution; it has moved to the invisible. Some years ago, diesel engines were characterised by black sooty smoke. Advances in technology means that emissions from diesel cars appear cleaner but the reality is they contain billions of harmful PM1 particles.”

Two European Directives set outdoor air pollution limits: Directive 2004/107/EC and the Air Quality Framework Directive 2008/50/EC. Different sets of air quality regulations implement these standards in the UK, but a number of UK cities including London, Manchester and Glasgow are currently failing to meet them. Defra predicts that they will not be met until 2020, or as late as 2025 in Greater London.

Mr Dyment commented: “We spend on average 90 percent of our life indoors and therefore it is vital we make our city buildings havens against outdoor air pollution.”

It is still early days for standards for air quality in buildings. However, it is expected that society will demand action and with increasing pressure on the UK Government, it could soon become part of UK building regulations.

There has certainly been an increased appetite from corporations, as well as the real estate industry, for well-being schemes that measure air quality as part of the wellness of a building. Victoria Lockhart, director of market development, Europe at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), which delivers the WELL Building Standard, stated: “We have noticed that the healthy buildings movement here in Europe has been driven by developers and landlords of assets who are actively adopting well-being measures in their buildings as a strategy to attract and retain the best tenants in their properties.”

This growing interest resulted in BRE joining forces with IWBI in November 2016 to help project teams who are using both BREEAM and WELL to deliver a more sustainable and healthier built environment as efficiently as possible.

Dr Christopher Ward, principal consultant at BRE, said: “To help streamline the respective assessment processes for projects seeking certification against BREEAM and WELL, a BREEAM Briefing Paper has been published that highlights the synergies between the BREEAM and WELL technical requirements.”

With so many organisations involved in the research and setting of standards for well-being – working together in the interests of promoting a healthier and safer built environment – it is inevitable that even more evidence-based research and case studies will emerge showcasing the benefits of a well-being strategy. As pointed out by Joanne Merry, technical director at Carbon2018: “It will soon become standard to have a dedicated well-being policy. After all, well-being should be a right not a privilege.”

The BREEAM Briefing Paper, Assessing Health and Wellbeing in Buildings: Alignment between BREEAM and the WELL Building Standard, is free to download from the BREEAM and WELL websites.

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