Wellbeing is big business these days. Wherever you work or study, you will have access to information about the importance of good mental and emotional health. You might be encouraged to take up sport, to cut down on smoking or drinking, or to take up a hobby. You will undoubtedly be aware that better physical health impacts positively on your wellbeing. But what about the spaces where all of this wellbeing is promoted? Shouldn’t buildings provide happier healthier environments too?
The World Health Organisation identified Sick Building Syndrome over 30 years ago. Affected individuals experienced flu-like symptoms as well as rashes and respiratory problems when they spent time in certain buildings, particularly in open plan offices. Poor ventilation, dust, inadequate air conditioning and harsh lighting can all aggravate SBS. It therefore makes sense to design buildings that can improve the wellbeing of the people who live, work or learn in them.
The construction industry is under pressure to plan greener, sustainable projects. There is an urgency for all stakeholders to embrace guidelines that aim for a less harmful built environment. This drive is aimed at those who own and those who rent places of work
One area that planners are tackling is how to ensure energy efficiency of new projects. Currently, most buildings and the way they’re used contribute up to 60% of greenhouse gas emissions in the UK. Using BIM at the design stage can help with this as it provides useful information about the energy used in construction as well that which will be used throughout the life of the building. Low energy and sustainability targets are part of the solution for the future, but what about the present? What can be done to enable healthier outcomes for people who use buildings today.
Employers can make changes even in buildings that aren’t constructed to green, or greener standards. Unfortunately, cost is a prohibitive factor in some of the easiest changes that could be made in the workplace. Fragrance-free cleaning fluids with fewer harsh ingredients are ideal for large work spaces. The downside is that they cost more than brands with higher concentrations of harmful chemicals. Removing dust through regular vacuuming might eliminate some of the triggers that lead to respiratory problems, but the appliances that do this most effectively are more expensive to buy and run. There’s also the option of maintaining healthier levels of humidity and updating HAVC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). Unfortunately, the reality is that if the majority of a workforce is on zero contracted hours, it’s easier to replace a sick employee than to invest in quality HVAC systems.
If wellbeing is a new industry as well as a mindset, then landlords of commercial properties might seek to reach agreements with their clients. (Clients being the the employers whose workers’ wellbeing is at stake.) Perhaps lease agreements could be amended to include reciprocal agreements whereby property owners will provide environmentally healthier heating and lighting if the tenant agrees to use greener cleaning products and methods.
The evidence demonstrates the economic logic that better, healthier surroundings result in fewer hours taken off for sickness. Therefore, in our pursuit of wellbeing, we as individuals, communities and companies need to make changes now. The most important one being that people matter more than profit.