Health & Wellness Across Scales: Product, Building & Community

Subscribe to Stok Insights
Health & Wellness Across Scales: Product, Building & Community

How can we create truly thriving communities?

Leaders in health and wellness at the product, building, and community scale came together with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) for a discussion on Thriving Communities: Health & Wellness in the Built Environment to dive into this question. Situated on the Ohana Floor of Salesforce East in the heart of San Francisco’s Transbay Redevelopment District, experts candidly shared what brings the most value to endeavors to prioritize health and wellness at all scales of our built environment.


Arlene Blum, Executive Director of the Green Science Policy Institute, introduced six classes of chemicals and regrettable substitutions that we come into contact with every day that have eluded regulation by governing bodies. This harsh reality check served as a reminder of the need for aggressive policies and third-party verification to ensure healthy materials for all.

Rachel Berman, Sustainability Program Manager at Mechoshade, spoke to the balancing act of inspiration and regulation for top performance and circularity in materials. Carrying the only commercial shade on the market without flame retardants, Mechoshade uses verification systems like ILFI’s Declare label help identify quality, vetted products, but is cautious of diluting the vision behind their efforts with too much jargon.

On a larger scale, Amanda von Almen, Green Building Program Manager at Salesforce, shared how certifications are critical for setting healthy materials goals across all of an organization’s real estate. To keep a high standard of sustainability and wellness across its global portfolio, Salesforce launched a healthy materials program just over two years ago and has boldly committed to pursuing LEED v4 Platinum and Net Zero Carbon for all new office interiors after 2020.


Devon Bertram, Sustainability Strategist and Project Manager at Stok, presented the connection between healthy, biophilic design and financial return for owner-occupiers and tenants, making the financial case for high-performance buildings. With a large majority of companies running on human capital, the data behind investing in the occupant through human-centric design pencils out.

Tracy Backus, Sustainability Director at Teknion, reminded everyone that solutions for health and wellness in the built environment won’t always come from design strategies. Rather than keeping our heads in the glass box and looking outwardly for solutions, we need to think about how we program our spaces to encourage self-care, reflection, and calmness within ourselves. How do we do this? Tracy advocated for starting somewhere. You don’t have to do it all at once – if you do, you’re likely to fail at first. Start somewhere and grow from there. This “something is better than nothing” concept was a major theme of Arup and the AIA’s Prescription for Healthier Building Materials released in 2018.


Hillary Noll, Associate at Mithun, and Susan Neufeld, Vice President of Evaluation and Resident Program Design at BRIDGE Housing, dove into an enlightened discussion of affordable housing and trauma-informed community building. Asserting that you can’t design your way out of inequity, the panel shared new approaches to stakeholder engagement to achieve truly healthy and engaged communities.

This starts with checking your ego at the door. As Susan at BRIDGE summed up, “the residents we serve are context experts, and we’re content experts.” Project teams need build trust and open a dialogue with stakeholders and occupants of the spaces we’re creating to ensure we’re learning from them, rather than assuming we already know what they value, want, and need. BRIDGE Housing engaged the residents on a project by starting a simple, low barrier to entry walking club to candidly meet and hear from community members before trying to bring in design solutions. No residents came to the first few walking clubs, but the project team kept to the planned schedule to demonstrate commitment, which eventually allowed them to build trust within the community and better serve the residents.

Connecting to people helps us better connect to place, a key component incorporated into the Living Building Challenge and biophilic design. This concept of connecting to a space and its people is crucial and incredibly powerful, especially at the community scale.

Let’s continue to think about how to weave health and wellness across many contexts into all scales of the built environment. To continue the conversation, reach out to one of our health and wellness experts.