Healthy Building Syndrome: Redefining Real Estate for Human Health, Wellness, and Productivity

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Healthy Building Syndrome: Redefining Real Estate for Human Health, Wellness, and Productivity

In the late 1970s, the term “office illness” was coined and used to describe the negative health symptoms that people experienced in indoor environments, often new construction homes and offices. Then, in 1984, the World Health Organization published a report that introduced the term “Sick Building Syndrome” to describe these symptoms, indicating that ~30% of buildings might contribute to them.

A tremendous amount of research has been conducted since then, and stok is working passionately to shift the conversation from Sick Building Syndrome to something quite the opposite: Healthy Building Syndrome, the vision for buildings that actually make people happier, healthier, and more productive.

Because it’s such a hot topic, this first installment in a series on healthy buildings seeks to step back and examine why they matter, and how they impact health and productivity.

The Backdrop

America ranks below developed and even developing countries in many leading health outcomes and risk factors. Yet the U.S. spends a lot more on healthcare than other countries with similar life expectancies. 85% of that spending goes towards providing access to health treatment, while the factors that actually have the highest impact on health are healthy behavior and environment. Spending in these areas is just ~10% at best. The chart below provides further illustration:

Buildings as a Force for Good

Behavior and environment have an overwhelming effect on health, which impacts people individually, as well as the overall economy. The areas where healthier buildings can help companies create greater value include:

1. Reduced absenteeism
2. Improved retention
3. Productivity

A landmark 2015 study by Harvard’s Dept. of Environmental Heath quantified the impacts of indoor environments specifically on cognitive function. Test subjects were in controlled rooms with varying levels of Carbon Dioxide (CO2), ventilation rates, and Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) levels. Subjects were asked to complete their normal work tasks and take a Strategic Management Simulation test, designed to test the effectiveness of high-order decision making through nine cognitive functions. In all forms of cognitive function, the rooms with superior indoor environments scored higher than conventional indoor environments.

Healthy Building Features

Building features and environment can improve productivity in a number of ways:

1. Ventilation & Air Quality – As referenced above, studies have shown a reduction in the levels of VOCs and CO2 results in higher productivity.
2. Biophilia – Introducing elements from nature, as well as natural light, can improve employee happiness, reduce stress, and increase productivity.
3. Thermal Comfort – Studies on thermal comfort have found that employee performance is maximized at temperatures of 71 degrees Fahrenheit.

Making Buildings Healthier

In the next installment of this series, stok will outline specific strategies and building certifications that can be pursued to create a healthier space, and share some innovative healthy project profiles. If you have questions in the meantime, please get in touch!

This post was written by Warren Neilson. Specializing in Real Estate Strategy for stok, Warren co-creates a better future with our partners by helping them realize sustainability goals throughout their entire real estate portfolio, allowing for maximum impact through the sustainable built environment.