Commercial property management: health and wellbeing
3 May 2016
Mitch Cook and Kerri-Emma Dobson examine the health and wellbeing agenda in the built environment, and the impact it could have on commercial property
The health and wellbeing agenda has been gaining momentum across various industries in recent years. In particular, it has become very topical in the built environment. However, there are often questions about the relevance of health and wellbeing design to commercial developments.
The built environment can have a number of impacts on health and wellbeing. This means we are able to create healthy places in which people can live, work and socialise. But what are the benefits of doing so in commercial properties?
In the first instance, there are direct health benefits for building users, which often have a ripple effect, such as reducing the number of staff sick days. The employer has a healthier and happy workforce, which ultimately leads to greater productivity.
Another example is incorporating open green space, which improves mental wellbeing as well as encouraging physical activity, while also making the space more visually appealing. Green infrastructure in particular can serve to increase biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of climate change, which in turn can reduce operational costs. These design measures can make a commercial development more appealing to potential building occupiers, ultimately increasing property value.
At its most simple level, measurement allows for identification of positive and negative health impacts, which can then be enhanced or mitigated as appropriate. Expanding beyond this, measurement can validate the beneficial outcomes – a strong promotional tool for marketing the development and generating investment.
In recent years, a number of factors have driven the rise in health and wellbeing measurement. The Building Research Establishment BREEAM certification methodology continues to include measurements for a building’s health and wellbeing capabilities, awarding credits for both design and functionality that support health, as well as the International WELL Building Institute’s WELL Building Standard scheme, which specifically focuses on health and wellbeing influence in the built environment.
Ongoing research by the World Green Building Council (WGBC) in 2015 led to the Better Places for People campaign, which intends to raise awareness of the impact that built form has on health and wellbeing, and to encourage those who design, build and sell buildings to ensure maximum benefit for the people who occupy them.
Methodologies for measurement
There are a number of methods for measuring the health and wellbeing impacts of a commercial development.
When undertaking a BREEAM assessment, working with your BREEAM assessor to consider health and wellbeing issues will influence the design of the building to take account of them. In BREEAM 2014, the assessment considers topics such as visual comfort, indoor air quality, thermal comfort, acoustic performance and safety and security.
The WELL Building Standard is a relatively new methodology, but dialogue in the industry suggests it is on the verge of gaining momentum in the UK. The standard’s matrix includes air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
Another method is to use socio-economic assessments. These reports cover a range of topics regarding the character of an area in which a development is being built. One aspect is the impact of the development on health profile baseline, in terms of demand on primary healthcare facilities, provision of open space and play space, and the development’s ability to promote healthy places and lifestyles. The assessment will also evaluate impacts on the local economy, employment, social infrastructure, community safety and housing provision, all of which influence a community’s wider wellbeing.
Health impact assessments (HIAs) also measure health and wellbeing. They take a similar approach to socio-economic assessments, but more specifically focus on health. In recent years there has been an increase of interest in HIAs, particularly in planning policy. Frequently, we are seeing these requested, to demonstrate that health and wellbeing has been thoroughly considered in relation to the development.
It is evident that concern about health and wellbeing is growing internationally as well as in the UK. With industry leaders such as the BRE and WGBC driving the initiative, it is important for commercial development to be ready to respond accordingly. As health and wellbeing becomes more visible in policy requirements, it will become increasingly important for commercial development to demonstrate a consideration for health and wellbeing and the resulting impacts.
Mitch Cooke is Partner and Kerri-Emma Dobson is a health and wellbeing consultant at Greengage