You’ve got green buildings? How about the humans in the machine?

The trend now in green buildings is healthier occupants

Comment: The US Green Building Council has teamed with the University of Virginia School of Medicine to work out how to measure the health impacts of buildings. It’s the next step to expanding the green building agenda to a broader more holistic definition of “green” applied to the health of the humans within the machine, so to speak.

On Wednesday the USGBC announced it had been awarded a US$1.2 million grant to pursue a Green Health Partnership.

Current chief executive of the USGBC Rick Fedrizzi (who is soon to step down) said the funding would allow the creation of “powerful new tools for project teams and new strategies to effectively engage capital markets.”

The goal is to “merge green building’s long-standing emphasis on integrative design with well-established public health approaches, such as health impact assessment”.

It’s the latest manifestation of the green building influence.

Another is the trend is the new WELL building standard. In Australia the first cab off the rank with the standard looks like being Macquarie Bank, which has already earned a reputation for being first on the block with the latest thinking on how to generate greater productivity.

One good thing about the MacBank project is that at least the company leasing or owning the space is the same as the corporate paying the salaries, so we should expect a high degree of synthesis in whatever are the strategies and outcomes.

In the US the USGBC grant is from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with the research to be led by the council’s Chris Pyke and UVA’s Dr Matthew Trowbridge.

What the pair will be looking to find is “practical tools to promote healthy places”.

This alone is very interesting as widespread evidence suggests that work can be decidedly unhealthy, evidenced by the rise of “sitting disease” and the proliferation of advice to change walk practices and invest in “standing” desks and alternative seating. Not to mention personal advice that stresses work–life balance. According to visiting workspace guru Philip Ross at a book launch at BVN offices recently, the new phrase is “work-life integration”, which perhaps lays out an entire new set of challenges to WELL and to the USGBC.

In Japan things have sunk further, with organisations formed to commemorate those who have literally died on the job, not through coincidence, but quite literally, through over-work and over-committedness.

This new research will aim to bridge the gap between the medical science and the nature of physical work locations.

Which begs the question, MacBank and other owner-occupiers aside, what we could be missing is a rating tool that measures the corporates within the building and what impact it has on the health of its employees.

Is this the biggest elephant in the room, currently hiding behind a raft of corporate social governance reporting that hardly anyone ever reads? What about a simple green star rating system for how healthy your employees are, as well as your tenants? Something you can put in your reception, just like you can a Green Star or LEED rating?

Also on the USGBC team will be Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark, which will add the “public health lens” to assessments of commercial real estate portfolios.

Of course all this will have the impact of influence, which in the end can be the most powerful change agent of the lot.

GRESB thinks it will “empower institutional investors to pursue health and wellness as investable attributes of real estate in the same way green building allows investment in sustainability performance”.

Good to see these new frontiers emerge and spread, and all from the simple pursuit of a greener buildings.

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