Designing for Wellness, the Latest Trillion Dollar Industry

December 4, 2019
Written by: Kena David, LEED® AP ID+C, WELL AP™, WELL Faculty, CREW San Francisco
A workspace created by BCCI Construction Company for a global professional service firm in San Francisco, California. The project had several sustainable features that support the concepts of the LEEDv4 ID+C and WELL Silver for New and Existing Interiors rating systems.
Photo courtesy of Connie Zhou

We are living in the technological revolution. Nothing has ever moved this fast and nothing will ever move this slowly again. The demand for efficiency in the workplace continues to heighten in a world where technology can instantly meet our needs and is constantly evolving. While the expectation for “more” creates innovation in technology, the pressure to keep pace in the workplace often leads to both productivity loss and health problems.

The modern-day office is experiencing a higher level of burnout than ever before—packed schedules can affect diet, exercise and quality sleep. Combined, these factors are increasing chronic illness among the human population. Finding balance and prioritizing health in today’s workforce can be a challenge.  

Wellness, the newest trillion-dollar industry, has made waves in the way we live, eat, travel and work. Since 2015, the wellness industry has grown 12.8 percent, and is contributing to 5.3 percent of the global economic output.1 The health and wellness industry has brought new information to the masses about the real benefits and importance of eating clean and taking care of yourself—and has also encouraged finding ways to lessen stress and improve quality of life. With new information about the way stress is impacting health and the costs of healthcare, it’s no wonder that the real estate industry has started looking at how the built environment can utilize technology to address health issues.

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Photos courtesy of Connie Zhou

How do we encourage technological advancements while ensuring we are not contributing to a dying workforce? The answer lies in our surroundings. Of all the factors that impact our health (genetics, diet, exercise, etc.), our physical environment is the largest contributor.2 With the understanding that modern humans spend over 90 percent of our lives indoors—most of this time spent at work—we need to look at our workplaces as a source of preventative healthcare to foster a healthy, happy and productive workforce.

Much of human behavior within an environment is a result of how a space is designed. The traditional workplace design with perimeter offices for executives and cubicles in dimly-lit central spaces does not lend itself to open collaboration, idea sharing and creativity. Workplace design has recently shifted toward open office plans that create opportunities for collaboration, however office design is not a one-size-fits-all approach. There are different types of workplace styles to consider, including heads-down quiet work. Designing for occupant wellness goes beyond trendy, open workspaces—lighting and movement throughout a space should also be considered.

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Photo courtesy of Connie Zhou

There are many building rating systems in the market to address health and wellness in the built environment, like LEEDFitwel, the WELL Building Standard and RESET. These frameworks guide project teams through the specific aspects of design and construction that have the highest impact on human health.

 A few of these aspects are:

  • Air and water quality

  • Lighting levels can be designed for various tasks within the office, balancing or mimicking natural light to support normal sleep and wake patterns

  • Acoustics of a space, as noise throughout open and closed office spaces can contribute to productivity and fatigue

  • Spatial orientation can impact ease of access throughout an office and building levels, affecting collaboration

  • Connection to nature indoors through biophilic design

  • Inviting and aesthetically pleasing areas for eating and breaks
     

Considering these design initiatives is a great start to promoting wellness in a workplace, although their success is dependent on successful operation and maintenance. We cannot improve what we aren’t measuring, so many of these rating systems have introduced technology for regular testing and monitoring of air, water, acoustics and lighting to ensure the space is operating as it was designed. Mindful design and technology that is easy for building operations teams to maintain creates work environments that optimize productivity—and the healthiness and happiness of employees.  

Sources:

  1. https://globalwellnessinstitute.org/press-room/statistics-and-facts/

  2. https://www.cdc.gov/socialdeterminants/faqs/index.htm


Kena David
 

With expertise in sustainability and green building, as well as a background in chemistry, Kena David leads the Sustainability Department at BCCI, shaping departmental initiatives and working with project teams to support client sustainability goals. Her experience includes sustainable design strategy/cost analysis, organizational wellness initiatives, and green building certification management including LEED and WELL. David also provides educational training on the successful implementation of green building strategies and workshops on various sustainability frameworks, sustainability industry trends, and in-depth training on WELL as a WELL Faculty member.  She was awarded the 2017 ELEVATE Rising Rock Star Award by the Northern California CREW chapters and The Registry, and the Northern California Women of Real Estate Rising Star Award.

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