Health vs Wealth

 

The biggest change to come to the building industry in a long time is putting people first. Traditional construction mentality has been “How do we achieve the owner’s goals while also meeting the budget and putting more money in my pocket?”

The new way of thinking is “How do I make sure the occupants have a pleasant experience in this space?” This is evidenced by the new WELL Building Standard. Occupant health and productivity are the main objectives of the standard and it is gaining momentum as a complementary and competing standard to LEED. While LEED focused on building systems and operation, with some elements of occupant health being considered, you could have a LEED certified building with no evidence of any consideration for the well-being of the occupants. With WELL, every design element is evident and its purpose is clear. Organic fruit provided in the kitchen, an herb garden, flexible seating and daylighting are all clear implementations of the WELL standard. And while LEED is a complicated acronym that tries to tie the environment in with design, WELL means just that: WELL. Design well and your employees should be well. That is the whole premise.

Biophilic design is a hot topic in the design world, addressing the innate human need to be part of nature. As we deprive ourselves and our children of more and more time outside, we are creating a gap between our need to be with nature and the actual time we spend around these natural elements. An easy solution for that is to incorporate these natural elements into the built space. There are many techniques one can implement to do that, many of which are spelled out in the principles of Biophilic design. These techniques are much of the underpinning of the WELL Standard.

I know, I know- not another building standard. LEED was hard to stomach the first time around, and then with the v4 revisions it was shunned by many. Where was my ROI? What is this going to cost me? Show me some actual data. And there was none to show because it was so new.

The WELL Standard and Biophilic Design were created based on data compiled as early as 2013. Data that shows patients have shorter hospital stays and use less medication when exposed to Biophilic techniques. Data that shows employees are substantially more productive. Students and Teachers are much less absent when they are in an environment that incorporates nature views and proper daylighting.

How does this tie into building materials?

Product manufacturers have struggled for years trying to be “green’ and find their path to market. Because they were more costly, they were either not considered or the first to go during the value engineering process. Recycled content was not enough to get them in the door.

But now the path is becoming clearer for those that have survived.

Incorporating color is a factor in Biophilic Design, (picture vibrant greens) extensive studies show color can stimulate the mind. Warm, organic surfaces or textured surfaces are more engaging than cold and smooth. Wood grains evoke nature, and reclaimed and textured wood surfaces are playful and inviting. Acoustic treatments with shapes or vibrant colors can not only liven up a space, but they can make it more pleasant for employees by dampening sound.

As a distributor, we have amassed the brands that we have found to be good environmental stewards, while bringing beautiful materials to market. We have now found that we have also been cultivating a suite of materials that encompass the Biophilic Principles.

People first is not a passing trend, nor is our need to be part of nature. There are real measured phenomena that make our lives better. Our health should not be overlooked to save a few dollars. The associated benefits of enhanced employee well-being, through increased productivity and loyalty, also backed by numerous counts of data and reports, is just another reason to follow these revolutionary design principles. Employees and occupants will not only be healthier, but will also perform better in a variety of situations. Through the WELL standard and Biophilic Design there is finally a path to market for these amazing materials that have been waiting for their opportunity to contribute to human health. Our health is our biggest asset, and building owners are starting to take note by putting less in their pocket for a healthier, more productive workforce.

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