Cities: Health & Wellbeing

Over the last decade, green building rating systems and standards have made significant strides towards the transformation of the building industry. This has resulted in a rapid expansion of environmentally conscious building and planning practices throughout the world. Chronic health conditions are rising globally, and they cause a heavy burden. Yet many of these conditions are preventable and strongly influenced by building environments. Given the extent of ill health caused or worsened by air pollution, strategies to reduce exposure within buildings and improve urban air quality are also highly impactful. Providing access to greenspaces, affordable healthy food, and leisure facilities can be integrated at multiple scales of development to support both health and well-being. The last few years have seen a marked growth of the health and well-being agenda in the property sector (Rics, 2018). Researchers have investigated the health benefits of sustainable buildings.

ALLEN and colleagues reviewed 17 case studies of the health impact of green buildings (mainly certified with LEED). The studies included a range of subjective and objective measures of health across different building types including housing, hospitals, offices, universities and factories. Overall, the authors concluded that the evaluated green buildings were better for people’s health than conventional buildings. This was due to the buildings’ superior indoor environmental quality (in terms of environmental contaminants and air quality).

There are several standards currently in use internationally aiming to improve the health and well-being impact of new and refurbished buildings including: BREEAM, LEED, Green Star and Living Building Challenge. New building standards focused specifically on health include the WELL Building Standard (for new and refurbished buildings). These standards include some topics covered by green building standards, such as indoor environmental quality, and introduce a few additional topics related to the health impacts of building location, design, as well as operation and human resources policies. The WELL Community Standard aims to impact individuals not just within the walls of their home or workplace, but throughout the public spaces where they spend their days. A WELL community functions to protect health and well-being across all aspects and areas of community life. The vision for a WELL community is inclusive, integrated and resilient; with a strong community identity fostering high levels of social interaction and engagement. Resources in a WELL community – natural, human and technological – are used effectively, equitably and responsibly to meet the community’s current and future needs and priorities. The WELL Community Standard is made up of 110 features within ten concepts. Those familiar with the WELL Building Standard will notice that the seven concepts have been expanded to ten total concepts within the WELL Community Standard: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, temperature, sound, materials, mind and community (https://www.wellcertified.com/).

There is one precondition in each concept, while the remaining features are optimizations. Most features address the community at large – outdoor environmental conditions, the presence of amenities and the geography of the project – and a small number apply rules within the buildings themselves. The program is created with flexibility and adaptability to cover various types of ownership and development; including public, private and joint public-private developments, and for both new and existing communities. Project owners may use their discretion to determine project boundaries; however, once selected, the certification requirements must be applied consistently across the premises, including to properties under separate ownership (unless indicated otherwise in the standard).

The WELL Community Standard has three levels of certification, each with a minimum point threshold: 50 for Silver, 60 for Gold, and 80 for Platinum. Projects accumulate points through optimizations (one point each up to 100); innovations (up to 10 points); achieving healthy building certifications (up to 30 points); and achieving green building certifications (up to 10 points, but not exceeding 30 points combined from healthy and green certified buildings).

To ensure that all parts of the community are addressed as spaces that hold the potential to deliver health and wellness benefits, WELL Community certification requires some buildings within the project’s boundaries to be certified under a qualifying health and wellness building standard, and this provides projects with the opportunity to earn additional points for going above the minimum. All projects must contain at least one health and wellness certified building. For new developments, health and wellness certified buildings must represent at least 15% of total building count or of total gross building area (to a project’s benefit) that is owned, operated or managed by the project owner. Existing communities pursuing WELL Community certification are not held to this requirement. Given that planetary health and human health are inextricably linked, WELL standards also aim to be interoperable and synergistic with green rating systems. Thus, projects with buildings certified under a qualifying green rating system also can earn up to 10 points, with the combined green and healthy certified buildings earning up to 30 points.

Health and wellness certification systems must be available online at no cost, demonstrate a transparent development process, include post-occupancy or post-construction evaluation of on-site indoor environmental quality (IEQ) conditions, and involve a project review by independent, third party–certifying bodies.

APPROVED CERTIFICATIONS CURRENTLY INCLUDE THE FOLLOWING:

Health and wellness certifications: WELL Building Standard (IWBI), Living Building Challenge (ILFI), Petal Certification (ILFI): any petal combination that includes Health and Happiness

Sustainability certifications: LEED (USGBC), BREEAM (BRE), Green Star (GBCA), Petal Certification (ILFI): any petal combination that does not include Health and Happiness, Zero Energy Certification (ILFI), HQE (Certivéa), The Home Performance Index (IGBC).

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Author: DR. DUYGU ERTEN, P.E., LEED AP BD+C, BREEAM FELLOW, DGNB AUDITOR.

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