For Landlords, Active Management of Well-being in Existing Buildings Means a Focus on Indoor Air Quality and Thermal Comfort

Well-being is a large and complex space and its arrival as a key issue for landlords was both slow to come and quick to arrive. However, what is becoming clear is that, for building owners, how buildings promote well-being is quickly emerging as a core part of their customer service narrative. But how should they go about addressing this? Carbon Credentials sees indoor air quality and the thermal comfort of building occupants as the most important area of focus for landlords seeking operational programmes within existing buildings.

We need to understand what to do

While well-being has been a key discussion point over the past 3-4 years, actual case studies of programs in deployment are challenging to come by. In a poll conducted with select Carbon Credentials partners and clients last year, the close second highest concern after the financial cost of well-being programs (44%) is in having case studies of programs, or the ability to scope a program and understand its outcomes (39%).

Finance and ROI are always a barrier, but our survey of commercial real estate peers shows that there aren’t enough case studies of real world projects for people to use to inspire the business case

This shows that the Commercial Real Estate industry needs to share more best practice and real world case studies of well-being programs which work in their spaces. We can find examples of Well Standard certifications, which is exciting progress for new developments. However, wellbeing needs to break out of the premium new-build space and become business as usual for the long-tail of existing assets. Sharing these case studies will also help overcome financial barriers, by bringing the business case to life for decision-makers.

Is this possible? Yes it is, and the focus is on air quality and thermal comfort

Looking at the World Green Building Council (WGBC)’s Better Places for People Office Framework, what can be influenced within the base build? Lighting, acoustics and biophilia are largely dictated by design and features within the occupier’s fit-out. The tenants will express their preference on the biophilia present in their offices. Most of the decisions about lighting, daylighting or room acoustics are also design decisions and not in the building owner’s control.

The WGBCs Better Places for People campaign has established the “Office Framework” listing key influences on wellbeing in the office environment

Location and Amenities are associated with the existing building and should be highlighted by the landlord and agents.
The key remaining areas of focus – indoor air quality and thermal comfort – are both related and the result of the central plant system. In multi-tenanted buildings, these will usually sit within the shared services provided by the landlord to the tenant areas and are therefore within control and can be actively managed.

What can we do with Indoor Air Quality or Thermal Comfort?

Active management of both indoor air quality and thermal comfort relies on good quality infrastructure in the building and active management of that infrastructure. However, it is safe to say that in the vast majority of office buildings, the management of that building will affect how the plant is run which will, in turn, affect the quality of the occupant experience.

Office areas have many different influences on thermal comfort, a more complex situation than many truly understand

If the building has a Building Management System (BMS), the controls strategy for the building is vital for occupant comfort. With many BMS’ optimized for compliance, occupant experience is often let down by controls that have been arranged by a checklist. Optimizing by performance requires investigation and dialogue with the occupants, but can often lead to a more efficient, less costly and more comfortable building.
Engagement is key, as you can’t manage people’s perception of a space without understanding how they feel about it. It is also possible that this kind of dialogue can highlight issues with the fit-out, which are causing the issues rather than the base building. How many thermostats have been partitioned away from their airflow? These are common challenges, but engagement is required to make improvements – we have to talk about these things.

Why do this? Why not just carry on with business as usual?

Shorter lease lengths, service office products and a more competitive market mean that building owners are increasingly focused on customer service. Air quality and thermal comfort are a major part of the office product. Without these aspects of wellbeing, landlords risk shorter leases and longer void times, as well as a more reactive maintenance programme. Improving the customer experience has a great business case – and wellbeing is core to that.

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