At this point, it is almost an understatement to say that health and well-being is everywhere. The concept of wellness has captivated and influenced our thinking about almost everything we interact with, from foods and activities to hotel amenities, clothing brands, workplace standards, and home life. Simultaneously, it has become an ESG focus in commercial real estate, with owners and investors exploring how best to take meaningful actions and disclose health and well-being criteria to stakeholders.
The modern workplace has simultaneously become a test-lab for wellness innovation. With Americans now spending over 9 hours on the job each day, a growing expectation has developed around employers and places of employment doing more to support employee health and well-being. This demand has led many Office owners to develop robust wellness programs featuring progressive policies, thoughtful amenities, and reimagined environments. Nonetheless, most of us still spend the majority of our time at home. While many Residential owners have certainly begun engaging tenant-facing health and well-being initiatives as well, this simple fact suggests there is tremendous potential to do more.
The American Time Use Survey (ATUS), conducted annually by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), offers some fascinating summaries of how we use our time. Broadly speaking, between 2003 and 2017 Americans are actually:
Sleeping longer on both weekdays and weekends
Consuming more TV on both weekdays and weekends
Spending more time caring for fellow household members
Spending less time in exercise or other active recreation
Additionally, BLS reports that in 2017-18 about 25% of workers worked from home at least occasionally, and 57% of workers had a flexible schedule enabling them to vary their work times.
All of this points to a greater emphasis being placed on time spent at home – the energy impact of which is becoming evident. Between 2003 and 2012, the ATUS revealed that Americans spent on average an extra 8 days at home, 1 day less traveling, and 1 week less occupying non-residential buildings. Despite increasing the amount of residential energy demand, the decrease in travel and use of non-residential spaces was responsible for a net 1,700 trillion Btu in energy savings for the US in 2012, 1.8% of the national total.
With more of us now spending more of our time at home, it seems more important than ever for our homes to be places that foster our health and well-being. Yet, as with the earlier development of environmental topics in ESG, the more recent focus on health and well-being topics is exposing aspects of building design, construction, and operations that had previously gone largely unaddressed. If health and well-being should follow the course of its environmental predecessor, we can expect to see increasing market competition, consumer valuation, and even regulation developing around topics in health and well-being.
It may not be feasible for every building to have its own pool or gym, but all Residential owners should be thinking critically about what health and well-being interventions could benefit their properties. And for owners who have already taken steps to improve their building’s energy performance, health and well-being can be approached with a similar process. Both initiatives involve establishing responsibility, gathering baseline information, identifying goals and implementing strategies, and monitoring impacts.
The following recommendations, based on criteria from the GRESB Health & Well-being Module, should help Residential owners get started.
Designate the Property Manager or Superintendent to be the building’s health & well-being leader. The leader should receive training on health & well-being issues that are relevant to the building and its population, such as indoor air quality, thermal comfort, access to daylight, nutrition, water quality, and physical activity. Encourage tenants to communicate any issues to the building’s health & well-being leader and utilize this to gain feedback.
Review the building’s Livability Index and Walk Score. Look for opportunities to respond to local community characteristics, such as providing a bicycle storage room in areas with extensive bicycle networks or establishing a CSA program in areas not well-served by grocery stores and farm markets.
Conduct a tenant survey to identify typical tenant uses, needs, expectations, and complaints. Ask questions that can help inform decisions, such as, How important to you is having a space to exercise at home? Use this information to define goals and prioritize strategies.
Define Goals & Implement Strategies
After assessing the characteristics of your building and resident population, start investigating opportunities to make impactful improvements. Some low-hanging fruit might be:
Indoor air quality
Do not use toxic cleaning products
Prohibit smoking throughout the building
For systems that bring in outside air, use high grade filters and replace regularly
Use survey results to determine problem areas and remediate where possible
Ensure paints and chemicals are sealed when stored
Schedule any touch-up work to occur during off-hours
Purchase only low-emitting paints, caulks, and sealants
Common area amenities
Evaluate how these are being utilized and look for ways to increase usage. Use the survey to ask tenants what they like or dislike about the current common area
Incorporate plants in common areas
Assess whether outdoor spaces or rooftops could be made accessible to tenants
Feature a community bulletin board that tenants can post to
Ensure exterior doors lock upon closure, and exterior areas are well-lit
In elevator buildings, post signs promoting the health benefits of stair use, and ensure stairs are well-lit and clean
Establish an on-site bicycle storage area
To gauge the success of any health and well-being initiatives undertaken, social media can be leveraged to share content and receive feedback. Periodic surveys can also be used to obtain targeted responses.
Wellness has become a core value in modern life and a key focus area for ESG development. With more time being spent at home, it is time for Residential owners to take the lead in engaging health and well-being initiatives in the built environment. As with energy improvements, the key is to get started by asking questions and gathering baseline information. And as with energy improvements, owners will see the greatest results in their health and well-being programs by committing to a continual process of setting goals, taking action, and reviewing impacts.
This article was written by Bryan Hadick, Project Manager at CodeGreen Solutions
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