Investing in Health, Well-Being and Equity: The Time is Now

From 2009 to 2014, something quietly revolutionary happened in the real estate industry: the portion of GRESB participants who tracked their buildings’ energy consumption increased from 19 percent to 79 percent. We all saw what happened next: because companies could measure progress, and investors could reward it, buildings got greener, fast. Better metrics and more attention helped real estate companies construct and operate buildings in ways that support the health of our planet.

the portion of GRESB participants who tracked their buildings’ energy consumption increased from 19 percent to 79 percent.

I believe the industry is set up, now, for a similar sea change in creating buildings that benefit people as well as the planet. In the coming years, we’ll see real estate companies taking far greater action to support health, well-being and equity in their communities—and investors increasingly rewarding these behaviors.  

There is, of course, an obvious catalyst for this shift: the COVID-19 pandemic, which has made the consequences of failing to invest in healthy spaces plain. But often, moments of crisis simply accelerate existing trends. That’s certainly the case for the healthy building and communities movement, which had been steadily growing for years before the pandemic hit. 

Six years ago, my colleagues at the Green Health Partnership and I partnered with GRESB to create the GRESB Health & Well-being Module as a voluntary addendum to the GRESB Real Estate Assessment. The reception was overwhelming. Fully 10 times as many companies as our research team expected completed the voluntary assessment, and over just the first few years of tracking, they reported significant progress in their health, well-being and equity efforts. So, in 2019, GRESB integrated health and well-being metrics into the core assessment. In the coming years, we expect to see more and better tracking on these metrics, fueling faster progress and greater investment.

Companies eager to differentiate themselves will recognize that focusing on health, well-being and equity is more than just a requirement for continued success in the post-pandemic world—it’s an opportunity for enormous value creation. Unhealthy workers cost the economy roughly $234 billion in lost productivity every year. Meanwhile, happy, healthy employees are more productive, make better decisions and are more creative

And of course, beyond the benefits to business, happier, healthier people make for a happier, healthier society. 

Now is the time to build on our momentum and join in the global movement to integrate health, well-being and equity into everything our enterprises do. Personally, I’m excited to further that mission in my new role as Chief Medical Officer at the International WELL Building Institute. After nearly 14 years as a physician, public health researcher, and Associate Professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, it’s a privilege to be applying my experiences in the field at an organization that’s dedicated to helping companies create people-first places.

If we’re to succeed in reimagining places across the globe to foster health, happiness and equity, it’ll take every one of us prioritizing well-being and advocating change in our work and daily lives. I look forward to seeing you out there.

This article was written by  Dr. Matt Trowbridge, Chief Medical Officer at International WELL Building Institute

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