WELL Building Forum looks at people first approach

New focus on health and wellbeing of office building occupants.

The business case for the next wave in commercial building quality which includes lower absenteeism, improved employee retention and higher levels of productivity was examined at a WELL Building Forum hosted by CoreNet Global and Colliers International.

Founder and chief executive of Sydney-based WELL Space Eminè Mehmet told the forum the new tool being implemented at office buildings around the world, The International WELL Building Standard, would play a crucial role in putting people first and steering a holistic approach to employee wellbeing in workplaces.

“People are the most important asset for any organisation and the only way to attract and retain people, increase productivity and reduce absenteeism is to support people from a holistic point of view,” Ms Mehmet said.

“When employers care about the health and wellbeing of their employees amazing things happen. 

“People are more engaged, more likely to stay with a business for longer and are more likely to go the extra mile.

“This means businesses can build loyalty, maximise performance, build brand equity, future proof their business, meet CSR targets, have positive engagement internally and externally and most importantly, build better buildings for people.”

The WELL Building Standard was launched in the US in 2013 and measures seven concepts of the built environment—air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind—that impact human health.

It provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks to help occupants understand and analyse the aspects of a building that impact on staff health and respond with a plan that will optimise the productivity of their organisation.

Ms Mehmet said work-life boundaries were becoming increasingly blurred with the average person spending one-third to one-half of their waking hours at work.

“This creates stress that impacts on health and wellbeing and in 2015, absenteeism cost the Australian economy $32.6 billion,” she said.

“Views and expectations of workplaces have changed. People expect more flexibility and convenience, and we are expecting our employers to care about and understand us.

“It’s no longer just about a great looking space in a great location, if you don’t support people from a holistic point of view, you’re wasting your time and money.”

In an activated wellbeing workplace, Ms Mehmet said the performance and satisfaction of people and the performance of the environment were monitored on on-going basis.

“Participants don’t have to achieve all features but can tailor their selection depending on the level of certification they want to reach.”

The City of Perth’s CitySwitch WA Program Manager Phill Raso told the WELL forum that human sustainability was the next frontier in sustainability for buildings.

WELL Building Forum

“We are getting a better understanding of how human health is intricately linked to environmental health so the ultimate goal for us is to make better buildings because better buildings make better people,” said Mr Raso.

He told the industry gathering CitySwitch’s Green Office Program, a local government-funded high value no cost service for commercial office tenants had compared financial savings from a healthy sustainable office to a normal office in a study that examined more than 50 case studies, 14 published reports and 18 published Australian sources.

It found a “test case” business, a professional services business with 333 staff earning an average of just under $100,000 and occupying a 5,000sqm office with a 4.5 star NABERS rating and a 5 star Green Star rating, lower levels of Co2 and VOCs (volatile organic compounds), better ventilation and 50 per cent more efficient lighting would record annual savings of: $18,000 on electricity costs; more than $250,000 on sick days due to a 42 per cent drop in sick leave and $800,000 on staff churn with 50 per cent fewer staff departures.

“Finally, productivity performance increased by around 11 percent adding more than $3.5 million to the company’s revenue,” Ms Raso said.

“In total, the test case business demonstrated a benefit of nearly $4.8 million per year to its bottom line. To put it another way, you can have a ‘conventional’ building as opposed to a healthy, green building, but it will cost you $4.8 million more to run each year.”

Colliers International’s Sustainability Manager Patrick Jeannerat, who is also WA’s first WELL accredited professional said Perth’s office market had two registered WELL projects but Australia-wide there had been a strong take up with 41 registrations of which 18 WELL certifications were driven by tenants and 23 by landlords.

In the process of achieving a healthier building, Mr Jeannerat said there was a split in incentives and a split in responsibility between the landlord, the tenancy organisation and the occupants.

“When it’s too hard people tend to walk away and that’s where I see the strength of the WELL rating system because it provides the framework for someone to take on the leadership, put the wellbeing outcomes for people centre-stage and bring all the other stakeholders around the table,” he said.

“As a rating tool WELL provides clear guidance and a pathway to make sure you get the right people involved at the right time to benefit from the opportunities that are available.

“You have to work together otherwise you can’t achieve the target and the strength of the rating system is that you will engage with the occupants to repeatedly gauge the level of satisfaction and see the improvements.”

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