Elements like air quality, lighting, and other aspects of the built environment can have a huge impact on our health and well-being. Certification programs, like the WELL Building Standard, attempt to measure and quantify wellness and improve the occupant experience. In fact, 92% of employees working in a WELL Certified building reported that the space created a positive effect on their health and well-being and 94% said that the new space had a positive impact on their business performance. Clearly, creating an environment that promotes employee wellness can have a significant impact on a company's bottom line.
Let’s take a closer look at seven critical concepts that impact wellness in buildings and identify some for the smart building features that are being implemented to improve them.
Research has shown that indoor environments may be as much as ten times more polluted than the outdoor environment. Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) can lead to Sick Building Syndrome (SBS) with symptoms including allergies, headaches, and even chronic fatigue. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) estimates that poor IAQ costs U.S. employers $15 billion annually in lowered productivity and increased absenteeism. That’s the bad news, now for the good news: there are a variety of ways smart buildings can optimize IAQ and eliminate these negative effects.
Smart building solution: Air quality monitoring & purification.
Many of today’s smartest and healthiest buildings have systems that both monitor and regulate IAQ to ensure that occupants are breathing in the cleanest, healthiest air possible—maximizing cognitive function and productivity. These smart systems can detect levels of carbon monoxide, particulate matter, mold, and a whole list of nasty VOCs (volatile organic compounds). These high tech systems are becoming so popular, that Navigant Research forecasts global revenue for IAQ monitoring and management technologies will increase from $3.1 billion in 2013 to $5.6 billion in 2020.
Poor lighting can have numerous negative impacts on building occupants, inducing eye strain, headaches, and drowsiness, which can lead to lack of focus and lower overall performance. And while we’d all prefer to have regular access to natural lighting, the reality is that most of our time at the office is spent under illuminated artificial bulbs. A 2015 study by the American Society of Interior Design found that at least 68% of employees in the U.S. are unhappy with the lighting in the office, where they spend the majority of their waking hours. But not for long. Smart building tech is here to change that in a big way.
Smart building solution: Lighting control on demand.
Occupant facing lighting controls allow every employee to adjust lighting in the workplace. For employees lucky enough to have access to natural light, that means dimming synthetic lighting whenever and wherever possible and making appropriate adjustments throughout the day. Not only does this provide greater personalization, but it can also save energy by creating an “only what you need” policy.
The Institute of Medicine recommends that women consume approximately 2.7 liters and men 3.7 liters of water per day to stay hydrated. Unfortunately, polluted waterways or aging municipal water treatment plants and pipes in buildings can lead to tap water that contains trace contaminants, such as chlorine, heavy metals, and noxious microorganisms. Many businesses resort to private bottled water service, which is incredibly costly for the company … not to mention the environment. Thanks to advancements in smart building technology, there are better ways for building managers to provide high-quality, healthy, and thirst-quenching water while staying green and clean.
Smart building solution: Water metering, testing, and purification.
Historically, most technological advancements related to a building's water have been focused on analyzing water-intensive processes outside of the building, like landscaping. However, there are a growing number of companies that are utilizing sensor networks and software applications to create a more holistic view of water management to ensure that greywater is sent to toilets and landscaping while the highest quality drinking water is delivered to occupants.
Healthy eating is often more difficult and complicated than it should be....especially at the office. The reality is, what we eat can have a direct and immediate impact on workplace performance. In fact, a study conducted by the International Labour Office (ILO) found that inadequate nourishment can cut productivity by up to 20%. Therefore, finding ways to ensure occupants are well fed with healthy, fresh, and nutritious food can have a real and significant return on investment.
Smart building solution: DIY produce.
One of the best ways to ensure occupants have access to healthy food is to produce it directly on site. Many of today’s smart buildings contain rooftop gardens or living walls to grow fresh food for occupants. These gardens are a great way to supplement a building's food offerings, while optimizing otherwise unused or underutilized space. Vertical gardens in commercial spaces take “locally grown” to the next level (pun intended) and can actually produce impressive yields of produce such as a variety of healthy greens and herbs. Wall-to-table, its the new farm-to-table.
For the millions of workers whose jobs require working at a desk for hours on end, regular movement throughout the day can be difficult. Staying in any one position for an extended period of time can have many side effects and some health experts are even declaring that “sitting is the new smoking.”
Smart building solution: Active furnishings.
The use of active furnishings, such as height adjustable, treadmill, and bicycle desks, are a great way to prevent employees from staying in one position for too long. A 2015 study by the Texas A&M University’s Health Science Center School of Public Health found that employees using stand-capable desks were more productive than their colleagues in traditional, seated desks by as much as 53% Additionally, because employees are no longer technologically tethered to their desks, better space utilization and smart space-booking software can help employees identify, locate, and reserve workstations based on activity.
It seems obvious, but our office environment can have a much greater affect our mental health; our mood, sleep, stress levels than we often give it credit for. The difference between a drab cubicle farm that’s “decorated” in various shades of gray and and a colorful, stimulating, more natural looking environment are unmistakable.
Smart building solution: Get your greens.
No matter what type of office you have, a state-of-the-art structure or a smart building in training, there is always room for more plans and greenery. Added bonuses: plants can help absorb sound and filter air.
The WELL Building Standard addresses comfort as reducing the most common sources of physiological disruption, distraction and irritation to “facilitate comfort, productivity, and well-being”. Thermal comfort—or lack thereof—tops the list as one of the most pervasive (and divisive) issue in the workplace. Numerous studies have illustrated the “comfort-productivity connection” and how the ability to adjust the temperature in one's immediate surroundings can result in significant productivity increases.
Smart building solution: Thermal comfort control.
Thermal comfort is impacted by many factors, such as radiant temperature (eg. the amount of sunlight streaming in a window or bright lights overhead), humidity, and airflow. Smart buildings are making sense of all these various inputs and adjusting building systems automatically to deliver the optimal experience. As the only occupant-facing thermal comfort software solution, Comfy is delivering a new level of localized, on-demand control and satisfies WELL point #82 - Individual Thermal Comfort.
So, what’s the bottom line? Keeping employees in an office setting healthy and well is critically important, and smart buildings are making it easier to achieve than ever. From providing clean, high quality air and water, to nutritious food, and of course, a comfortable, stimulating environment, today’s buildings are capable of not just eliminating the bad, but actually promoting occupant health. There’s a better way to stay WELL...and it’s with smart buildings.