An increased focus on occupant health and wellness is giving new life to the adoption of green technologies in commercial office buildings and workplaces.
The trend is a part of a broader shift in the workplace: as more employers are taking measures to improve the wellness of their employees, the smart building industry is now adding ‘wellness’ to its growing list of occupant benefits.
Improving occupant health was among the highest rated social reasons for adopting green technology, according to the World Green Building Trends 2018 SmartMarket Report. Nearly 78% of US respondents selected improved occupant health and well-being as one of the top reasons for building green.
Until recently much of the adoption of green building tech was driven the proposition of reducing energy savings, but now more landlords and building owners are turning to the Internet of Things (IoT) devices to promote wellness in the workplace.
“Building developers and owners are expected to become increasingly sophisticated, taking a more holistic approach to address the pressing needs of lowering their carbon footprint, improving indoor air quality and offering a healthy occupant experience,” stated Chris Nelson, president of Commercial HVAC at UTC Climate, Controls & Security in the report.
While the move may seem benevolent employers understand the direct link between employee wellness and savings in healthcare costs.
The survey also found that attention to the health and well- being of building occupants remains a primary concern for many of the respondents as owners look for ways to influence occupant behavior to improve building performance.
Experts believe that a convergence is taking place between what we call “green” and “smart” buildings as more IoT sensors are deployed in building projects to measure occupancy, air quality, temperature and other factors. The use of IoT sensors is enabling designers and owners to analyze occupant and environmental data to design buildings which are healthier for their occupants.
“There is a clear trend from green to smart, and I believe in the near future, we will not be able to distinguish measures that make a building green or measures making a building smart,” stated Tobias Huber global head for Business & Project Development at Siemens Building Technologies.
Here are five simple but effective ways in which smart building technologies are being used to improve wellness.
1.Smart LED Lighting Controls
The use of smart LED lighting controls is an example of how the convergence between smart and green buildings is playing out. LED lighting and controls were initially adopted to improve energy savings and reduce costs, and they continue to play a significant role in improving green building performance. However, today, smart lighting is also being used to enhance the wellness and health of building occupants.
Our bodies are attuned to the natural rhythms of the sun and traditional white office lighting can disrupt that natural rhythm, affecting wake/sleep cycles. Poor lighting conditions can also create glare, reduce contrast, and create shadows in the work environment, all of which can lead to eyestrain, discomfort and headaches. Smart lighting controls can now be used to adjust the lighting in workspaces based on the amount of sunlight entering through windows and weather conditions.
- Indoor Air Quality & Occupancy Sensors
Indoor air quality is a significant concern to businesses, building managers, tenants and employees because it can impact the health, comfort, well being, and productivity of occupants.
Most Americans spend up to 90% of their time indoors, and many spend most of their working hours in an office environment. Pollutants in our indoor environment can lower immunity, reduce concentration, cause dizziness and other symptoms which directly impact workplace productivity. The EPA estimates that poor indoor air may cost the nation tens of billions of dollars each year in lost productivity and medical care.
“We are getting to the point where we can actually count people, which allows for several benefits, including understanding space utilization and more proactive indoor air quality control to address carbon dioxide levels before they rise,” stated Clay Nesler vice president of Global Sustainability and Industry Initiatives at Johnson Controls.
- Occupant Wayfinding
Indoor wayfinding apps are another smart building technology which improves not only occupant experience but also health. Navigating a large campus or medical center can be a source of significant stress for patients and visitors and the use of indoor wayfinding apps for navigation is one of the ways of reducing stress and delays. Many smart building systems available today enable office workers to select meeting rooms based on location, reducing the average distance each participant needs to travel and time wasted in unproductive tasks.
The health outcomes for this application are especially relevant in the healthcare sector, where hospital visits can have a significant impact on patient well being.
- Energy-efficient Windows
Installing energy efficient windows and glazed areas to allow natural light to enter not only provides cost savings but improve workplace experience and health. Windows and naturally lit areas, reduce the need for artificial lighting saving owners operational costs and enable occupants to enjoy the natural light and views to the outdoors, which improves both health and concentration levels.
- Green Roofs
Green roofs come with many benefits such as improved stormwater management and water quality, conserve energy, lower CO2 levels, increase the longevity of roofing membranes, reduce noise and air pollution and have a better return on investment compared to traditional roofs.
They can also serve as garden spaces where building occupants can access the outdoors and as a source of calming views from interior spaces to provide a more aesthetically pleasing and healthier work environment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the workplace as the number one place to fight lifestyle disease, stating that the workplace directly influences the physical, mental, economic and social well-being of workers. So whether you are a company, building owner, government, or tenant, improving well being is the smart choice for commercial real estate.