25 May 2017
By Rosa Shirm
Wellbeing and the Built Environment: 3 Takeaways from Green Sky Thinking Week
The empowering effect of air quality monitoring Foobots, adapting the urban landscape to accommodate for the changing nature of disease and the reasons behind the exponential growth of WELL certified buildings represent a handful of the inspiring insights I encountered across the health and wellbeing events throughout Green Sky Thinking Week 2017. The diversity in topics, projects, speakers and expertise offered a collection of engaging presentations – more than is possible to do justice here. Instead, here are three key thoughts taken from the week.
- 1. How to measure wellbeing
Whether analysing the optimum temperature range to achieve high levels of thermal comfort, to building a business case for wellbeing that relies on translating the benefits of happier, healthier staff into economic terms, quantitative data forms the foundations upon which wellbeing is measured. And there is no denying that capturing such quantitative data is an important and effective way of measuring occupants’ wellbeing. However, the inherent ‘humanness’ of wellbeing means that it is subjective in nature. Methods must recognise the value in understanding an individual’s perceived sense of wellbeing, their personal preferences, and be able to take into account how individual occupants feel about a certain space – factors that cannot easily be assigned a numerical value. This calls for a holistic approach to measuring wellbeing, one, as stated in the UK Green Building Council’s report, that takes a combination of perceptual, physical and financial data into account.
- 2. Conflicts and collaboration
Wellbeing requires a shared sense of responsibility, an input from a host of various disciplines and genuine collaboration between developers, facilities management and occupants. Whether overcoming the tradeoffs likely to occur between daylighting and overheating or facilitating an effective soft landings approach, collaboration is required to avoid outcomes that rest on a single discipline and to ensure the functions of the building are delivered effectively in practice.
- 3. Wellbeing as an ongoing commitment
Wellbeing shouldn’t be viewed as a goal but as a journey. As an agenda that is inherently performance-based, embedding wellbeing in the built environment is an ongoing commitment. It doesn’t finish upon the completion of construction, but should be monitored, managed and continually improved throughout the operation of a building. In contrast to certification bodies such as BREEAM, the wellbeing-focussed WELL Building Standard adopts this performance-based approach by reassessing certified buildings every 2 years. This supports the case that wellbeing is not just a fad, but will be on the built environment agenda for a long time to come.
These lessons for wellbeing are similar to the lessons we apply with sustainability more generally. At KLH, we find we’re more effective when we use the power of collaboration to facilitate the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability. Encouraging open discussion, not only with the client but through direct communication with the project team members helps us to generate informed solutions to conflicts that arise, create opportunities for cross-discipline learning and increase our own awareness of the project in its entirety. We also find that committing to the long term performance of the project by working closely with the project team from the initial brief to the post-occupancy assessments, ensures that, like wellbeing, sustainability is an ongoing commitment.