Why companies want proof buildings are healthy

Certifications ranking health in office buildings are cropping up in major real estate markets as COVID raises the stakes on employee wellbeing

October 12, 2020

Ranking a building’s health is increasingly in demand as the wellbeing of office workers moves to the top of the corporate agenda.

Official certifications have cropped up in Singapore, Australia and India, following on from the WELL Building Standard and Fitwel that launched in the U.S. about six years ago.

Companies in recent years have started paying more attention to promoting the health of their workers, in part due to a battle to attract top talent. Such efforts have come into sharper focus during the pandemic.

“The pandemic has been a game-changer in terms of attitudes towards building wellness, health and hygiene, and as a result we are likely to see certifications across national and international programs grow exponentially,” says David Barnett, JLL research manager.

The certifications aim to show buildings meet science-backed standards for health, like air quality, access to daylight, or opportunities for employees’ mental relief and physical movement. They are similar to green-building certifications that have also gained popularity.

New schemes to emerge over the past three years include Australia’s NABERS IAQ (indoor air quality), Singapore’s BCA-HPB (Building and Construction Authority-Health Promotion Board) Green Mark for Healthier Workplaces, and India’s IGBC (Indian Green Building Council) Health and Wellbeing rating.

“Given the severity of the pandemic, certifications will become a business imperative as employees assert their right to being well while they work,” Barnett says.

Making wellness visible

WELL Building is considered the international standard in commercial real estate for implementing, validating and measuring wellness features, which can include the materials used in construction, HVAC systems and air filtration, or tenant amenities.

Take-up is increasing. The International WELL Building Institute’s 2019 annual report shows 82 projects were certified in 2018 – an increase of 78 percent on the previous year, while certified square footage grew 203 percent.

A positive knock-on effect has been greater transparency through access to data, considered an important factor in investors’ decision-making, says Barnett, one of the authors of JLL’s Global Transparency Index.

“Transparency forges a clear path for occupiers and owners to make decisions that bring value and safety to their organisations and employees, as well as to boost engagement and productivity when businesses have hardly needed it more,” he says.

Topping up on tenant amenities

Awareness around the role of wellness in attracting tenants and workers is gathering momentum. For over a third of workers, physical and environmental factors account for more than an hour of lost work per day, according to the 2019 study by Future Workplace and View.

As health and sustainability become some of real estate’s most coveted attributes, landlords are stepping up.

In Australia, Charter Hall last year swapped 1,000 square meters of revenue-generating offices in the lobby of one of its Sydney buildings for a wellness area with free yoga, an auditorium, arts studio and café.

“Employees are coming into to the office with new requirements and expectations,” says Andrew Ballantyne, head of research – Australia, JLL. “We’re seeing organizations respond with highly visible sanitation, contactless technology and access to fresh air to promote long-term feelings of safety.”

The International WELL Building Institute is also upping the ante with its new WELL Portfolio certification. Lendlease has become the first landlord recipient, with certification across 14 of its Australian properties.

 “The groundswell of healthy building certifications point to a market that is changing irrevocably to put peoples’ physical and mental health at the heart of places,” Barnett says. “Like green buildings, health credentials will become mainstream and the only way for a building to remain relevant.”