Building Health and Wellbeing into the Office Environment

2 min read
May 16 2016

When we think of our homes and office buildings, we think about structures that provide shelter and spaces to eat, sleep, and do our work. At a minimum, we hope that the buildings in which we spend 90% of our time don’t make us unhealthy. But what if buildings could actually provide us with information that would improve our wellbeing and increase our productivity?

For someone who has dedicated most of his career to studying sustainability and the built environment, Scott Andrews believes that offices can actually make us happier and healthier.

At the New York-based think tank and sustainability consulting firm, Terrapin Bright Green, Scott focused some of his time on researching biophilic design, a concept grounded in integrating nature into our buildings. In the office, where fluorescent lighting and drab carpet are omnipresent, elements such as plants can have a positive effect on your health. Sitting at a desk made of natural wood can help your vision because of the grain’s perceived depth. Even recent research on indoor CO2 and its effect on cognitive function illuminate the need for real-time environmental data. Through technology, we’re just beginning to understand the dynamic relationship between wellbeing and buildings.

Throughout his career, Scott has seen the green building industry evolve from a focus on basic energy efficiency upgrades to net zero buildings — and now to healthy buildings. His experience, along with his research, would take him from San Francisco to New York City to eventually study some of the world’s “greenest” buildings. “Simply seeing a LEED plaque on the building wall is an indication that the people who built the space care about a building’s impact on the environment, but the industry is now moving beyond energy and environment to focus more heavily on the human health perspective,” said Scott.

At the Clinton Global Initiative, Scott brought powerful, mission-driven corporations to the table to address global challenges in energy and infrastructure on a larger scale. Understanding the power of data in decoding the complex systems of our built and outdoor environments eventually brought Scott to Aclima.

“Aclima represents to me a new way to quantify the world around us, in a way that shows the interconnectivity of different aspects of our built environment and the impacts that our everyday actions can have on our personal and global ecosystems,” says Scott. “When you think about the built environment, a systems view is really important.”

Building codes are dated and new knowledge and technologies can inform how we rewrite our codes with people in mind. “With the new insights that affordable ‘big data’ collection and cloud computing are unlocking, the future of managing our buildings and cities will be all about the IoT [Internet of Things]. Having real-time environmental data can inform a facilities manager about how to best set up building systems or help occupants utilize flexible workspaces to their best potential.” For example, a building management system could anticipate when carbon dioxide levels in a conference room are likely to go beyond a certain threshold and increase ventilation before people enter the room and experience the decreased cognitive function that accumulated CO2 causes.

When Scott thinks about the future of our environment, he sees spaces that not only mimic our natural surroundings, but also buildings that are dynamic and adaptable. Building data can be embedded in the “DNA of our buildings.” One way to accomplish these goals is through education and increasing the level of public understanding. “We should show people that buildings can be not only places of refuge, but also stimulate our senses, both physiologically and psychologically. When we know that our buildings are actually helping us perform and live our best lives, our sense of purpose and general wellbeing can be significantly increased.” At Aclima, Scott works with a network of partners committed to harnessing a new level of environmental intelligence to advance our health and wellbeing.

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