Last week in New York City, we marked the last GRESB Health & Well-being Event of 2016. The inspiring conversation hosted by The Durst Organization included perspectives from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Delos, Google, the U.S. General Services Administration, the New York Department of Public Health, The Healthy Neighborhood Equity Fund, U.S. Green Building Council, and Aclima. This was an amazing collection of expertise and a clear indicator of the caliber and diversity of interest in health and well-being in the real estate industry.
The New York event concluded a series of events including stops in Toronto, Stockholm, The Hague in the Netherlands, London, Paris, San Francisco and, New York City, twice. I wanted to take a moment and consider some of the lessons learned along the way. Reflecting back on these events, I am struck by three overriding themes:
(1) Well-being moves from niche to mainstream
Interest in health and well-being as an aspect of commercial real estate is rapidly moving from a niche consideration to a mainstream movement. Around the world, GRESB events have included representatives from the large investors, sophisticated asset managers, and desirable tenants. Overwhelmingly, these market leaders have expressed their belief that consideration for health and well-being contributes to more valuable property. This value may be reflected in many ways, including occupant productivity, tenant retention, lease up, permitting, or investment.
We have also learned that there are some situations where the value may be difficult to capture by specific market actors. For example, some landlords are not yet clear on how, exactly, they can promote health as an amenity, when so many factors are overwhelmingly controlled by tenants. Moreover, they also see risks from promoting healthier space, especially when they lack control over outcomes or new data creates potential liabilities.
Overall, there is a sense that market leaders around the world share an increasingly sophisticated sense of both opportunities and challenges.
Learn from a leader: Alexandria Real Estate is a great resource to learn more about this emerging field.
(2) From demonstration to strategy
Among companies embracing health and well-being, we have seen a rapid shift in emphasis over the last year. At the beginning of the year, many speakers talked about exemplary demonstration projects. These are frequently first-of-their-kind projects receiving WELL Certification or using similar guidelines.
As the year progressed, we consistently heard leaders talk about the evolution from inspirational pilot projects to a broader search for corporate strategy. The implication is that organizations broadly see the benefits from these demonstrations — at least to the degree that they recognize that such projects are desirable and feasible.
Now, the emphasis is on strategy and scalability. We see a shift toward questions and dialogue about strategies that can be deployed across a range of asset types and circumstances. We also hear an emphasis on designing plans and programs to achieve specific results. Predictably, these issues are accompanied by concerns about cost, especially as demonstration projects provide concrete examples of costs and benefits.
Moving forward, it is clear that we have moved past the issue of feasibility. All around the world, it is clear that property companies can create spaces that more intentionally promote health and well-being. The question now is how these activities are institutionalized and integrated with broader business strategies.
Learn from a leader: LendLease’s Health and Well-being Framework provides an excellent primer in this area.
(3) From intent to outcomes
The shift from demonstration to strategy has been accompanied by another change: a focus on outcomes.
A year ago, much of the focus on health and well-being was related to a discussion of specific features and their intended benefits. Many of these strategies are now institutionalized in rating systems and training (e.g., daylight, increased ventilation rates, active design). For instance, hundreds of professionals have pursued training related to the WELL rating system or learned about Harvard’s “nine foundations” for healthy buildings. In many cases, this training focuses on recommended action, and we have seen tangible results in new projects around the world.
The next question is how do we evaluate whether outcomes match intentions? This involves more than simply setting up a program or deploying a piece of technology. Evaluating outcomes requires a systematic process linking management intent, measurement, interpretation and, ultimately, accountability. We know that ISO 14001 gives us a framework for this kind of management for environmental issues; however, we don’t have a similar tool for health and well-being. Moving forward, we will need to figure this out and fill the gap.
Fortunately, emerging sensors, communications technology, and analytics are providing the infrastructure to monitor both people and the indoor environmental conditions shaping their health and well-being. At Aclima, we are creating a scalable environmental intelligence platform that allows managers to monitor the factors driving comfort, productivity, and health in ways that mirror tracking of energy, water, and waste. This will help stakeholders manage facilities to promote both human health and environmental performance and prove the benefits with high-quality data.
Learn from a leader: Google Real Estate and Workplace Solutions is putting resources towards implementing well-being solutions grounded in data.
As the year comes to a close, it is worth reflecting on these big ideas and recognizing how far the industry has come. It is also important to recognize that we are not done. In fact, we are only getting started. I expect that 2017 will be just as exciting, hopefully filled with thoughts on scale, strategy, and data to inform our health and well-being in the built environment.