Healthy Buildings: Helping Drive Better Outcomes for Business & Public HealthBy Shannon Forsythe | October 26, 2022 << Back to Articles
Of the many lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, one is unquestionably our heightened attention to the health and safety of public spaces. That includes the buildings where we work, learn, stay, shop, and play.
Even before the pandemic, an emphasis on healthy buildings—an outgrowth of “green” building trends — was gaining momentum. Recent years have made the case for this movement clear: clean spaces go hand-in-hand with occupant wellness, satisfaction and productivity, ultimately driving value for property owners and managers, and their service partners. 1,2,3,4,5,6 In today’s world, healthy buildings aren’t just beneficial, they’re increasingly necessary.
As the global leader in water, hygiene, and infection prevention solutions, Ecolab is at the forefront of this paradigm shift. For those that weren’t able to attend our education session at ISSA Show North America 2022 we asked a few of our experts from that session to weigh in on this importance topic. They share the importance of a healthy building, how to create and achieve one, and the value that a healthy building can create.
Meeting a growing need
Jen Gels, Ecolab vice president of marketing, global area disinfection
The concept of healthy buildings is a natural extension of sustainable building efforts, which have really been a priority for decades now. But rather than focusing only on a property’s environmental footprint, the basis for healthy buildings also includes how the environment within a facility affects the people in it. A healthy building is designed to be more comfortable to work in and reduces absenteeism1, really letting the people inside it do their best work and be fully present in that space.
There has long been a need for spaces that reflect the wellness needs of people using them. While the focus on wellness was increasing even before the pandemic, the pandemic really highlighted how the spaces we encounter every day at our jobs, in school, or in other places may affect our health.
I think many people who worked remotely in recent years returned to buildings with a heightened awareness around personal health and safety. That awareness has prompted many to question whether their spaces are really clean, healthy work environments. Most building owners and managers now recognize the need to address these questions. When they do so successfully, we’ve seen significant outcomes, including reduced absenteeism, happier, more productive occupants, and tenants who pay higher rates.1,4,5,6
One of the challenges in creating healthy buildings, especially in the commercial space, is that you have many different parties involved. A building may have a real estate partner, property manager, or building service contractor, and those parties all play a role in creating a desirable space for the occupants and tenants. By the time you put it all together, there can be a half dozen or more players involved in maintaining a space and each party’s goals might be a little different.
Ecolab’s Healthy Building Guide provides a common language for everyone to use. So, if you’re a daily cleaner making sure a bathroom is clean and sanitary, you’re not just checking a box and doing a job. You know you’re helping keep people safe. We want that mindset to be consistent for everyone from ownership and management to service contractors and distribution partners. Everyone is working toward a common objective, cleaner healthier buildings, that, when achieved, provides both societal and business value.
Developing the solution
Matt Molinaro, Ecolab senior program leader of research, development, and engineering
The main components of Ecolab’s definition of a healthy building came from studying public health; what public health means to people and what they expect out of a space. There were four key elements that kept coming up in our research: hygiene, air quality, water quality, and experience.
When we think about the first element, hygiene, it includes a number of areas. A big one is hand hygiene. Are hands being washed properly and consistently? Are hand sanitizer stations available where needed? Other key parts of the hygiene element include surface cleaning and disinfection, food safety, and pest management. Ultimately, to drive proper hygiene you want to make sure that the right products and protocols are used and that plans are in place to measure and maintain compliance.
For air quality, it’s paying attention to the levels of things like carbon dioxide, particulate matter or allergens. Things that you can’t see or necessarily detect with your senses, but that can have an impact on your ability do your best work. This requires improving air quality through use of air monitoring, proper ventilation, maintaining air filters, regular maintenance and even evaluation of furnishings, building materials and cleaning products that can impact air quality.
When we talk about the water aspect of the program, that is also multi-faceted. People might think of drinking water or water in restrooms, but we’re also talking about water used to run heating and cooling systems. Managing water quality is essential to ensure that equipment has a long life, that it’s achieving the right performance. Water safety is even more important in buildings that have been vacant or under-occupied, as Legionella can grow within water systems that have been stagnant. The overall goal of the water element of the healthy buildings program is to promote safe, sustainable water-use practices.
The last element of a healthy building is centered around ensuring a positive experience for people inside the building. That means making sure the air temperature and humidity are comfortable, the noise is controlled, natural light is abundant, healthy activity and personal safety are promoted, and even smells are considered. This allows for an environment where people can feel productive and engaged.
While all four of these elements should be addressed to achieve a truly healthy building, we’re encouraging facility managers to do whatever is possible now to begin the journey, and to continue making improvements as they can. Each situation is different. Finding the right priorities and focusing on those, even if it’s a gradual improvement, will help create a healthier building and a better experience for the people in it.
Dan Siegler, Ecolab assistant vice president of corporate accounts
With remote work becoming common for many people in recent years, the market hasn’t shaken out yet in terms of what “normal” is going to be moving forward. But many large asset owners believe that in-office work is an important component of maintaining an organization’s culture. And they recognize that to make people comfortable and productive in office settings, they’re going to need to demonstrate that they’re taking measures that are beyond what they have historically done.
The pandemic has placed more of an emphasis on creating a measurable standard. In the past, simply not getting complaints from building occupants was good enough, but not anymore. Today, there is more of a focus on measurable data — key performance indicators (KPIs) on air quality, on water quality, on surface cleaners — that demonstrate how healthy their buildings really are. Data that backs up their use of the right products and procedures. If you have that, you have a building that is more attractive to tenants, and those tenants are more likely to be satisfied in their work, driving more value for their companies.
What I’m seeing as an obstacle for a lot of facilities operators is the pure volume of product and service options being thrown their way, and how to put them into some kind of functional program that allows for a measurable output that can be communicated to occupants. That’s where partnering with Ecolab can add structure, enabling access to the right products, training, support, auditing and tracking so you can promote a healthy environment.
These solutions aren’t new, but Ecolab’s Healthy Buildings Guide wraps up key elements in a concise way to produce and much-needed framework for helping achieve cleaner and safer spaces. For more information, visit Ecolab’s website.
- Health Drives Value in Real Estate, Center for Active Design with QuadReal Property Group. June 2022 https://www.fitwel.org/benchmarking-report/
- “A new Investor Consensus: The rising demand for healthy buildings”; Center for Active Design with BentallGreenOak, March 2021
About the Author.
Shannon Forsythe is the senior marketing communications specialist for Ecolab's institutional division. For more information, visit www.ecolab.com.