Wellbeing of buildings

How Green Wellbeing Is Curing Sickly Work Space Syndrome

Imagine viewing a home to purchase, but walking away and rejecting the property because it's ‘dingy’ with too little natural light or smelling ‘stale’ with little evidence of adequate ventilation or freshly circulated air.

While the house purchaser has the luxury of choice to say yes or no, or move in and renovate, the employee often has no say when it comes to selecting their place of work, the place where they could spend as much as 40 plus hours a week.

The work real estate has been designated by their employers and there’s less room for collaboration about workspace and suitability for the occupants’ needs.

Just as humans need to breathe, so do buildings. As the residents exhale, the building absorbs the human-made condensation. It can either absorb or expel, depending on the fabric of the building and ventilation built into the infrastructure. A building that isn’t breathable can become damp and, in the worst case, it becomes sickly, almost pneumonic.

Feng shui has evolved into a green build

The building as a living entity with metaphorical lungs is at the core of green, environmentally sustainable construction. It harnesses the ancient and elemental foundations of Feng Shui with its focus on wood, earth, metal, water, and fire and blends it with modern materials that are breathable, natural, and functional.

This holistic approach to design, renovation and new builds has been driven by the listeners. The enlightened corporations who listened to their onsite employees about what was required, other than a desk and a computer, collaborated with the developers and architects.

They designed ergonomic workspaces that were pleasurable to work in and accessorised wellness with light, airy environments conducive to productivity and pride in the physical place of work.

So, the Feng Shui element of fire relates not to the potential combustibility of the workplace, which would be worrying indeed, but the passion for productivity, an increase in cognitive function that the environment helps to instil with its clean air, and lack of distractions such as the smells and hazards associated with a tired or toxic space.

Health checking to diagnose sickly space

This circles back to the workplace as a living enterprise that exudes health and contributes to a harmonious work/life balance, instead of being the primal negative contributor to stress that is conjured at work, carried, and introduced into the home environment.

Companies don’t need to spend lots of money on commissioning Zen interior and architectural gurus for their opinions. But it is advisable that a building existing or in the conception phase undergoes a health check to investigate if materials, design, and accessibility are wellness compliant or at least amenable to adaptation now or in the not-too-distant future.

Just as the green building movement started from the grassroots level from workers up the corporate chain, the health of a building begins at ground level – the floor.

On top of the damp proofing course and screed are the floor coverings. Carpet traditionally exudes luxury, warmth, and a home-from-home underfoot comfort - and that remains the case.

Carpet, regardless of the most thorough vacuuming and precise cleaning, however, can harbour engrained dirt, fleas from the pets that some corporates allow into work, chemical residue from petrol stations trodden in after a trip to fuel up, and the myriad bacteria that multiply from spilled food that miss the mouth and turn into microscopic mould. Add the occupant-generated condensation into the mix and there’s a lot that’s being captured in both the long and short carpet pile.

Carpet in a roll or tiled has its place, particularly with the advances in both synthetic and wool carpet fibres and cleaning processes, but there are alternatives, including organic elastic coverings that are more holistic and conducive to cleaner, fresher surfaces which are just as homely but more breathable and much easier to sanitise in a much faster time.  

There are fewer covert places for the once invisible to reside and the elasticity of the coverings has a pulmonary respiratory function as it contributes to the health of the building and reduces the potential for asthma, for example.

Societal improvements are becoming non-discretionary

As global targets are set for a net-zero, emission-free future, the green building concept is not only a wellness ambassador but has become part of the wider climate change debate.   

Societal improvement in terms of energy consumption and smarter buildings are becoming non-discretionary. Local and national governments are starting to listen and assist businesses in terms of grants for infrastructure improvements, cost-effective insulation, and initiatives that contribute to carbon neutrality that will assist the lungs of the world.

While that sounds highbrow and fanciful, what is undeniable in these early days of green construction and buildings with wellbeing at their core, is the evidence that healthy buildings have contributed to healthier minds.  

A 2017 Harvard study highlighted the elevated level of cognitive function in those who worked in a green office environment compared to what was then the more conventional workspace. Four years on from that publication, the wellbeing credentials of the physical environment continue their evolution and are winning the approval of those who reside there.