‘Health’ is the new ‘Green’

This month Green Building Council Australia (GBCA) released their ‘Carbon positive road-map discussion paper’ including their mission to make new buildings in Australia carbon neutral by 2030 and all existing stock by 2050, clearly demonstrating their commendable commitment to advocate and enable the construction sector to face up to their responsibilities for production of Carbon Emissions and drive environmental sustainability. 

Making Healthier, Greener Offices


Whilst reduction of Carbon Emissions and environmental sustainability are key to more energy efficient workplaces and homes- global trends are starting to indicate that Health and Well-being considerations are as important as those of energy efficiency and whilst they may not directly reduce carbon emissions in the same way as energy efficiency initiatives they will certainly help fight lifestyle disease and improve productivity rates of staff for organisations – driving positive change to their balance sheets.

Increasingly health is reported as the new ‘Green’ in buildings with priorities of global leading organisations changing as new sustainability certifications standards emerge. Established building standards such as LEED in the US are starting to include elements that address not only energy efficiency but also the well-being, comfort and health of building occupants. This shift in perspective is closely linked to the increased staff related costs impacting organisations which considerably outweigh energy costs. Keeping employees healthy, happy, inspired and productive through their workplace environment and building is key to keeping sick days at a minimum and workplace stress related illnesses at a minimum.

The World Green Building Council report Better Places for People illustrates a range of projects that clearly demonstrate the benefits of healthy and sustainable buildings that are improving lives of building users and occupants. Designing workplaces and homes that inspire and drive health and well-being is fast becoming a global priority.

Image: WGBC, Building the Business Case: Health Wellbeing and Productivity in Green Offices. October 2016 (p14)

The Institute for Living Future’s Living Building Challenge (LBC) is by far and away the most pioneering Sustainable Building certification and it is exciting to see that the GBCA are seeking ways to work with this leading standard in their recent work  ‘Green star – Design and As Built/Living Building Challenge – Approaches to buildings or fit outs seeking a dual rating.  The LBC is a holistic approach to building that requires all project stakeholders to consider the real life-cycle impact of design, construction, and operation.  It incorporates Health and addresses the issue of using a rating system as a tick box exercise.  If all future buildings were constructed to meet the requirements of all LBC petals, growth in emissions from the building sector would cease, and efforts to improve existing stock could yield real reductions in global carbon emissions.

The LBC standard  takes the analogy of a flower and sets twenty imperatives, grouped into seven petals (Site, Water, Energy , Health , Materials, Equity and Beauty), which all must be met to be LBC certified. Unlike Green Star (Australia), LEED (USA) and BREEAM (UK) the Living Building Challenge attempts to do ‘more good’ rather than ‘less harm’.

The Bullitt Center, a 6 storey Living Building Certified mixed use commercial building in Seattle is a testament to what can be achieved through LBC . It has operated on a net positive energy basis, was the seventh and largest Living Building when it was certified in Spring 2015, and was the first urban commercial project to be so recognized. Aside from their exceptional achievements as a net positive energy building they have also led the way in demonstrating how design can inspire sustainable choices and radical changes in the behaviour of building users. For example, by setting the stairs against the most remarkable view, the buildings employees choose to take the stairs to catch a glimpse of the stunning panorama. Design can inspire sustainable choices through making the healthy and energy efficient choice the most accessible and enjoyable.

Image: The Bullitt Center. Photography Nic Lehoux for the Bullitt Center.


The Bullitt Center glass stairwell allowing employees to catch a glimpse of the view. Photograph Nic Lehoux for the Bullitt Center.

Last year in the US saw another pivotal ‘healthy buildings’ milestone as the Healthy Building Network, a leader in Health and Transparency for buildings and Google – announced ‘Portico’, a web based application designed to simplify the analysis, selection and specification of building products that meet health and transparency objectives. Portico offers a unique service that allows the key participants in a building project such as owners, architects, contractors and manufacturers to collaborate, research and make actionable decisions on healthy building materials.

According to research from Schneider Electric on the evolution of smart buildings, 95% of Australia’s industry leaders said that the well-being of their employees and the impact this may have on productivity are key components of their corporate and real estate strategies. Bringing the outside in has been scientifically proven to show improvements in health of recovering patients in hospitals, whilst having access to a view of nature has also shown positive health impacts.

In 2014 the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) launched the world’s first building standard to focus on peoples health and well-being through the Built Environment.  For many organisations well-being issues now demand as much attention as issues of energy efficiency. The Well Building standard was developed by DELOS as the first and to date the only building standard to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of building occupants. ‘It marries best practices in design and construction with evidence based medical and scientific research,’ harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human Health and Wellbeing’.

DELOS Well Building Standard Concepts

In large organisations with high staff numbers it is estimated that the staff related costs have been found to be as high as 90% of all costs (WGBC ‘Health, well-being and productivity in offices’). Taking these costs into account, it seems sensible to focus on the relationship between staff and productivity within the buildings working environment. One early pilot project by the well building standard was the CBRE Headquarters in LA which found 83% of staff feeling more productive in their WELL certified space with 92% reporting a positive impact on their health and well-being. In the McGraw Hill report The drive toward Healthier Buildings cites examples of the types of benefits of healthy buildings to include greater productivity, lower absenteeism, reduced health-care cost and improved employee satisfaction and engagement – yet there is currently no fixed easy ROI calculation for each measure.


Australia currently has 18 buildings registered with the IWBI, with Macquarie Bank in Sydney being the first Australian Building to have achieved WELL pilot certification.  The GBCA and IWBI announced their partnership in March 2016, and subsequently released Green Star and WELL Building Standard™: Approaches to buildings or fit-outs seeking a dual rating – a document which maps the credits and criteria that may be used for an assessment under both Green Star and WELL.

The GBCA have also announced a closer working relationship with the International Living Future Institute of Australia (LFIA) to accelerate the creation of healthier, resilient, equitable and ecologically restorative building practices. By working closely with ILFI, GBCA will identify the connections between Green Star credits and the LBC Imperatives, which will help identify a pathway for joint certification. This collaboration will also enable us to explore integrating leading LBC Imperatives into Green Star.

As the concept of holistic sustainable buildings in Australia grows and the demand for outstanding not only ‘Green’ but also ‘healthy buildings’ emerge there is no doubt we will see an increase in the adoption of the new standards such as LBC and WELL building alongside better integration of credits between existing standards globally.

Claire Bowles

BA (Hons) Business Management, MSc Strategic Project Management

Senior Project Manager, BIM Academy ANZ

View Claire’s profile here