Out of obscurity just a few years ago, building wellness has become an important driver of commercial real estate differentiation. Top quality tenants are no longer just asking about the exposed brick or the energy efficiency – they care about the CO2 levels and VOCs, too, and they want to see industry certifications like WELL for the proof.
In some ways, the new focus on wellness is an extension of a long trend in office real estate. After the office’s early days as a windowless cubicle farm where creativity – and often productivity – went to die, designers have realized that a comfortable setting results in fewer missed days and higher productivity. Air quality, which has a measurable effect on comfort and productivity, is just the latest in a long line of improvements to the corporate setting.
Whether you manage a building for office tenants or the facilities for your company, here are 5 reasons to invest in the best air quality on the block:
It’s a truism that employees are (almost) always the most expensive thing in an office. Between payroll, health insurance, taxes, and other costs, they cost a lot. Thankfully, they generally produce even more for the company than they cost. This means that even a small jump in an employee’s productivity is worth a lot to the company.
According to International WELL Building Institute Chairman and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, a 10 percent increase in productivity across the board is equal to an extra $30 per square foot on average annually. Since North American offices devote an average of just about 150 square feet of space per employee, that would wash out to roughly $4,500 per head every year.
Remember sitting in afternoon classes in high school and feeling like you might nod off at any moment? Chances are the CO2 levels in the room had built up over the course of the day and were responsible for making you drowsy.
Outdoor CO2 levels are usually about 350 parts per million (ppm), and the EPA believes that concentrations in excess of 700 ppm are unhealthy for people. Research has shown that above 700 ppm, people experience an 8 to 13 percent decrease in cognitive function, which in turn results in lower productivity for employees. In buildings that don’t control CO2, levels frequently reach upward of 1,500 ppm in heavily-used conference spaces and dense desk areas.
An uncommon and frequently misunderstood, but all-too-real problem associated with poor air quality is Sick Building Syndrome. Sometimes confused with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (which probably isn’t real), sick building syndrome describes a set of symptoms experienced inside a building with no obvious cause. In particular, Sick Building Syndrome is considered likely when more than one employee complains about the same kinds of symptoms.
The most common symptoms associated with SBS include lethargy, nausea, headache, and difficulty concentrating. While there is no one cause of SBS, improvements to air circulation or quality often solve the problem. The loss of a good employee over SBS, especially if it can be corrected with an investment in air quality, is a needless waste.
In more serious cases, there are air quality contaminants that can cause serious illnesses. Biological contaminants, like animal droppings, mold, and mildew, are the cause of building related illnesses every year.
The most common building related illnesses include Legionnaires’ disease, humidifier fever, and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. If people in your building begin to contract any of these illnesses, it is essential to do a thorough check of the building’s air systems. Building related illnesses cause an increase in missed days, yes, but they can also decrease morale among remaining staff or even expose you to liability.
From a commercial real estate perspective, there’s a lot of upside to having the best air quality around. In the same way that the LEED Certification helps buildings to signal their commitment to energy and resource efficiency, the WELL Certification and those like it demonstrate a building’s efforts to maintain a healthy, comfortable space for employees.
It’s still early days for the wellness movement, but studies show that tenants already place a high value on indoor air quality. Helping them to understand the tangible and intangible benefits that come along with high-quality air in the office environment may be a powerful differentiator.