Sustainability is now mainstream. More people are making green and healthy choices in many areas of their lives. Successful companies are capturing market share by choosing healthier ingredients and promoting personal benefits alongside environmental credentials.

But buildings — where people spend most of their time and money — are different. They do not have the same customer-friendly profile. Unlike other sustainable items, buildings do not communicate in simple terms what they are made of and why they are good for you. Yet all of us are making stronger connections between where we are and how we are, all the time.

“As a product, sustainable buildings have not kept pace with the world outside. The marketplace for green and healthy spaces is already here. What companies need is a different kind of model and a new set of messages that resonate with a public primed to hear them.”

At Gardiner & Theobald, our colleagues have been working to advance and deliver healthy, sustainable places. We understand that the best business case for sustainability is made when you create places that allow for immediate, personal benefits that occupants can understand and appreciate. Our Director of Sustainability, Richard Francis, helped develop the landmark WorldGBC report on health, wellbeing and productivity in offices. He led the team that created the Metrics Framework, an easy-to-understand tool that is being piloted by companies around the world.

The guiding principle behind the Framework is that everyone can have a healthier office and everyone should. This is why the tools that enable it are both affordable and understandable and seek to bypass two barriers to sustainability – expense and complexity. The Framework measures three categories – environment, experience and economics – using low-cost sensors, surveys and company data. This allows organisations to understand for themselves how their places are impacting their people.

The Framework has been piloted by the UKGBC Offices Wellbeing Labs, where Richard led a team of leading companies through implementation. It has also been used by many UK companies in both their HQ offices and for tenant outreach.

“The intelligence gathered from real-time data has informed many day-to-day management decisions and confirmed the success of design/construction strategies designed to provide healthier environments”

What’s most attractive and unique about the Framework is that is uses data from your buildings and your people to make recommendations that are not generic but rather specific to your place and activities. You can also communicate important messages about how you are taking steps to ensure the health and wellbeing of those within your buildings.

The results have overwhelmingly shown that buildings have a significant impact on occupants and that smart, low-or-no-cost operational and building strategies can make a huge difference to outcomes. We have seen absenteeism and turnover fall considerably when healthy building strategies have been adopted and we know from deep-dives through HR data that some of the biggest medical costs to companies are building-related that can be alleviated.

Our work in this area has given us unique insight into what the most common building problems are (and how they can be avoided), what most occupants would like to see changed and how costly building-related medical conditions can be. We know what good building performance looks like; how to run a successful survey that yields important insights and how to help your HR team work efficiently through data that matters most.

We have also found a host of important commercial implications from the Framework. These include design and operation strategies due diligence and rent review applications, fit-out specifications and tenant review. We have also identified unusual but highly valuable applications we had not originally anticipated, such as how to use social media and online reviews to find healthy places and the teams responsible for delivering them – information that can be used to better inform future project team selection.

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Perhaps what the Framework does best is reflect a much-needed updating to sustainability, one that reflects the new power of low-cost technology and information. Historically, gathering data about building performance – both qualitative and quantitative – has been costly and difficult. However, it is now possible to gather and disseminate a whole range of useful information about buildings using inexpensive devices, surveys and pre-existing company data. The ability to communicate quantifiable good performance to current and prospective employees and colleagues is just one of the many benefits of the new technology.

We think the Framework is an indispensable tool that sits at the intersection of three of the biggest world markets – real estate, health and wellness and technology. It represents a concise, simple, low-cost entry to understanding the performance of your buildings, how they can be improved and how meaningful messages can be communicated.

Real estate has been called the last imperfect market in the world, but this label may soon become obsolete. Technology has and will continue to empower consumers to make better, more informed choices about how places impact them and their families. This is already affecting the attractiveness of some kinds of properties and being reflected in the prices they command.

Green and healthy products in other industries outperform the competition by miles.

Why should buildings be any different?

Richard Francis, G&T's Sustainability Director took part in a Bisnow's webinar on the future of healthy buildings, looking at what impact the current situation might have on strategies and methods for approaching sustainability post lockdown. Richard sat alongside Paul King, Managing Director of Sustainability and Social Impact at Lendlease and Sophie Carruth, Head of Sustainability, Europe for LaSalle Investment Management.

Watch the full webinar.

To find out more about our sustainability service visit our website page.