Healthy buildings: Healthier returns
Real Estate Insight by Hala Yousef, Sustainability Director, Project Development Services MEA
Despite an increased awareness of the benefits of wellbeing at the workplace, there remains a limited level of tangible action within the real estate industry. Considering the existing scenario, it is the most opportune time for enlightened developers to set their projects apart by walking the wellness talk.
According to JLL Research, the pandemic has put health at the forefront of real estate. Properties in compliance with green building norms, such as clean indoor air quality, natural sunlight, and low emissions, play a crucial role in attracting and retaining talent. Such assets have increased value and command better rents.
Delivering healthy buildings is part of the broader move to creating a more sustainable urban environment. Within JLL’s Project and Development Services teams, we help organisations retrofit real estate assets to maximise their long-term financial, social and environmental value.
It is a fact that the objective of wellness-related actions is to improve the health of its tenants. Still, these benefits tend to be intangible and unmeasurable and can be identified only over an extended timeframe.
The more prosaic impact is the substantial financial premium that healthy buildings have shown during periods of both strong as well as weak market demand. Thus, the increased financial value proposition becomes the real “game changer”.
Even in the Gulf Cooperations Council (GCC) and the broader Middle East region, demand for healthy buildings has increased since the pandemic. The trend is likely to continue rising year-on-year with growing awareness of the contribution of such future-ready offices in the battle to create safe and healthy work environments.
Accreditation frameworks such as WELL, Fitwel, RESET Air Standard, and UL Verified Healthy Building have further empowered those seeking healthy building premiums. These frameworks provide objective and mandated performance measuring indicators, allowing assessment and comparison of the relative health of projects.
The focus on healthy buildings now extends beyond commercial and residential projects to more communal and community facilities such as schools and hospitals. Engineering wellbeing into these spaces is part of a more holistic approach to combining indoor and outdoor areas into a built environment enhancing the overall human wellness rather than limiting to targeting only to the immediate needs of occupiers, residents and visitors.
Another factor driving the trend to more healthy buildings is the increasing use of property technology (proptech). Monitoring and displaying indoor air and water quality is critical in the healthy building equation. Digital sensors can pick up any microbial contamination in the air or water which humans cannot see or taste. Such equipment produces actual performance reports that help decision-making to optimise facilities management or retrofit to ensure healthy spaces.
However, the focus is on delivering new healthy buildings. Although as the market matures, retrofitting existing spaces will gain more attention in the coming years.
The Middle East is experiencing a building boom, but the total stock incorporates only a limited component of healthy buildings. Therefore, improving the ‘healthy proposition’ represents a unique opportunity for the owners of the existing buildings. They can establish a point of difference, allowing their projects to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
Gone are the days when one benefitted from fresh air and natural light or enjoyed spring water directly from the source. With over 90% of our air and water now supplied by mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems, we can no longer overlook their impact on human well-being or deny the importance of MEP engineers’ role in maintaining that. We may not have reached the day yet when “your facilities manager has more impact on your health than your doctor”, but the day is not far away.