Is Healthy the New Green?

©. Macquries, a WELL certified building

In an earlier post I discussed Why we should be talking about comfort, not energy efficiency-

We should be focusing on people, not buildings; that the real role of a building is to keep us healthy, happy, safe and comfortable. Energy is just an input, a variable; the fact that a comfortable building will use a lot less of it is a happy coincidence.

I mentioned also how "I have come around to admire the Well Standard; they get comfort, nourishment, lighting and mindfulness in a way that more conventional standards do not."

Now, writing in the Guardian, the CEO of the US Green Building Council, which offers LEED, makes much the same point. LEED has always been about more than just energy, but Rick Fedrizzi thinks that it is time to move the needle even more.

In 2016, erecting sustainable, profitable green buildings will no longer be enough to stand out. Buildings will also be expected to directly contribute to the health and wellbeing of the people who live, work and learn inside them. For buildings, healthy will become the new green.

Now none of this means that these issues were not on the radar before; In fact, when I asked on MNN recently Is wellness the new green? I got this tweet in reply from a new LEED fellow:

But it really has not been a big deal, compared to energy and water, for example. Fedrizzi writes that it is time to consider the health effects of the stuff in our buildings; the flame retardant chemicals, the VOCs, the formaldehyde. "Almost every product in your room contains chemicals that even manufacturers don’t know about or don’t completely understand. And many of these chemicals have health impacts that we have hardly begun to study."

Rick talks also about how "transparency is coming to the building industry", with standardized reporting measures and environmental product declarations. This is much like what Stacy Glass of Cradle to Cradle told me recently at Greenbuild: " I would like to see LEED, the Living Building Challenge, owners, operators, and architecture and design firms align language and their requests to encourage companies to disclose ingredients, assess ingredients, make commitments to avoid and eliminate chemicals of concern, and be rewarded for their progress on this continuum." It's great to see everyone beginning to talk the same language.

No doubt words like these will endear Rick to the American chemical industry, which until recently was doing its best to get LEED banned in many states in the pocket of big oil and big chem. But he is right, for the same reason I thought Robert Bean was right in my earlier post talking about comfort: there is more to green building than just energy conservation. Let's talk about people instead of buildings.

Rick concludes:

As the world continues to focus on sustainability for the sake of the planet, our definition of environmental sustainability is moving beyond flora and fauna to include the humans in the ecosystem as well. And there is no better front line than the buildings where we spend most of our time. In the coming year, buildings will no longer be considered green if they only do less harm. More of the places where we live, work and learn will begin to actively and intentionally protect and restore our health.

It is a trend that we have been seeing in society at large, a growing concern about personal health and well-being. It's also really good marketing; as I wrote in MNN:

There's another side to the push on wellness: energy is cheap these days and saving it was never a great sales pitch in the first place. Spending a pile of money on insulation to save a few bucks a year never was as attractive a proposition as a new granite counter, and it's even less so now with oil and gas sloshing around the country. Green concepts of sustainability and resilience were also hard sells in a country where discussions about climate are so politicized. But wellness — from Oprah and Gwyneth Paltrow to the yoga boom — that’s big these days, in both red and blue states.