Submitted by International WELL Building Institute
When it comes to the health of the business, environmental sustainability and climate action go hand-in-hand with human health. This was the key takeaway at “Changing climates: Prioritizing human health amid environmental, political and social change”, a breakfast event organized by the International WELL Building Institute.
Held during Climate Week NYC 2019 and the UN General Assembly, and hosted by Teknion at its WELL Certified showroom, the event focused on the impacts of our changing climate on human health. It is widely understood that the health of the planet is inextricably linked to both human health and the strength of socioeconomic institutions, so when we talk about the impacts of a “changing climate,” it’s important not to focus solely on the environment, but rather how our collective health and well-being are interconnected with the economic, political and environmental impacts.
Moderated by IWBI President Rachel Gutter, the panel featured leaders from business, civil society and the United Nations who discussed ways that leading companies from the real estate industry and beyond can tackle climate change to positively impact the health of their employees and other stakeholders. They looked at how addressing the co-benefits of climate change mitigation and health can feed into a company’s broader corporate responsibility and ESG reporting strategies.
Gutter urged the panel to share their ideas on how to make these critical societal challenges relevant to individuals and businesses. “A key challenge in the sustainability movement has been making these issues local and personal,” she said. “Despite 30 years of definitive evidence that climate change is a real thing, we still need to demonstrate the immediate impacts: that what a building exhales, the people on the street inhale. What a car exhausts, people breathe in.”
Specifically, the panel looked at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a comprehensive framework for companies to address specific, measurable targets across a wide range of interdependent social, economic and environmental issues.
Charlotte Ersboll, Senior Advisor, UN Global Compact, shared that the SDGs provide an aspirational and ambitious approach to addressing climate change and health holistically. “The SDGs are so powerful. Health and well-being are inextricable from sustainability,” she said. The SDGs also ensure that companies understand the potential negative impacts of inaction. “This week we are trying to help companies connect the dots and show that improved health ought to be a leading indicator of achieving the SDGs.”
Added Gutter: “The SDGs are targeting not only what’s good for the planet, what’s good for people, but also what’s good for business.”
Jason Hartke, President of the Alliance to Save Energy, spoke on a new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) highlighting how energy efficiency benefits public health. Energy efficiency programs save half a penny (USD) per kWh, but they also generate up to nine cents in health savings. “Every time we’re generating power via fossil fuels and we don’t use that energy, there is a direct public health benefit,” he said.
Spotlighting the urgent need to focus on health, Hartke noted, “This is the greatest opportunity we have to improve health and protect the planet and strengthen the economy while doing so.”
Consumer demand is a key part of that equation. While the most knowledgeable consumers ask for healthy, sustainable spaces and products, there is often no incentive to promote certifications that insure that both places and the products that fill them are created as designed and that they perform as intended. Discussing the best ways to incentivize consumers to demand this, Ersboll reflected that affordability and cutting through the clutter of busy lives can help. “It’s important we don’t make health and sustainability a luxury good,” she said. “It’s also about companies working together to create ambitious loops to ensure that the choices we need to make for a better world are more affordable, attractive and easier to access. We can’t just leave it up to consumer demand.”
But employee demand is a great leverage point. Today’s employees entering the workforce are not only concerned with a paycheck and benefits, but how the companies they work for demonstrate that the organizational purpose aligns with their beliefs and that they’re doing great work to help the community.
Mark Sadovnik, Chief Human Element Officer of 5th Element, said, “Leaders who care…understand that they will bring hiring value to their business model if it’s intertwined with social impact. They will, in other words, be able to get the top talent.” Prioritizing employees and their health and well-being, therefore, has serious implications for the brand and the bottom line of their businesses.
IWBI’s event came on the heels of the launch of the UN Global Compact’s “Business Leadership Brief for Healthy People, Healthy Planet.” In the report, IWBI’s WELL Building Standard was featured as an leading framework for companies that wish to take an integrated approach to addressing planetary and human health, and advance the SDGs.
About the International WELL Building Institute
The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is leading the global movement to transform our buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. The WELL v2 pilot is the most current version of its popular WELL Building Standard, and the WELL Community Standard pilot is a district scale rating system that sets a new global benchmark for healthy communities. WELL is focused exclusively on the ways that buildings and communities, and everything in them, can improve our comfort, drive better choices, and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness. IWBI convenes and mobilizes the wellness community through management of the WELL AP credential, the pursuit of applicable research, the development of educational resources, and advocacy for policies that promote health and wellness everywhere IWBI is a participant of the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate citizenship initiative, and helps companies advance the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) through the use of WELL. For more information, please visit us here.
Kristen Coco, IWBI
The International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI™) is a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. IWBI administers the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) – a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of buildings that impact the health and well-being of the people who live, work, and learn in them. IWBI was established pursuant to a Clinton Global Initiative commitment to improve the way people live by developing spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life by sharing the WELL Building Standard globally. www.wellcertified.com
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