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People + Planet Leadership: Climate Change Demands Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings

By Kristen Coco

People + Planet Leadership: Climate Change Demands Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings

By Kristen Coco

Published 12-12-23

Submitted by International WELL Building Institute

Climate Change Demands Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings

Fortifying buildings for health has become a major priority as the building sector is confronted by a range of vulnerabilities from indoor air quality to extreme heat

“There is no planetary health and no human health separately. Both of them go hand-in-hand. We know the balance between them, and we understand that outcomes that are delivered by one benefit the other and vice versa.” This opening statement by Adhishesh Sood, Business Development Manager - Global Strategic Partnerships, Sustainable Building Technologies, Honeywell, set the stage for a provocative and practical conversation on a critical yet often overlooked imperative that is emerging — the need for buildings that are fortified for sustainability and health.

During the webcast, Climate Change Demands Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings, which was co-hosted by IWBI and BuildingAction, Sood shared his unique expert perspective on what’s happening in markets around the world, as well as the role technology and innovation play to help the building sector achieve success across ambitious climate and health goals.

Alongside Honeywell, building industry experts engaged in a discussion on how leaders from across real estate, both commercial and residential, along with leading organizations in the design, engineering and construction industries, and building owners and operators, can move quickly to help support the well-being of the people inside their buildings, while supporting sustainability goals, especially when confronted by these new (yet predictable) vulnerabilities.

As the world turns its attention to the negotiations taking place now in Dubai at the UN Climate Change Conference – COP28 – the questions posed during the webcast remain relevant: what does this all mean for buildings, all the places that, first and foremost, need to protect occupants and keep them safe? Are they ready? Are they prepared? Many buildings — of all types, all sizes and in every part of the world — will now face numerous new, unanticipated pressures, sometimes with devastating effects to property, but also to health.

In his remarks, Russ Carnahan, BuildingAction Co-Founder and Former U.S. Representative (D-MO), shared that during his tenure in the House it was remarkable “how often buildings were not even mentioned…in terms of addressing sustainability, climate and energy issues. And as we all know, you can’t have a serious conversation about global or national sustainability or energy, if you don’t talk about buildings.” As a longtime champion for better buildings and legislation that focused on making them safer, healthier and more sustainable, the former Congressman advocated for partnership between the public and private sectors, which he believes affords a great combination of action, ideas and innovation that can make a remarkable difference when addressing both climate change and public health.

Kevin Kampschroer, Chief Sustainability Officer and Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, General Services Administration – the largest landlord in the United States – highlighted the evolution of the movement to create more sustainable, more resilient, healthier buildings. Starting from an original focus on Sick Building Syndrome, the industry now recognizes how buildings can be influential in ways that support “not just the absence of sickness, but the presence of positive health” of the people inside – from improved sleep patterns to better cognitive abilities. How can buildings be a part of the community? How can they be places of refuge? These types of positive interventions do not need to be expensive, he noted, they are simply a new way of doing things.

As part of the recognition of the health impacts of buildings, many in the global real estate sector are working to support rapid decarbonization, widespread adoption of energy efficiency solutions and other carbon reduction strategies.

According to Kampschroer, the process of electrification and decarbonization of buildings is the next frontier and “a multi-trillion dollar issue for the globe.” The industry must not only modernize our buildings, but also prepare the grid for these changes. Thus far, “the steps have been too small and too slow. We need to take bigger steps and start running,” he said.

Sood agreed with the sense of urgency and brought in the technology angle, stating, “There is a lot of concentration on the profitability of buildings…You don’t have to sacrifice one for the other. The tradeoff is not a given” and it is possible to implement technology efficiencies in terms of lighting, HVAC systems and occupancy levels.

That same sense of urgency also applies to climate resilience. When it comes to grid electrification and resilience, as well as bringing on more electric vehicles, systems such as battery energy storage can help with carbon reduction. These steps, too, must be fast according to Sood, and we must continue to take a holistic approach to sustainability, energy efficiency, health and other social elements in buildings.

“Our problems are multifaceted, so our solutions have to grapple with multiple issues. The climate resilience solutions are also human health resilient solutions,” added Jason Hartke, Executive Vice President, External Affairs and Advocacy, IWBI.

From IWBI’s perspective, the WELL Building Standard provides a framework for translating research into practice that allows us to share with our community the strategies and solutions that prioritize people’s health and well-being, including in the context of these climate change-driven health impacts. It’s why we created alignments with leading green building rating systems to better recognize projects that share a commitment to environmental sustainability with a commitment to human health.

In 2023, IWBI and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) released a streamlined process for projects pursuing certifications under the LEED green building rating system and the WELL Building Standard. This new process creates an opportunity for organizations to apply an integrated approach to health and sustainability, transforming how they unite stakeholders and make key business decisions. Within a matter of months, hundreds of projects enrolled representing more than 100 million square feet of space. USGBC and IWBI aim to continue to expand shared efforts across several other priorities, including social equity, sustainable finance and advocacy – helping to drive efficiencies that can address the sustainability and health-related pressures and vulnerabilities associated with a changing climate.

View the complete webcast recording on-demand: Climate Change Demands Healthier and More Sustainable Buildings.

View original content here.

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International WELL Building Institute

International WELL Building Institute

The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) is a public benefit corporation and the world’s leading organization focused on deploying people-first places to advance a global culture of health. IWBI mobilizes its community through the administration of the WELL Building Standard (WELL Standard) and WELL ratings and certifications, management of the WELL AP credential, the pursuit of applicable research, the development of educational resources and advocacy for policies that promote health and well-being everywhere. More information on WELL can be found here.

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.

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