As record-breaking heatwaves spread across southern Europe, we are confronted with the stark reminder that the effects of climate change are no longer far-flung, but are already upon us. 

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Ann-Marie Aguilar

Mitigation and resiliency are two concepts at the leading edge of sustainability, and demonstrate how our buildings can protect us from dramatic weather events.

At scale, human health and planetary health are linked. What our buildings exhale, we inhale. Amid the alarming news stories of extreme weather events, it is important to recognise the opportunities to align health benefits with our actions to address climate change.

There is already a great deal of overlap between what’s good for people and what’s good for the planet. Investing in electrification, selecting low-emitting materials, encouraging cycling to work and optimising natural light are just a few examples of strategies that support climate mitigation and human health. It’s an approach that benefits all of us.

In the International WELL Building Institute’s (IWBI’s) work to promote, assess and certify spaces that advance human health and wellbeing, we have long recognised how events such as heatwaves, wildfires and floods highlight the link between buildings, human health and climate change. For many property owners and developers, understanding this connection is the first step. In many cases, we see that buildings are simply not prepared to handle extreme weather and air-quality issues, resulting in negative impacts on human health.

At scale, human health and planetary health are linked. What our buildings exhale, we inhale

We also know that climate change disproportionately affects the health of the world’s most vulnerable communities, often through a lack of access to resilience measures as air pollution and extreme temperature fluctuations worsen.

At a fundamental level, built infrastructure that prioritises wellbeing offers a physical layer of resilience for the communities it serves.

Sustainability puzzle

We also know that we’re not in this alone. Just as a space that promotes health and wellbeing must approach strategies in a holistic way, human health is just one piece of the sustainability puzzle. In our efforts to broaden this understanding, we have seen that companies can use the WELL standard to make progress toward many UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and SDG targets, with four WELL features directly supporting Goal 13 on climate action.

Green healthy office, cycling to work shutterstock_634655756 Kzenon

Source:  shutterstock / Kzenon

Pedal power: cycling provision promotes both health and sustainability 

In the market, this approach continues to resonate, with many organisations pursuing and achieving WELL certification in tandem with other green rating systems. Recently, Vizcaya 12 in Spain achieved both WELL Core Certification through WELL v2 and LEED v4 Core and Shell at the ‘Platinum’ level.

In Malmö, Wihlborgs recently achieved a NollC02 (net zero) certification with the Sweden Green Building Council (SGBC). Its Kvartetten project is under SGBC’s certification, Miljöbyggnad, and has received WELL Core Precertification, where the Innovation I06 β Carbon Disclosure and Reduction feature has been accepted.

This climate-focused WELL feature, housed within the ‘Innovation’ concept of the WELL Building Standard, requires organisations to assess and disclose their carbon emissions, set emission-reduction targets and progress toward carbon neutrality.

Looking ahead, as the world continues to face the threat of climate change, we anticipate a further shift in how people consider the related factors that affect their health. Pursuing strategies to invest in people and their health also supports other organisational benefits, including attracting and retaining staff, supporting productivity and enhancing overall wellbeing.

More and more people are asking: “What does a healthy space look like for my family?” “How do I know I am returning to a healthy work environment?” “What is my organisation doing to support my wellbeing?” We are ready to lend a hand to the organisations that are gearing up to address these questions.

Ann Marie Aguilar is senior vice-president, EMEA, at the International WELL Building Institute