Use your common sense and build healthy!

By Cécile,
on 18 April 2016

Research shows that in the western world we spend 90% of our time in unhealthy buildings. Cognitively we know that a good and healthy work environment can lead to increased productivity and lower absenteeism, and is therefore valuable; but truly healthy buildings are only sparsely invested in.

Is this a reflection of “health care” in the Netherlands, which looks more like “sickcare”? But more importantly, how do we break through this? How are we going to create work environments that are nourishing and stimulating for our health? On 31 March we organized a co-creation session with Hearbeat Ventures to explore with experts and stakeholders whether we could come to a systemic solution.

For background, we first looked at healthcare in the Netherlands … healthcare has grown in an unintentional and exaggerated way into a system in which there are perverse incentives to label people with syndromes instead of keeping them properly healthy (after all, prevention is better than the cure). This means millions of euros are spent on long-term treatment of the 5 million chronically ill people in the country. And the frustrating thing is that many of these chronic diseases (such as cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary diseases and psychiatric conditions) could be prevented by taking appropriate (preventive) measures – of which the physical environment is one.

Fortunately, there are successful pilots investing in prevention: healthcentre ‘de Nije Veste’ has a deal with Zilveren Kruis Achmea whereby the demonstrable reduction of the number of lung patients is rewarded. “Exciting, but through such a change in the ‘incentives’ you can see a whole different dynamic and, eventually, a different system,” says Carl Verheijen, the CEO. An inspiring example that shows that systemic solutions (and financial incentives) have enormous effects, and that it is in fact possible to invest in prevention, as long as measurable results are achieved!

Do the lessons taken from ‘the Nije Veste’ also apply to our theme of healthy buildings? After all, it is technically possible to make a healthy building (which LIAG architect Thomas Bögl shows with the the HAN’s I/O building), but this often leads to a higher price tag. And although the ‘benefits’ of a healthy building are often proven (Human Spaces Report,World Green Building CouncilBBA Binnenmilieu) there is a case for a split incentive:

With this split incentive and the case of ‘the Nije Veste’ in mind, the potential solution might be a systemic one, and thus one of cooperation, hence the systemic representation at the table: facility managers, architects, contractors, investors, developers and experts from various sectors. The main key points from the discussion:

  1. The health of buildings is not only a question of ‘hardware’, but also partly of ‘software’, or the perception of employees. It is not for nothing that, in WELL – the objective measurement of the health of a building – and issues such as management style and nutrition are taken into account order to measure the health of a building. Because in a good environment, less physical discomfort is experienced, according to the discussion. But there is also much to gain from software in terms of prevention, as Theo Peters from Achmea knows: the organization has put in place 10 measures for working healthier, including standing workstations and routes for walking meetings.
  2. A truly healthy building is worth money, for all stakeholders! Higher productivity and lower absenteeism can translate fairly directly into a longer lease, which in turn provides value for the property owner, says Ilse Lamers from ABN Amro. But the insurer may also have an interest here – that is the people who work in that healthy building have a lower risk profile; could they possibly offer discounts on group health insurance to complete the circle? Finally Thijs Maartens from the Cradle2Cradle Products Innovation Institute also indicated that the residual value of the materials used is also higher due to the use of non-toxic materials – again a return, but in the long term.

All these potential ‘wins’ prompted us to think – can we accelerate the ‘health’ of buildings through a smart collaboration? Imagine that an independent evaluator from WELL measured the health of a building objectively, then it’s clear and demonstrable to the insurer that the employees of that particular building enjoy a healthy working environment. Would the health insurance then finance the preventive measures through a reduction in the corporate health insurance? (see Figure 1)

healthy buildings system

Figure 1: Possible systemic solution for healthy buildings

  1. To effect change, you need the right people – ‘believers’ as Sandra Gritti from OVG called them. Jeroen Lampe from XL Family strengthened this notion, because in this sort of systemic change, you need a ‘disruptor’ to shake things up. So here is an appeal to all property owners and building tenants: give us a pilot environment to test these ideas!

This blog and appeal is a co-creation of the participants of the session held on 31 March: Thomas Bögl (LIAG Architecten), Sandra Gritti (OVG), Bauke van der Goot (Heijmans), Huub Kamphuis (Kamphuis Schaufeli), Ilse Lamers (ABN Amro), Jeroen Lampe (XL Family), Thijs Maartens (C2C Products Innovation Institute), Adnan Mirza (Heartbeat Ventures), Theo Peters (Achmea), Gerrit-Jan Teunissen (TRAJECT), Carl Verheijen (GZC De Nije Veste & Corlaer), Anouk van der Have and Cécile van Oppen (both Copper8).

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