Reopening our Economy with Safe and Healthy Spaces
The pandemic has encouraged us to realign our priorities in life – both on a personal and professional level. As the world gears up to reopen amidst a mass vaccination drive, governments and organizations all over the world are striving to put the health, wellness and safety of their citizens and people first.
The global health pandemic has left us with many lessons. Lessons about humanity. Lessons about resiliency. Lessons about inequities. Lessons about the importance of the places and spaces around us. One of the most important of these lessons is that if we do not put solutions into practice today, it will continuously impact our future. The pandemic has encouraged us to realign our priorities in life – both on a personal and professional level. As the world gears up to reopen amidst a mass vaccination drive, governments and organizations all over the world are striving to put the health, wellness and safety of their citizens and people first. They have realized what organizations like USGBC, GBCI and the global LEED green building program have known for decades: Healthy people in healthy spaces equals a healthy economy.
Can healthy spaces make a difference in ensuring a healthy economy?
The answer is a resounding yes. One of biggest lessons we learned from COVID-19 is that buildings – as they are designed and constructed, operated and maintained – play a significant role in the health and well-being of not only their occupants, but of the people and communities around them. This is true of commercial office buildings, residential buildings of all sizes, entertainment venues, schools and other private and public buildings. Buildings can either help to mitigate the spread of viruses or manifest an environment in which viruses and other public health hazards can easily spread.
COVID-19 has also shown us that, as with climate change, it is our most vulnerable communities that face the greatest risk. Health risks such as COVID-19 are not going away, and we cannot continue to lose countless precious human lives and shut down our global economies by not learning the lessons of the pandemic. We must put in place a purposeful strategy that centers on how our buildings and the spaces around us can promote sustainability, health and wellness, resiliency and equity. Each one should be a pillar of our commitments and strategies going forward.
Is there a viable solution that can ensure a safe and healthy office space?
A safe and healthy office space is not a futuristic concept. In fact, the LEED green building program has been addressing this for decades. The LEED rating system was created roughly 20 years ago, and health and wellness were foundational tenants of the program from its very inception. While many people often associate LEED buildings with resource efficiency and environmental sustainability, over 70% of the credits in the rating system either directly or indirectly connect to health and wellness strategies based on public health data and science.
And this is not a new concept to India. The first building to achieve LEED in India certified back in 2003 and, today, India remains the fourth largest market in the world for LEED. Take the Parharpur Business Centre, which was the first building in India to achieve LEED Platinum, the highest level of certification. The building contains more than 1,200 plants and is one of the healthiest indoor environments in Delhi, proving that a building can contribute to health, safety and happiness.
Reopening and rebounding our global economy starts with putting in place a trusted framework for buildings of all shapes, sizes and uses that lets their occupants know what protocols and policies have been adopted so that they can feel confident in returning to workplaces, schools, businesses and entertainment venues.
As part of our healthy economy strategy, USGBC and GBCI developed LEED Safety-First Pilot Credits that provide that exact trusted framework, covering the following:
Disinfecting and cleaning offices to support a heathy indoor environment.
Accessing sustainable requirements in building operations and human behavior that take precautions against the spread of COVID-19.
Assessing and planning for re-entry as well as measuring progress once a space is occupied.
Recommissioning building water systems to ensure that buildings that were closed for months have water that is safe to drink and use; and
Ensuring optimal indoor air quality for building occupants.
All of these frameworks can be implemented together or tailored to meet the individual or specific needs of buildings and constituencies. They will help to safeguard the health and well-being of those gearing up to return to work. It shouldn’t be surprising that India is at the forefront of implementing the Safety-First credits. In fact, India is home to 10 of the nearly 280 LEED green building projects across the world that are implementing these viable, practical and trusted solutions.
We also introduced Arc Re-Entry, available on the Arc performance platform, which prepares spaces for safe re-entry and is currently being leveraged by a variety of building types around the world, including offices, schools, factories, and sporting venues. Arc Re-Entry’s set of management tools are available for free for any project to benchmark infection-control policies and procedure, collect occupant experienced and track indoor air quality (including factors such as relative humidity, carbon dioxide concentration and particulate matter). Arc Re-Entry uses an iterative process in which projects receive a score that is re-evaluated every week, month or quarter to ensure they continue to perform and improve over time. Arc Re-Entry allows facility managers and building owners to evaluate the relationship between expectations for policies and procedures and the real-world experience of occupants, which creates transparency and supports safe, confident workplace re-entry.
Do employers and employees have an active role to play in ensuring our safety as we return to work?
Yes, and even more than that, we also have a responsibility. And that’s because better buildings equal better lives. Thanks to the hard work of public health officials, we know a lot more about the virus today than we did in its earliest days. That is why it is equally important to embrace, adapt and enforce our own behaviors so that we can successfully go back to work and protect those around us. This will help us to not only safely reopen our economy, but ensure that it stays open and that people can thrive.
As we celebrate the rollout of vaccines, we must remember that it is our collective responsibility to learn from this pandemic and to start to build a more resilient and healthy future. While building back our trust in the places and spaces around us will not happen overnight, we do have the science and data backed tools necessary to begin to rebuild our confidence in our workplaces, schools and businesses. Now let’s put them into place.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house