Sika explores the relationship between sustainability and wellbeing
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The importance of sustainability in the construction industry has come of age. What was initially considered by some as a tick-box exercise has become a major design requirement. The potential environmental impact of building projects is now central to the design and specification process. More recently, environmental considerations have focused on the impact that buildings have on the health and wellbeing of their users.
For many years the main environmental focus of the construction industry has been on creating high-performance building materials and components, as well addressing the impact of global warming and resource depletion. We spend a lot of time inside buildings, and the impact they have on their occupants has, until now, been largely ignored. Research indicates that 90 per cent of employees feel their work is affected by the quality of their environment.
Sika is a leading manufacturer of products working across multiple industry sectors, and as a responsible employer, the health and wellbeing of our employees is vitally important. Equally important is the positive impact that our sustainable solutions have on project teams and their designs.
So, what should we be doing to improve the impact that buildings have on occupant wellbeing? The most obvious measure relates to indoor air quality. This can be addressed by specifying products, such as floor and wall finishes, furnishings, interior paints and adhesives that offer low or zero levels of VOCs (volatile organic compounds), formaldehyde and other noxious chemicals. Through careful product specification we can at a stroke improve indoor air quality and have a major impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of building occupants.
However, as the World Green Building Council states, “There is a difference between environments that are simply not harmful – ie the absence of ‘bad’ – and environments that positively encourage health and wellbeing, and stimulate productivity”. Exposure to different light sources and lighting levels can affect the circadian rhythm, the inbuilt cycle that tells our bodies when to sleep, wake, eat, as well as regulating many physiological processes. Circadian rhythm disruption has been linked to increased BMI, obesity, mood disorders and depression, as well as decreased duration and quality of sleep. In turn, exposure to daylight in buildings can reduce work stress and dissatisfaction, and in healthcare settings has even been linked to a reduction in pain medication requirements and a shorter average length of stay.
Thermal comfort has also been identified as having a significant impact on workplace satisfaction. It has been suggested that higher temperatures are less well tolerated and have a greater effect on productivity than colder temperatures. However, user control over thermal comfort, for example by opening a window or rooflight, can increase tolerance of temperature extremes.
Added to this, there is growing recognition of the benefits of acknowledging ‘biophilia’ – the relationship between humans and nature, and the effect that contact with the natural environment has on our health and wellbeing in buildings. Views of nature are thought to lower stress, improve cognitive function and enhance creativity.
Appropriate consideration of these areas during the design phase has the potential to significantly improve occupant wellbeing. They are intrinsically linked and should be considered holistically. For example increasing indoor plant-life indoors improves air quality and biophilia opportunities. Increasing glazing further increases biophilia and daylight, and depending upon window type, airflow, improving thermal comfort and air quality.
Industry standards such as BREEAM and the WELL Building Standard are both ways of making sure we consider these elements together, rather than in isolation. At the end of 2016, it was announced that both standards would mutually recognise specific credits, making it easier for specifiers and clients to pursue both simultaneously. It should also help architects identify the right products and benchmark best practice for indoor environments.
It’s reassuring to know that, as a global brand, Sika has a clear understanding that all aspects of sustainability and wellbeing impact each other. From green roofs and low-VOC/emissions flooring systems and wall coatings, to sealing and bonding systems that facilitate increased glazing, Sika provides sustainable solutions that have a positive impact on the health, productivity and wellbeing of building occupants.