Healthy Building Strategies that Manage Risk

Photo by Uneebo Office Design on Unsplash

Risk should always be analyzed in context.

Before we get into the specifics, I need to give a little bit of context about risk in the context of “green building.” Early in the green building movement, around 2008, there was some concern that a rush of litigation would originate from green projects, leading some practitioners to coin the term “LEED-igation.”

Healthy Building strategies that manage risk.

In this article, I pull examples from WELL because (1) it has experienced incredible market adoption (as I explain below) and (2) as a WELL AP, I’m very familiar with that framework. That said, WELL is obviously not the only healthy building certification program, and no one program is perfect.

  • Early identification and resolution of potential issues.
  • The evolving nature and importance of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors.
  • The risk of poor air quality
  • Failing to provide spaces that support occupants’ mental health and wellbeing.
  • Failing to create spaces that support a neurodiverse workforce.
  • Failing to adequately prepare for emergencies.

The Risk of Obsolescence

Before we dive into the top six risks that I see, I want to spend a few minutes on a general risk: the “risk of obsolescence.” This is really the risk that commercial and residential spaces will sit vacant because nobody wants to lease them.

Health and wellness in building design and operations

This should be obvious from the fact that this article focuses on healthy buildings, but it is worth highlighting the significant market opportunity that healthy buildings present.

Image courtesy International WELL Building Institute

The top risks and strategies

With that context and background in mind, let’s take a closer look at the top six risks and strategies.²

Early identification and resolution of potential issues.

With limited exceptions, nearly every construction project is unique. This means that despite the best planning, there will inevitably be issues. Whether these issues turn into problems often depends on how early they are identified: generally speaking, issues that are identified earlier in the process are often easier (read: cheaper) to resolve.

  • C02 Integrative Design — requiring an inclusive and collaborative planning process.
  • I01 Innovate WELL — opportunity to push the envelope and develop strategies that honor the unique challenges and opportunities of every project.
  • I02 WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) — leverage training to identify issues.

The evolving nature and importance of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors.

Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) is clearly here to stay and quickly becoming (it arguably has already) business as usual. Failing to keep up with the latest regulatory and market drivers is one of the biggest risks for businesses.

  • I05 Green Building Rating Systems — balancing commitment to environmental sustainability with human health. Because we cannot ignore the impacts of carbon emissions on human health (and the built environment’s significant contributions to those emissions), both buildings and human health have to be a part of any climate conversation.
  • I06B Carbon Disclosure and Reduction — recognizing organizations that set and make progress towards carbon goals.
  • C12 Diversity and Inclusion — implement and report on policies that support diversity and inclusion.
  • C13 Accessibility and Universal Design — integrate Universal Design principles to create more inclusive spaces.

Risk of poor air quality.

This risk really has two parts.

  • Essentially all Features in the Air Concept, including those that increase filtration and ventilation and control air pollution sources, specifically:
  • Features in the Materials Concept that relate to air quality and pollution source control:

Failing to provide spaces that support occupants’ mental health and wellbeing.

Experts have noted that beyond the physical impacts of the pandemic, there will be long lasting mental health impacts of an unprecedented scale.

  • A few of the relevant Features in the Mind Concept are:
  • L03 Circadian Lighting Design — exposure to light that is consistent with a natural day/night cycle.
  • L05 Daylight Design Strategies — integrating natural daylight and providing access to windows.

Failing to create spaces that support a neurodiverse workforce.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to do their best work. Yet, we have historically designed spaces that only support a narrow range of the human experience. This needs to change.

  • L04 Electric Light Glare Control
  • L07 Visual Balance — creation of a visually comfortable lighting environment.
  • L08 Electric Light Quality — accounting for light characteristics including color rendering and flicker.
  • S02 Maximum Noise Levels
  • S03 Sound Barriers
  • S04 Reverberation Time
  • S05 Sound Reducing Surfaces
  • S06 Minimum Background Sound

Failing to adequately prepare for emergencies.

Was your organization prepared for the pandemic? Very likely not. Do you now understand how resilience is a key part of sustainability, health and wellness? Very likely yes.

  • C03 Emergency Preparedness, C14 Emergency Resources, C15B Emergency Resilience and Recovery



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Nicole DeNamur

Nicole DeNamur


Attorney + sustainability consultant. I write about how we can drive deep green innovation at scale.