Building Location’s Impact on Sustainability and the Wellbeing of Occupants

By Libby Dunne, Sustainability Analyst, Fitwel Ambassador
and Calvin Furbee, Sustainability Analyst
Sustainable Investment Group (SIG)

Bryant_Park_New_York_City_USAWhen assessing a building’s impact on the environment and its occupants, many first consider the building’s interior and performance. These metrics are very important for improving a building’s sustainability and its effects on patrons, but no matter the energy efficiency of a building or how much natural daylight enters into each office, there is one factor that truly determines the sustainability and health of a building: the location. The occupants of a building must interact and be part of a society outside of work, so the building should too. The location of a property and how it interacts with local infrastructure and the community is critical to the improvement of sustainability and the well being of occupants. Creating a building that is truly healthy and low impact on the environment involves gaining a perspective that the property is much more than a single entity and is part of an entire urban ecosystem.

Location is an integral element to the sustainability of a building. The largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States is the transportation sector. This statistic is not shocking considering the average American’s commute is 35 minutes, which equates to 19 workdays a year spent commuting. The American commute has been steadily increasing for many years as urban sprawl becomes more severe and people continue to enter the workforce. Buildings that are located near public transit hubs, bike paths, and other means of alternative transportation that reduce dependency on car use meet a much higher standard of sustainability. A properly situated building that encourages utilizing public infrastructure can vastly reduce the amount of emissions caused by a property and its occupants. An ideal location not only reduces a building’s environmental impact but can also increase productivity and happiness by improving occupant health.

building location and walkabilityA metric that is commonly used to evaluate a building’s location is “walkability.” Properties in ideal locations tend to have good walkability because of their proximity to stores, restaurants, public parks, hospitals, banks, childcares, and other essential services as well as public infrastructure that encourages walking/biking. Having easy access to these amenities greatly encourages occupants to leave the property and enter the local community to run errands and complete daily tasks. Leaving the property and walking around the community has a multitude of benefits that improve occupant health such as increasing social interaction and fostering physical activity. Giving occupants the ability to walk to public parks or to eat at nearby restaurants without needing a car can break up the monotony of the workday and create a closer connection to the community and its people. If occupants go to work each day knowing they can easily access greater society and a multitude of benefits, they will be happier, more productive, and feel greater amounts of passion in their daily lives.

The importance of building location is reflected in LEED, WELL, and Fitwel. LEED BD+C for new construction and major renovation has a category dedicated to building location and transportation. In this category, points are awarded to project teams who build on high priority sites, protect sensitive land by protecting greenfield sites, and by building in dense urban areas. In turn, selecting an urban site also provides building occupants with access to developed public transportation systems and bicycle networks. These qualities can help a project earn additional points in this category.

WELL concept “V05: Site Planning and Selection” focuses on project location. Specifically, it rewards projects in close proximity to a variety of diverse uses, mass transit, and bike and pedestrian friendly streets. While not directly rewarding projects for site selection as LEED does, WELL indirectly supports these same concepts by rewarding projects that are located in an urban area with existing infrastructure.

The importance of building location is also reflected through Fitwel. Projects can earn up to 12 points for having a Walkscore above 90. This is a measurement of the “walkability” of the project. Additionally, Fitwel points can be earned for being within ½ mile of outdoor spaces such as parks and walking trails, for being within ½ mile walking distance of bus or train stops, and for providing bike parking and access to bicycle networks. While Fitwel approaches these concepts through a human health lens, a reduction in transportation emissions is still achieved through these location related strategies.

Cities and urban hubs have been central to human civilization for thousands of years, and they still play extremely important roles in our societies as cultural melting pots and cruxes of innovation. At Sustainable Investment Group, trained teams of engineers and consultants can evaluate property locations and determine how they can further improve their connections to the local community. Property managers that can recognize this importance of location will not only promote sustainability and occupant well-being, they will contribute to and be a part of a greater society that rewards those who think with an innovative mindset.

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