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Product, Service & Design Innovation
The Great Indoors:
Creating a Nurturing Habitat for People and Planet

We spend 90% of our time indoors, and that was before a global pandemic forced many of us to turn our living environments into our offices, schools and gyms. So, what is the key to creating nurturing indoor habitats?

We spend 90 percent of our time indoors — 70 percent of that at home — and that was before a global pandemic forced many of us to turn our living environments into temporary offices, schools, and gyms. Our physical environments — the spaces where we live, work, and play — and our personal behaviors together can be more influential to our wellbeing than our genes.

COVID-19 has had wide-ranging impacts on the building industry — including shelter-in-place orders, remote work, supply chain shortages and disruptions and loss of sales. But the long-term impacts of all this on building design and product development remains to be seen since we are far from done with this pandemic.

So what is the key to creating nurturing indoor habitats? In a recent webinar — with Christina Raab, VP of Strategy and Development for the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute; and Shalini Ramesh, Director of the Commercial Team at the International WELL Building Institute™ (IWBI) — we addressed some of these health and wellness topics; and discussed how two global frameworks can help shape and influence our indoor habitats, and the relevance of their work as we deal with the challenges of an ongoing global pandemic.

The shifting landscape: Health and wellness in the built environment

Existing green building programs, originally conceived to address the environmental and economic costs of constructing buildings, have increased their focus on the health and wellness of building occupants. New building standards have also emerged across the commercial, residential and affordable housing sectors with a central focus on the occupant. Backed by science and research, they are demonstrating that optimizing spaces for occupant wellbeing has bottom-line impacts on employee productivity and retention, and can help attract new talent. And healthy home concepts can support wellness for both individual homeowners and tenants, and the broader communities in which they reside.

COVID-19 has dramatically upended our lives and our norms — but what will its long-term impacts be for our indoor habitats? How much of our newfound focus and appreciation for health and safety in our indoor spaces will become part of our new normal?

How do we ensure our quest for clean spaces and work surfaces doesn’t result in using product ingredients that could negatively impact people and the planet? Here, we summarize remarks shared by Ramesh and Raab during the webinar.

The WELL Building Standard

The IWBI is leading the global movement to transform buildings and communities in ways that help people thrive. IWBI developed the WELL Building Standard™: a global rating system that was the first to be focused exclusively on the ways that buildings — and everything in them — can improve our comfort, drive better choices; and generally enhance, not compromise, our health and wellness.

Launched in October 2014 after six years of research and development, WELL is a global standard for buildings, interior spaces and communities seeking to implement, validate and measure features that support and advance human health and wellness. It asks the question: How can real estate be a vehicle for wellness? The WELL Building Standard is not just about design or operations. It is a holistic approach to achieving health and wellness in the indoor environment — one-third of the standard encompasses HR policies, one-third focuses on operations and one-third on design and construction.

The Standard was developed by integrating scientific and medical research and literature on environmental health, behavioral factors, health outcomes and demographic risk factors that affect health with leading practices in building design, construction and management. It is an actionable framework that is helpful in responding to COVID-19 and preparing for a safer, healthier future — by focusing on specific areas that help people thrive in building operations and design, as well as policies and culture. In support of the fight against COVID-19, in March 2020 IWBI created a task force of nearly 600 public health experts, virologists, government officials, academics, business leaders, architects, designers, building scientists and real estate professionals. The task force examined the WELL Building Standard through the lens of prevention, preparedness, resilience and recovery to identify and group select strategies from WELL v2 around key themes in relation to COVID-19.

In June 2020, the IWBI launched the WELL Health-Safety Rating — an evidence-based, third-party-verified rating focused on operational policies, maintenance protocols and emergency plans to address a post-COVID-19 environment. The rating primarily focuses on policies and operations — including air-quality measures such as how often you change filters — and is applicable across any kind of facility type. To communicate to building occupants that a building is safe, IWBI created the WELL Health-Safety seal, a visual mark to indicate the work that an organization has done to take the necessary measures and support the health of individuals.

The Cradle to Cradle Product Innovation Institute

The Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute is a global nonprofit founded 10 years ago — with the promise of a world where safe materials and products are designed and manufactured in a prosperous, circular economy to maximize the health and wellbeing of people and planet.

Materials are ubiquitous and the fabric of our built environment — from building materials to interior items such as flooring and furniture. With the selection of safer materials, architects and project teams have the ability to reduce human exposures to toxic chemicals and make communities healthier. And that is even more important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cradle to Cradle Certified™ is a globally recognized measure of safer, more sustainable products made for the circular economy; and the Cradle to Cradle Certified Products Program sets the global standard for products that are safe, circular and made responsibly. The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard requires the assessment of products across five categories: material health, material reuse, renewable energy and carbon management, water stewardship, and social fairness.

Circularity starts with selecting safe materials to protect human health and the environment, and to ensure the quality of materials available for future use and cycling. Products using these safe ingredients are then intentionally designed for their next use and are actively cycled in their intended cycling pathway(s). These products are manufactured using responsible practices that protect clean air and climate, safeguard water and soil resources, and advance social fairness to maximize their positive impacts and contributions to a thriving circular economy.

To earn certification for a product, companies work with an independent, third-party assessor to determine a product's achievement level. In order to renew certification, which is required every two years, a company has to demonstrate efforts to improve a product’s performance. This encourages and rewards continuous and measurable improvement over time.

Encouraging healthy spaces using safe building materials and products is a four-step pathway in the Cradle to Cradle framework: inventory (what’s in it), screening (what’s not in it), assessment (compatibility with human and environmental health) and optimization (how it can be made safer).

Building programs such as LEED, BREEAM and WELL are also a driver; as they shift toward a focus on occupant/human health but also circularity. The pandemic has reminded us all about the need for coordinated action to address immediate global challenges in public health.

As public health and risk management rise to the top of the agenda, there is an unprecedented opportunity to ensure that health resiliency and sustainability become embedded into existing building infrastructure and interiors. We believe that safe materials and products are a practical silver bullet for accelerating the availability of healthy buildings and spaces.

Made Smarter. Live Better.™

At Shaw, perhaps our biggest contribution has been to try to help customers navigate complexity and confusion in these unprecedented times we’re working in. On the commercial side of our business, we have created continuing-education courses about creating healthy spaces, and engaging in in-depth conversations about cleaning and antimicrobials. On the retailer front, we’ve developed a playbook to help them best operate amid stay-at-home orders and how they can adapt their businesses to meet market needs of ensuring safe, stress-free shopping experiences.

We have also just launched an initiative for residential customers and consumers that we call Made Smarter. Live Better. It’s meant to inform consumers and purchasers of our products about healthy home trends, how our products align with those trends, and ultimately to help them make more informed purchase decisions based upon what attributes matter most to them — such as material health, indoor air quality, moisture, acoustics and cleanability. Shaw has long used these principles and our 20-year commitment to Cradle to Cradle design philosophies to drive our internal product development processes. This latest effort aims to help consumers more easily align their flooring purchase decisions with healthy home principles.

To hear the full conversation, including our audience Q&A, listen to the webinar.