The critical connection between a healthy building environment and patient health is often missed by the one group of professionals who may matter most - physicians, according to a new SmartMarket report by McGraw Hill Construction, sponsored by the American Institute of Architects and United Technologies. The survey results were announced today at the opening session of the American Institute of Architects 2014 National Convention & Design Exposition in Chicago.
The report, "The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity," finds that though 18% of homeowners say that doctors are their primary source for information on healthy home products and decisions, only 53% of pediatricians, 32% of family doctors/general practitioners and 40% of psychiatrists believe that buildings even impact patient health. Only 15% report receiving any information on this connection, but the results also reveal that a key challenge is not just getting information to them but gaining their attention in ways that would alter their perspective, with nearly a quarter (22%) reporting that more information would likely not change what they do today.
The study suggests that getting more information to this group is essential to help create demand for more healthy building design and construction, given the limited understanding that physicians demonstrate of building health impacts. Physician awareness and recommendation of more fundamental healthy building design and construction practices that connect with the health risks of most concern to public health -- lack of exercise, chronic stress, poor diet and obesity -- could help create the market demand needed to drive investment, but only if physicians expand their engagement with these issues.
Today, the only issue the medical practitioners agree is a link between buildings and health is around mold and mildew, but that is only one of a plethora of factors in building decisions that could impact health.
"Most homeowners rely on family members and friends or colleagues to influence their choices of healthy products and practices, with very few seeking advice from builders, remodelers, contractors and architects who know most about how these decisions affect the occupant. As the construction industry increases its engagement in healthy building, this represents an opportunity for industry professionals to assist clients so they can make decisions in order to positively impact their health," said Harvey Bernstein, vice president, Industry Insights and Alliances for McGraw Hill Construction.
The report also finds that, contrary to the position held by physicians, the general public is aware of the link between buildings and people's health.
63% of homeowners believe products and practices they use at home affect their health, with the majority (50%) pointing to impact on allergies, followed by asthma/respiratory illnesses (32%) and headaches/migraines (30%).
90% of homeowners believe school buildings affect student health/productivity, and 95% believe hospital buildings and operations affect patient/staff health and productivity.
"It's becoming clear from this initial research that doctors and other health professionals must engage with architects and the design community in a major way if we are to be successful in improving public health through design," said AIA CEO Robert Ivy, FAIA. "We look forward to furthering that dialogue with physicians and to helping support additional research into this critical public health issue."
Human resource executives also recognize the link between buildings and health, with its top emphasis on spaces that encourage social interaction. 66% of their companies consider spaces for social interaction when making leasing decisions today, and even more (75%) expect it will be considered in the future. Yet, the architect community is not as attuned to this need, with creating spaces for social integration being eighth in a list of key factors. This gap suggests the industry needs to be more sensitive to this issue given how the millennial and subsequent generations work, learn and interact and thus, improve their productivity.
The report reflects a landmark research project that is the first to span across five key stakeholders that influence the prevalence of healthy design and construction practices in buildings, including the physicians noted above, construction industry professionals in the residential and non-residential sectors, owner HR executives and homeowners. The breadth of the study is essential in identifying critical gaps between stakeholder responses that are preventing the design and construction industry from fully capitalizing on the specific healthy building investments sought by other stakeholders.
The report reveals the increasing attention industry professionals and owners are placing on health in design and construction plans—as well as some of the needs the industry has to increase these efforts.
According to the study:
All firms are reporting increases in addressing occupant health in design and construction decisions --59% of owners, with architects leading other players in adoption of healthy practices.
Firms that are doing more green building work are also more attuned to health issues.
Owners need more data and greater public awareness of the health impacts of products, practices and buildings holistically in order to support additional healthy building investments. Those are reported as the top drivers at 40% and 48% of owners, respectively.
"Green buildings have real, proven health benefits including improved employee productivity, lower health care costs and reduced absenteeism," said John Mandyck, chief sustainability officer, UTC Building & Industrial Systems. "This study shows that human resource professionals and building owners see the benefit of investing in a healthier physical work environment — in fact, 66 percent of those who measured occupant wellbeing saw an improvement after moving to a green building."
The report cites the need for further investigation into the specific benefits of different design, construction and product decisions, in order to overcome obstacles to investments in these areas that influence health and wellbeing.
The study is comprised of five separate market research surveys, all benchmarking at the 95% confidence level; (1) survey of architects, contractors and owners in nonresidential construction; (2) survey of residential builders, architects, remodelers and interior designers; (3) survey of U.S. homeowners; (4) survey of human resource executives at U.S. firms; and (5) survey of medical professionals, including general practitioners, pediatricians and psychologists/psychiatrists. Each survey captures the unique perspective of these stakeholders in terms of their awareness of healthy building impact, use of healthy building products and practices and drivers for them to prioritize health factors in future building decisions. More detailed findings on insights from all these groups are in the report.
"The Drive Toward Healthier Buildings: The Market Drivers and Impact of Building Design on Occupant Health, Well-Being and Productivity" SmartMarket Report was produced by McGraw Hill Construction in partnership with the American Institute of Architects and other premier research partners: United Technologies, CB Richard Ellis and the U.S. Green Building Council. Other support for the project was provided by the project's two supporting research partners—the American Society of Interior Designers and Delos—and contributing partners Armstrong Ceilings Systems and Armstrong Commercial Flooring, Dewberry, Integral Group, Sloan Valve Company, Urban Land Institute, U.S. Green Building Council—Northern California Chapter, Webcor and the World Green Building Council.