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Wellbeing: the future is transdisciplinary


Published 08th Dec 20 - by Robyn Conway

In November 2020, the World Green Building Council (WGBC) launched its Health & Wellbeing Framework, a multi-year effort that reflects the experience, ambition and best practice documented by Green Building Councils across the world. This is an intelligent framing of wellbeing that maps to all 17 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and recognises the interrelationship between human rights, and public and ecological health across the value chain.

Under each of its sub-principles, the Framework sets out the state of health, outcomes, strategies across the lifecycle, benchmarks, and resources. The Framework is applicable across the full gamut of sustainability challenges, from reducing carbon to improving biodiversity and emphasises networked rather than siloed solutions. We should be putting our weight behind this kind of systems-approach as we transition towards an equitable, inclusive, and climate-resilient built environment.

The launch event, hosted by the BBC’s Simon Shelley, demonstrated the nexus between building health, human health, and planetary health. Delegates were reminded that our health starts before we get to diagnostics and the determinants in the built environment can be amplified by urban environment – for instance, by promoting a sedentary population that suffers from poor mental health due to insufficient social connection, lack of access to nature, poor nutrition and polluted air. Dr Joseph Allen of Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health urged us to look beyond the current crisis, see health as more than just the prevention of disease, and to reframe the questions we ask.

Instead of fixating on whether healthy buildings are expensive, we should be asking if unhealthy buildings are expensive. The answer, of course, is a resounding yes. The economics of investing in healthy buildings have long stood up to scrutiny and we know that they pay dividends in orders of magnitude compared to costs. In the UK context, British Land and WPI’s research in 2018 suggested that designing for wellbeing could result in a £3.6bn saving for Government on health and welfare spend by 2050 – often at little extra cost. The economy could see a productivity increase of around £5.4bn, and UK businesses could save £6.3bn’s worth of output otherwise lost through employee absence.[1]  Examples of organisational maturity on building health are emerging across the value chain. Just last month, for instance, Grosvenor Britain and Ireland was the first UK landlord to adopt biomimicry paint that neutralises pollutants and bacteria, breaks down viruses including influenza and purifies the air.[2]

2020 has been a painful example of the significance of cities and urban areas as laboratories for public health. As almost 70% of the global population will be urbanised by 2050, we need to sharpen the focus on networked solutions that deliver co-benefits for long-term public health.  Ultimately, the value of the WGBC Health & Wellbeing Framework will be in how it is used by the industry – it should be a permanent addition to the arsenal informing strategic decisions about the future of our built environment. The Supply Chain Sustainability School warmly welcomed the opportunity to participate in the WGBC Health & Wellbeing Framework Review Panel, and this collective bank of transdisciplinary knowledge is reason to celebrate.

Claire Bradbury

Action Sustainability & Supply Chain Sustainability School


[1] British Land, 2018: https://www.britishland.com/news-insights/stories/design-life

[2]Grosvenor, 2020: https://www.grosvenor.com/news-and-insight/all-articles/revolutionary-anti-viral-air-purifying-paint-adopt