January 18, 2021

Healthy Buildings Are in High Demand

Building Industry Trends

Take Note: COVID Raised the Consciousness About a Healthy Workplace

Certain events are disruptors. They have the ability to swiftly shift what we value in life, and they have the power to reset expectations for new norms. The COVID-19 pandemic is one of those events. And just like disruptors before it – the invention of the internet, 9/11, mobile technology – the Coronavirus will foster change in an impactful manner.

Part of that disruption with COVID is a higher consciousness for a healthy workplace environment. This becomes even more relevant as employees begin to return to their places of work with timid cautiousness and an expectation that things will not be as they were.

Building materials manufacturers (BMMs) need to understand these influences to better prepare and respond to the emerging wellness needs of the commercial and institutional building market.

The Workplace Hierarchy of Controls

This past spring, The Harvard Business Review published an article featuring the “Hierarchy of Controls” for protecting workers during the COVID pandemic. A critical component for minimizing worker risk is the investment in a “healthy building."

What constitutes a healthy building includes everything from adding new equipment and making physical changes to the building to developing protocols for ongoing disinfecting practices, retraining cleaning staffs and resetting the space for proper distancing.

In many ways, healthy buildings are the new definition of sustainability in building, and BMMs who best understand the opportunity will secure a competitive advantage.

The 9 Foundations of a Healthy Building

In 2016, Harvard University’s Healthy Building Lab at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published the 9 Foundations For a Healthy Building. The intent is to provide a more actionable guide for architects, designers and building owners to implement healthy building initiatives. The emergence of COVID dramatically elevated the priority, and these foundations are an incredibly meaningful guide today.

This view provides several opportunities for a building materials manufacturer to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by answering today’s emerging building health needs.

  • Ventilation
    Meet or exceed local outdoor air ventilation guidelines to control indoor sources of odors, chemicals, and carbon dioxide. Filter outdoor and recirculated air with a minimum removal efficiency of 75% for all particle-sized fractions, including nano. Avoid outdoor air intakes at street level or near other outdoor sources of pollutants. Commission systems, conduct regular maintenance, and monitor ventilation in real time to prevent and resolve ventilation issues promptly.
  • Air Quality
    Choose supplies, office supplies, furnishings, and building materials with low chemical emissions to limit sources of volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds. Check for legacy pollutants such as lead, PCBs, and asbestos. Limit vapor intrusion by using a vapor barrier. Maintain humidity levels between 30 and 60% to mitigate odor issues. Conduct annual air quality testing. Respond to and evaluate occupant concerns.
  • Water Quality
    Meet the U.S. Drinking Water Standards at point-of-use. Test water quality regularly. Install water purification systems for removal of contaminants, if necessary. Ensure residual disinfectant levels are sufficient to control microbes, but not in excess. Prevent water stagnation in pipes.
  • Thermal Health
    Meet minimal thermal comfort standards for temperature and humidity, and keep thermal conditions consistent throughout the day. Provide individual-level thermal control where possible. Survey the space and occupants regularly to identify zones that underperform. Respond to and evaluate occupant concerns. Commission systems, conduct regular maintenance, and monitor temperature and humidity in real time to prevent and resolve thermal comfort issues promptly.
  • Dust and Pests
    Use high-efficiency filter vacuums, and clean surfaces regularly to limit dust and dirt accumulation, which are reservoirs for chemicals, allergens, and metals. Develop an integrated pest management plan with a focus on preventative measures such as sealing entry points, preventing moisture buildup, and removing trash. Avoid pesticide use if possible. Train building management on how to respond to pest problems and complaints.
  • Lighting and Views
    Provide task lighting for comfortable viewing. Provide direct lines of sight to exterior windows from all workstations. Provide as much daylighting and/or blue-enriched lighting as possible without introducing glare. Incorporate nature and nature-inspired design indoors.
  • Noise
    Protect against outdoor noises such as traffic, aircraft, and construction. Control indoor sources of noises such as mechanical equipment, office equipment, and machinery. Provide spaces that minimize background noise to 35db for unoccupied work and learning areas, and a maximum reverberation time of 0.7 seconds.
  • Moisture
    Conduct regular inspections of roofing, plumbing, ceilings, and HVAC equipment to identify sources of moisture and potential condensation spots. When moisture or mold is found, immediately address moisture source, and dry out or replace contaminated areas. Identify and remediate underlying source of the moisture issues.
  • Safety and Security
    Meet fire safety and carbon monoxide standards, Provide adequate lighting in common areas, stairwells, emergency egress points, parking lots, and building entryways. Manage points of egress and the physical perimeter. Be situationally aware through video monitoring, interactive patrols, and incident reporting. Maintain a holistic emergency action plan and mechanism for communication to building occupants.

Ways a BMM Can Sell in the Healthy Building Ingredient

There are several ways BMMs can align their strategy and products with the push for healthy buildings.

Examine Current Product Portfolios

The most obvious way to compete for a “healthy” building initiative is to offer a clear product solution. BMMs will find themselves in one of three situations:

Increase Marketing of Existing Healthy Building Products. If you have a product solution answering one or more of the 9 foundations in a healthy building, perhaps the product messaging just needs to be magnified with a stronger building materials marketing effort.

Re-Position Current Products.Perhaps you realize your products have the potential to meet the needs of a few of the 9 foundations, but the product needs to be repositioned and marketed toward this need with the development of a strong message strategy.

New Product Development/Refinement.An audit of your current product portfolio can assess which (if any) current products might need to be refined to position it as meeting as an emerging healthy building solution. If you do not have a product that fits the criteria, a new product initiative is in order.

Offer Performance Assessments

Delivering a new product toward a healthy building environment is not the only way to add value to the customer experience. You may also be able to commit performance assessments that establish healthy benchmarks and monitor product performance. Providing a performance measurement commitment as part of a product warranty is a clear differentiator that can validate a product’s selection while offering peace of mind long after the initial sale.

Sell Extended Performance Reporting

As an add-on to the initial product sale, offer building owners advanced product performance reporting for an additional investment. Once you get enough service agreements, you can aggregate the data as an overall benchmark to compare against individual building performance. This creates a recurring revenue stream while adding continual value to the relationship.

Help Customer Merchandise Healthy Habits

The BMM with a healthy solution in the building, can position itself as a leader in sustainable, healthy building. You can offer to help merchandise “healthy habits” to the building’s workers. For example, if you offer a daylighting solution, you can reinforce habits about maximizing natural light and minimizing energy consumption. Sponsoring initiatives like this provides added value in the relationship you have with customers. It also builds your brand.

Enhance the Customer Experience

The BMMs who can act quickly through new “healthy building” product solutions and services will add value by creating a healthier, more confident “customer experience” for building tenants and workers across a number of building categories, thus positioning the BMM as a healthy building leader.

Ultimately, the marketplace is in the midst of a paradigm shift as the nation and the world grapple with a pandemic. BMMs who adjust their product array and engagement to fit into this new paradigm will find themselves positioned to grow their business and secure even better customer relationships.

About the Author

David Sladack is president of BLD Marketing. In this role, he oversees day-to-day agency operations and all of the agency’s disciplines, ensuring profitability and growth. A highly accomplished marketing professional with three decades of experience, David has held senior-level account management, strategy, and business development roles at several top-rated Pittsburgh-based advertising agencies. He launched and cultivated a home improvements category at one of those agencies and has led campaigns for brands that include Ford and Cub Cadet. David is also an adjunct marketing professor and has taught MBA courses at several Pittsburgh area universities.


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