Health and Wellbeing: the Great Outdoors

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The public health benefits of simply being outdoors is a hot topic right now. The Japanese science of forest bathing or shinrin yoku is getting renewed interest. And biophilia suggests that humans possess an innate desire to connect with nature and other forms of life. Add to that the advantage of increasing activity and decreasing exposure to toxins, and we have a compelling case for the connection of our environment to human health.

For decades, BREEAM, a green-building certification system, has emphasized broad and foundational areas of human health. While this is a novel thought for some, if we consider that sustainability simultaneously accounts for people, planet, and profit, it follows that people and society should be a significant consideration for any green-building.

Regarding existing-buildings and the outdoors, there are three primary focus areas for BREEAM In-Use.

Ecology and outdoor space

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For respite from the working environment and associated indoor health risks, provisions are made for indoor rest areas and outdoor space. There are also actions that address improving the ecological value of the site, which creates beauty and habitat-enhancing biophilic benefits to the users and the greater community.

Why this matters: Contrary to the sweatshop mentality, it is now accepted that to remain healthy and productive, people need to take breaks from their work.  And enhancing our natural environment serves to strengthen humans' connection with other forms of life in nature.

Active Lifestyle

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Just as in LEED, getting people out of “single-occupant cars” is a goal. When it comes to a building’s location, closeness to mass transit and amenities for basic needs such as food, money, and mail is encouraged. Cyclist facilities are also promoted but in concert with safe and secure pedestrian and cycle routes - in keeping with the recurring theme of risk avoidance in BREEAM.

Why this matters: Aside from the environmental and health benefits of reduced carbon emissions associated with alternate modes of transport, the advantages of physical activity are enumerated by sources ranging from the Centers for Diseases Control to fitness enthusiasts globally.

Community

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BREEAM In-Use considers multiple ways that a building impacts the surrounding area. Emissions of all sorts should be eliminated or reduced, including nitrogen oxide (NOx) and carbon dioxide - both by-products of combustion.  Acknowledging the global importance of reducing greenhouse gases, operational energy is calculated in carbon dioxide emissions. Maximum credits are awarded for a zero-carbon building.

As mentioned more thoroughly in Safety and Security, building related issues such as light levels and chemical containment, also affect the greater community.

Remediation of land contamination is encouraged. A contaminant is defined as any hazardous material that presents an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. This definition also includes non-native invasive plant species.

Why this matters:  Nitrogen and carbon combine with oxygen to create life-threatening pollution such as smog, which can trigger asthma attacks.  Additionally, carbon is the main contributor to climate disruption, making extreme weather worse - including more severe floods, widespread wildfires, and record drought. Buildings account for approximately 40% of carbon emissions.

Exposure to hazardous chemicals presents risks to human health such as cancer, neurological damage, kidney disease, and skeletal and bone diseases. 

A broad foundation

BREEAM In-Use is a green building assessment that covers a lot of territory and provides a good starting point to guide the user in developing their own perspective on issues. Balancing risk and benefit, BREEAM promotes access to, enjoyment of, and utilization of, the outdoor environment while ensuring that contaminants are mitigated.

Julia Craighill

Ensight Consulting, 6911 Maple Avenue, Chevy Chase, MD, 20815