Consumer demand for health and wellness is accelerating rapidly, and is on track to become what McKinsey calls a trillion-dollar market.
Health is already a big budget item in Australia, and it’s going to get bigger. The Australian Treasury has projected that health expenditure will increase from its current level of just over nine per cent of GDP to an eye-watering 27 per cent by 2050.
More than 11 million Australians – more than half of us – have at least one chronic disease, and lifestyle is the biggest contributing factor. In fact, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare estimates that 31 per cent of our burden of disease can be prevented.
AIHW also says we spend around $8 billion on mental health services a year. The direct financial impact on business is up to $11 billion every year, largely due to absenteeism ($4.7 billion) and reduced productivity ($6.1 billion) from unwell workers who turn up but aren’t performing at their peak.
Human beings don’t operate in a vacuum, and our health is inseparable from the places we live, learn, work and play.
And this is why we are honing in on healthy buildings as an antidote to soaring healthcare costs, the growing burden of preventable disease and drains on productivity.
Some companies are already embracing wellness with gusto. Westpac’s new Wellness Centre at Barangaroo is perhaps best of breed.
Located in the 6 Star Green Star International Towers 2, the Westpac Wellness Centre offers employees an impressive array of health and wellness services, including physiotherapy, podiatry and Pilates. Accredited dieticians are on hand to help with everything from one-on-one consultations to supermarket tours. Beauty therapists and yoga instructors round out the mix of professionals on staff.
It’s more than massage and manicures though. The new offices also reflect the diversity of Westpac’s staff, with a prayer room and place to wash feet, a concierge service for employees to drop off their dry cleaning, a fully-equipped medical centre and a kitchen where staff can take part in cooking lessons.
As lead consultant, NDY was responsible for the base building services – from mechanical and electrical solutions to lighting and acoustics – that are at the heart of any healthy building. Westpac’s office boasts the highest levels of indoor environment quality, as it operates from a building that has been designed with fresh air, daylight, natural materials and views of the outdoors in mind.
Westpac’s wellness strategy appears to be working. Absenteeism dropped by 15 per cent in the nine months after employees moved into their new digs.
The bank’s experience correlates with international research which has found high-performance office environments enhance health, well-being and performance.
Lab-based research undertaken by Harvard University has found people operating from high-performing, green-certified buildings perform dramatically better on cognitive tests. Participants also reported 30 per cent fewer sick building symptoms, complained less about temperature, air movement, dryness or humidity, and chemical reactions, and had higher rates of satisfaction with the quality of light and the thermal conditions. Survey respondents even recorded a better quality of sleep after spending their days in green buildings.
The study’s principal investigator, Dr Joseph Allen advocates what he calls “buildingomics” – a new approach that examines all the building-related factors that influence the human health, wellbeing and productivity.
At the heart of buildingomics is data. And this data will “drive future decision-making” said Rick Fedrizzi, chairman and CEO of the International WELL Building Institute.
Speaking at Green Cities recently, Fedrizzi argued that data will “guide insurance companies and investors, and it will influence employees.”
And this brings us to wearable technology. Last year, a staggering 102 million “wearable tech” devices were shipped worldwide, that market growing by 25 per cent, according global technology analyst IDC.
Fitness trackers can now count your steps or swimming strokes, monitor your sleep cycles and heart rate, record your calorie burn rate and water intake. Employers are handing out Fitbits to encourage employees to monitor and manage their health at work.
At the same time, sensors are being installed in buildings around the country to monitor indoor environment quality and optimise work spaces. NDY’s associate director and controls and integration manager, Jonathan Clarke, says a “multitude” of sensing technologies are now required to monitor indoor environment quality.
“As we move towards the Internet of Things and data-rich analytics operating smart buildings, we see these sensors becoming intelligent and contextually aware, providing a wealth of data,” he noted.
“NDY is currently working on a project that uses sophisticated environmental intelligence technologies to create a smart space which understands its occupants. Although ground breaking today, this will become business as usual over the next few years.”
It is only a matter of time before employees put the two together and start carrying around their own personal devices to check up on the levels of pollution in the lobby or the volatile organic compounds lurking at their desk.
S0, are businesses ready for empowered employees armed with data on the health and well-being of their office space?