The Business Case for Sustainability:  It’s All About WELL-Being

Companies that invest in spaces that focus on physical and mental well-being can see their efforts pay off in big dividends.  Research shows a building designed with health and wellness in mind can make people healthier, happier and more productive[1].

The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) is taking a people-first approach to building design to promote health and well-being and help employees do their best work and be their best selves.  Its WELL Building Standard establishes a roadmap for creating and certifying space and professionals who advance human health and well-being across 10 core concepts. 

SGA Design Group’s Director of Sustainability Kim Limbaugh is one of only a handful of professionals in Oklahoma to achieve the WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) certification,  a health and well-being credential that demonstrates expertise in the WELL Building Standard and a commitment to advancing human health in buildings and communities around the world. Limbaugh knew that as part of designing sustainable structures, to provide the greatest value to clients, she would also need to build sustainable, resilient and healthy environments within those structures. 

“The topic of resilience is what drew me to pursue the WELL AP credential,” says Limbaugh. “After the pandemic kicked up in 2020, I was so impressed with how the WELL Building Institute used its power for good to develop the WELL building certification.”

Limbaugh’s credentials are significant. She has achieved certifications in:

  • Construction Documents Technology (CDT)
  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) with advanced LEED certifications in Building Design and Construction (BD+C) and Interior Design and Contruction (ID+C)

So why the WELL AP certification and why now?  Limbaugh says it’s simple. COVID-19 changed everything.

“Up until 2020, resilient building design focused largely on natural and man-made disasters. These included seismic, wind and flood events. But now, the pandemic highlights the role buildings play in employee health, safey and well-being,” Limbaugh says. “We know that COVID is more easily transmitted in closed, indoor environments.  This affects where we live, work and play, and we’ve seen many companies close or scale down operations as a result of the pandemic. Going forward, we must change our environments to survive and thrive. Those organizations that will navigate this changing environment will be resilient. They’ll re-examine their work spaces to promote health, safety and physical and mental well-being. And in doing so, will come out stronger for it.”

Research shows that in one case study, a WELL-certified workplace reduced absenteeism by more than 50% in one year[2].

In another study, researchers with the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine tracked the market performance of companies that integrated a culture of health and safety. Those with high health achievement scores saw their portfolios appreciate 99% more than the S&P 500 Index. In short, healthier organizations outperform their peers[3].

This is compelling evidence that investing in a company’s building space is not just a real estate or human resources issue, but a strategic business decision that can go straight to the bottom line. 

The investment research firm MSCI notes a study that indicated 87% of high-net-worth millennials considered a company’s environmental, social and governance record as an important consideration in their decision about whether to invest in it or not[4]. 

Another study found that 90% of millennials wanted to tailor investments to their values. A 2019 Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing survey of high-net-worth investors confirms this with its finding that 95% of millennials were interested in sustainable investing[5].

So as baby boomers continue to retire and decline in numbers, companies must invest in sustainable spaces not only to attract, motivate and retain talent but also attract the growing generation of millennial investors.

According to the International WELL Building Institute, organizations everywhere – from startups to Fortune 500s – use WELL to prioritize the health and safety of their people, maximize real estate value and optimize the human and social capital performance of their business.

At SGA Design Group, Limbaugh is leading the way to help organizations build a better tomorrow for their workforce and their balance sheets.

“The new WELL Building Standard v2, issued in late 2021, incorporates best practices and more fully addresses the work/life balance that is so very important to much of the current and upcoming workforce,” Limbaugh noted. “It focuses on the physical and mental well-being as well as the overall satisfaction of the building’s occupants.”

Limbaugh explains that SGA Design Group is well-positioned to work closely with clients to help them manage both their buildings and promote physical and mental well-being to support the overall satisfaction of the building’s occupants.  

In addition to the WELL Building Certification, WELL has also developed a Health Safety Rating for Facilities Operations and Maintenance. The goal with the Health Safety Rating is to establish guidelines for prevention and preparedness, resilience and recovery for individuals, organizations and communities. It’s an evidence-based, third-party-verified rating system for all facility types, focusing on operational policies, maintenance protocols, emergency plans and stakeholder education to address the post-COVID environment. 

Limbaugh cites a Gartner study that found 82% of employees believe it is important that their organization sees them as a person and not just as an employee[6] .

“As employers are facing the future of work, employees are returning to the office – but they’re returning differently from when they left,” Limbaugh says. “It is a new world in the post-COVID environment. At SGA Design Group, we are designing buildings for the future in every aspect – not just in style, but in functionality that will enhance the well-being of inhabitants for generations to come. People will use spaces differently and will work differently. And, because resiliency and sustainability are more important than ever, we are helping organizations navigate through this turning tide so they can meet not just the needs of their workforce but meet the needs and demands of investors alike.”

Reference Materials

[1] International WELL Building Institute, “Cundall Office, One Carter Lane,” 2016.

[2] International WELL Building Institute, “Cundall Office, One Carter Lane,” 2016.

[3] American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, “Tracking the Market Performance of Companies That Integrate a Culture of Health and Safety,” 2015. 

[4] MSCI ESG Research LLC, “Swipe to Invest: The Story Behind Millennials and ESG investing,” 2020.  

[5] Morgan Stanley Institute for Sustainable Investing, “Sustainable Signals: Individual Investor Interest Driven by Impact, Conviction and Choice,” 2019. 

[6]  Gartner, “Future of Work Reinvented Designing a Win-Win for People and Employers,” 2022.