The future of the built environment lies on the wellbeing of the people who occupy them. This target for business growth will assure a sustainable future, as the aims of the built environment should be to support the objectives of the communities it serves. We expand and support this statement in this post and look forward to your feedback.
Grigoriou Interiors’ mission is to use sustainable interior design and thought leadership to create physical environments that enable people and businesses to perform and grow to the best of their ability, while nurturing our environment. We believe that fashionable and ‘green’ are not exclusive of one another and are very proud to have worked with ambitious and world-class clients who have been attracted to us by our expert focus on sustainable design and wellbeing. They include M&S, Regus and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, among many others.
Interiors: Why the focus?
Conversations in the built environment have traditionally focused more on building-wide issues like energy performance or its aesthetic design, rather than the impact and benefits to the people that are using or interacting with it. It is a fact that we spend more than 80% of our time in interior spaces rather than exterior and the frequency of interior refurbishments and fit-outs provides numerous opportunities to make improvements with much shorter lifecycles than whole building or urban planning approaches do.
We propose a balanced approach to issues in the built environment, which means increasing knowledge of, and investment in, the performance of interior spaces while not excluding the relationship with the whole building. We must demand more from interior spaces: if you think good design is not worth the investment, look at how much bad design costs. By increasing people’s wellbeing we increase their resilience. It makes people strong, able to cope with pressure and perform during challenging times. Resilience allows individuals and by consequence their companies, to flourish, grow and maintain a competitive advantage. Now let’s look at where wellbeing stands in the context of sustainability and what it actually means in the workplace…
Wellbeing within sustainability & the workplace
Since the publication of Silent Spring there has been a steadily increasing focus on our impacts to the environment and the consequences to our quality of life. Efforts to rectify the economic-environmental imbalance have seen a rise in number of cases impacting on the 3rd pillar of sustainability: people and societies.
Sustainable results are achieved when decisions acknowledge and account for impacts to the three pillars of sustainability: economy, society and environment (Fig.1). The term ‘value’ is used by us frequently to describe other returns beyond the economic that still yield indirect corporate gains. The relationship between value, environment and people has been skewed and instead of the economy and value returns being a tool for societies’ benefit, our society has been serving our economy. Yet as indicated in Figure 1, we are only as strong as the natural environment within which we live.
The WHO defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” The opportunity to bring the element of wellbeing into the built environment and specifically into interior spaces is available to us today. If wellbeing means more than just physical health, then we are looking at spaces that positively grow our mental and emotional state too.
Interiors are responsible for a significant part of a person’s total wellbeing and we are looking to take responsibility for just that and ensure that we are acting in a positive and growth enhancing way. In order to achieve wellbeing, interiors should not limit their results to doing ‘less bad’ but actively support occupants in their growth and prosperity.
If we looked at it from a purely financial ROI to society, of good versus bad health, the saving potential is immense. The Marmot Review 2010 highlighted that inequality in illness accounts for an estimated loss of £31-33 billion a year from lost productivity, £20-32 billion a year lost in taxes and welfare payments and extra NHS costs of over £5 billion a year.
Therefore, considering the extensive hours many of us spend in workplace interiors, these spaces must positively impact the physical, emotional and mental aspects of all its occupants to ensure their growth and by consequence that of the organisation’s. In other words it is about performance.
Using a parallel example, performance is what the British Olympic cycling team of 2012 achieved through the review and tweaking of many parts. Individually perhaps each adjustment could be seen as insignificant, but when improvement of the cycle shape, the uniform fit, the mental approach, nutrition, physical condition etc. – are all collectively put together, the results gave them the winning performance. Similarly if an organisation is looking for its people to be world class in their field and achieve sustainable growth, then it is about the many details coming together that result in significant improvements. CEOs, FDs, HR Directors, Property Managers can decide whether they want to have a team performing like a racing team or one that runs like a ‘Boris bike’. Will you choose high performance winning or general run of the mill? What do your colleagues, directors and clients expect you to provide?
We can read about a building’s brilliant facilities, its energy efficiency, state of the art technology but what information is a potential occupier going to want to see or should be informed on to make the right and holistic decision on the appropriateness and quality of the interior spaces? Considering that the most expensive resource for an organisation is the cost of its people, would it make sense to share details about how the spaces they intend to lease are going to affect the performance of staff and the comfort of customers and visitors?
A study by the National Institute for Building Sciences of Carnegie-Mellon University published in 2007 shows many savings and increased growth potential from investing into occupant and visitor wellbeing. Additionally, experiences and feedback on what works or doesn’t never gets fed back to the design or research teams, making progress pretty slow. We have delved into many studies and pulled out findings that we use to inform our own designs and consultations, some examples are shared below…
Example A: Biophilia
The recent Happiness LSE study and thesis by George Mackerron proved that the highest levels of self-reported happiness for people were within natural environments, within nature. This study is in addition to others previously indicating reduced blood pressure when in nature. As we are not able to comfortably or practically take all workplaces into a forest or garden, there are solutions to introduce elements of nature into interiors. Natural plants can only be used indoors with sufficient presence of natural light or artificial growth lights, so to not limit the opportunity, alternative nature-depicting formations can be introduced through organic shapes, imagery, feature ceilings and wall finishes.
Example B: Natural daylight or artificial lighting & circadian rhythms
Our circadian rhythm is reset daily by our exposure to daylight and its change through the day’s cycle. If we are indoors and have little exposure to the outdoors through windows or glazed facades, it affects our patterns and quality of sleep and in consequence our energy, immune system and general quality of life which impacts on our performance and resilience over a typically short time.
Example C: Indoor Air Quality (IAQ)
Many issues affect the quality of air in indoor spaces: fumes from product and material finishes, levels of CO and CO2, as well as the effects of items that people bring into the spaces. Let us take the example of volatile organic compounds (VOCs): in simple terms, all materials and finishes used throughout interiors are continuously ‘drying’ throughout their life. VOCs are in their majority ozone-depleting gases and there is growing evidence to support their ability to induce cancer and serious health irritations to humans. The cost of sick days and time when employees are present but not performing (presenteeism) accrues to a significant loss of earnings, competitive advantage and potential for corporate growth.
Ska Rating assessment of Croydon Council’s Integrated Children’s Hub
The RICS Ska Rating environmental assessment tool for interior fit-out includes a significant number of wellbeing issues that are good practice to implement and adopt. We assessed the design and delivery works of Croydon Council’s Integrated Children’s Hub and were able to demonstrate how the project met 58% of the wellbeing measures in scope.
Starwood Hotels & Resorts EAME, ITB Berlin
In 2012 we were asked by Starwood Hotels & Resorts to design a truly sustainable trade show stand for the ITB show in Berlin. Wellbeing features were integrated to a great extent and included passive air movement solutions in the meeting rooms, CO2 sensors, low- and zero-VOC finishes, non-PVC graphics films, healthy commercial-grade upholstery fabrics and indirect lighting. The design achieved a Silver Ska Rating and can be completely recycled. It also achieved operational savings in excess of EUR 200,000 in its first 12 months.
Regus B.Hive, Covent Garden London
Another example of implementing wellbeing features is the Regus B.Hive Business Club, designed to appeal to SME owner business women, designed in a 350m² area, part of a Grade II* listed building in central London. All paints and finishes used in this space were of low or zero-VOC. In addition to art and culture features being very strong in all the spaces, textures and colours were carefully matched to users and local controls were provided for light level adjustment, heating and cooling in each room.
It is our opinion that the best evaluation a building or interior space should be on the way it meets the needs of each pillar: economic/value, people/wellbeing and environmental.
Wellbeing reviews are a simple way for landlords and occupants to understand how their space can meet wellbeing requirements and become more attractive to tenants. They create an opportunity to identify operational cost savings and value returns (financial in addition to others) by targeting specific impact issues (e.g. the location and orientation of staff desks).
The Feeling Good Foundation
The Feeling Good Foundation was set up in response to a strongly expressed desire by the industry to learn more about what enhances wellbeing in the built environment. It acts as a repository of the best and latest research, a hub for developing and promoting new ideas from the industry and academia, and a source of expertise for industry leaders seeking to take innovative practices mainstream.
A not-for-profit initiative founded in early 2013 by The Building Centre Trust and Grigoriou Interiors. Its base is the Building Centre, 26 Store Street, London WC1E 7BT.
Our aspiration is for a change in the industry’s mindset that interior design is not only about the aesthetically beautiful but instead effective interiors are a fundamental element to achieve corporate and social growth. The potential gains can accrue and deliver a number of valuable returns that include stronger staff and customer loyalty, reduced costs associated to staff sick days, increased resilience to challenging situations and market changes, staff retention and many others. If there are two things you could take away from what you’ve read here, we hope it is a) the value for wellbeing through correctly applied interior design and b) the decision-making approach that balances all three sustainability pillars.
As Richard Francis of The Monomoy Company says “Our intent is to move the industry to what specialists have known for some time: sustainable interiors yield high dividends across organisations in terms or engagement, health and productivity. It is not only the right thing; it is also the smart thing.” It does not make business sense to react to problems retrospectively, but instead to grab the opportunity we have to prevent the adverse effects from a lack of wellbeing by starting to review and move into positive growth step-by-step. Whichever approach you adopt we hope it is a fun and fulfilling process for all involved!
 Mappiness project, George McKeron LSE 2013 http://blog.mappiness.org.uk/2013/06/10/happy-natural-environments/
 The Marmot Review 2010 by Professor Sir Michael Marmot, UCL Institute of Health Equity
 LSE Happiness and Environmental Quality by Dr George Mackerron 2013