How to Build Health and Wellness

Think about how much of your day is spent indoors. Seriously, take a moment and guess a rough percentage. I’ll wait.

I’m sick. Nothing too terrible mind you, but I’ve caught some form of cold. At the moment, it’s punishing me with general unpleasantness. You know the drill – load up on Vitamin C, water and sleep, and then hope for the best.

My current state of being got me musing about the intersection of health and the environment. From my perspective, for most of the time that we’ve had an “environmental movement” (define that phrase however you like), health hasn’t been much a part of it. Instead, environmental issues have centered on challenges like clean water, air pollution, material waste, biodiversity loss, climate change and land conservation. Human health, while clearly implicated by unclean water, dirty air, and the proliferation of man-made toxins, was still treated as a separate issue.

Increasingly however, the arbitrary lines between our social and environmental challenges are disappearing. Through new research, new communication methods, and evolving social norms, we are collectively clueing in to the fact that everything is connected. I believe that human health considerations are at the forefront of that shift.

As an example, consider what’s happening in the built environment/wellness space. In the past several years, two organizations (and there may be more) have developed wellness certification programs for buildings – Fitwel and the International WELL Building Institute (alphabetical order, not my ranking of them).

I won’t go into the differences between the two in this space. If their work strikes your fancy, I encourage you to dig into the wealth of material on their websites. In the meantime, I want to make a high-level observation.

Think about how much of your day is spent indoors. Seriously, take a moment and guess a rough percentage.

I’ll wait.

Did you actually stop and guess? Or are you still reading banking on the expectation that I’ll just give you an answer?

Well, you’re right…I will just give you an answer.

But I’m still going to stall in the hope you will guess first.

Alright, here you go. According to the International WELL Building Institute, average Americans spend more than 90% of their lives in buildings. In general, those buildings have been constructed to provide shelter from the elements (i.e. designed for structural integrity). Which, I will admit, is pretty important.

We’ve also been designing our buildings for aesthetic appeal for centuries (just look at some of the oldest religious buildings on earth). More recently, since the dawn of skyscrapers, we’ve been designing buildings to optimize space. More recently than that, efficiency and environmentally-friendly design have become more common. That’s a trend that encourages me, and it’s one I think needs to continue scaling.

What’s remarkable to me, however, is that we are just now getting to design for health and wellness. I mean, it’s not like humans have just recently decided to want this – good health and wellbeing is a fundamental desire of our species. And while it is overdue, this shift for the built environment is a promising one.

So keep an eye out for Fitwel, IWBI and others in this space. I’m sure there’s lots more to come, and as a committed environmentalist, this focus on health and wellness encourages me. I’m confident it will lead to a lot of opportunities for social and environmental improvement.