On October 13, we held a Sustainable Breakfast Series on Wellness & the Built Environment. Four fantastic panelists joined us: Chitani Ndisale, Project Manager, BWBR, Russell Knudson of PE, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Energy Performance at Strang, Laura LaMere, the Environmental Services Manager at Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, and Bill Fedun, the Director of Facilities at CUNA Mutual Group. They were lead in discussion by our excellent moderator Lana Zoet, Higher Education Studio Leader at Smith Group. Their discussion centered around the built environment and how we can improve our health, equity, and wellness generally and in response to the pandemic. Today we spend up to 90% of our time indoors, so the built environment has an impact on the well-being of the people who engage with it.

One of the questions posed to the panel asked about some of the measures or metrics of success the various sustainable building frameworks consider. The overall consensus was how certifications are beneficial to hold projects accountable for their outcomes and along the way for practicing sustainability. However, it is most valuable when there is direct alignment between the people’s values with the space that it is being built for. Bill mentioned his use of the Fitwell Certification and Park Smart, and Russell pointed out that these certifications are an excellent marketing tool to show the community that the company values sustainability and an internal signal that helps retain employees.

Throughout the panel, we heard a lot about resilience. Our built environment is adapting to the pandemic, and we are recognizing that there could be similar situations in the future to prepare for. It is crucial to build offices or specialty spaces that focus on healthy ways to collaborate. Chitani agreed with Bill that we need flexible designs to bring people back to the offices and their campuses to learn and work in a healthy environment.

The panel also adressed the role that building codes and mandates play on healthy buildings, especially when linked to the new sustainability guidelines in place by the Governor Evers. Laura made it clear, and the others agreed that those policies set a bare minimum. To have healthy spaces, it is essential to hold our buildings to a higher standard.

Next the panel discussed how communities need to change to incorporate equity, health, and design justice as we advance. Bill mentioned that there needs to be an overall emphasis on inclusion when designing a building. If you involve who you are designing for directly, you are including the people who contribute to a space’s success. Russell brought up that a disproportionate number of lower-income communities are near significant power generation sites that cause air pollution and negative health impacts.

The panel concluded with some tips for our personal wellness, whether at work or at home. A few of the insights shared are that it is ok to not be ok in these times, and we need to intentionally check in on each other more. To close, the panelists left us with encouragement to stick with a positive vision for the future and accomplish our wellness and sustainability goals.

“There are so many capable people here that are willing to innovate towards more sustainable solutions. At the beginning of a project, think about what you hope to accomplish about sustainability and wellness and hold those values close.” —Lana Zoet, Smith Group

“Finding ways of bringing the outdoors inside is a great way to contribute to overall wellness”—Laura LaMere – Environmental Services Manager at Ho Chunk Gaming Madison