Photos Courtesy of Welltower, Inc.
As the real estate market evolves, sustainability and building performance expectations are evolving with it. Many real estate leaders are expanding their focus beyond increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impact to understanding and improving the health and wellness of building occupants. Architecture, design and operations affect the experiences of staff, tenants, residents, guests and visitors as well as the environment. For a building to be sustainable, it must address both environmental and human health concerns.
Scientific research has helped illuminate the influence of sustainable infrastructure on building occupants. The 2015 CogFx study, conducted by researchers at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, SUNY Upstate Medical University and Syracuse University, examined the impact of indoor environmental quality on cognitive function. Cognitive tests conducted in a green indoor environment resulted in a 61 percent score increase when compared to tests conducted in a conventional indoor environment. This evidence corroborates the positive influence of sustainable infrastructure on health and productivity and supports the increase of building certifications —such as the WELL Building Standard™ and Fitwel—dedicated to health and wellness. Moreover, the confluence of new research, industry resources and advancing technologies legitimizes the focus on health and wellness as a significant source of value creation for real estate investors and operators.
One example of this shift is seen at Welltower Inc., a leading provider of health care infrastructure that invests with leading senior housing operators, post-acute providers and health systems to fund the real estate infrastructure needed to scale innovative care delivery models and improve people’s wellness and overall health care experience. Welltower’s portfolio consists of more than 1,400 properties across the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. An early adopter of sustainable real estate practices, the organization actively pursues performance and sustainability improvements to enhance the value of its assets. Welltower has been recognized with numerous awards and accolades, including being named to the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index in 2018, achieving Green Star designation from the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB), having numerous ENERGY STAR® and IREM Certified Sustainable Property assets, and earning Silver Level status from the American Heart Association’s 2018 Workplace Health Achievement Index for taking significant steps to build a culture of health in the workplace.
What’s on the Inside Counts
Core to Welltower’s real estate assets is its 263-property medical office portfolio of over 16.6 million square feet. A total of 97 percent of this portfolio is managed in-house by over 200 property management professionals. Additionally, Welltower routinely scores in the top 10 percent for overall tenant satisfaction in the Kingsley Index. To remain an industry leader in sustainability, Welltower continuously looks for ways to further advance its management practices and deliver positive outcomes for its tenants and occupants.
With a name like Welltower, it’s no surprise wellness plays an important role in its business strategy. In its medical office building portfolio, Welltower is focusing on improving indoor environments. Green cleaning, daylighting and monthly indoor air quality measurements are priorities for all managed medical office buildings, ensuring the healthiest possible environments for employees, tenants and visitors. Other wellness initiatives include Welltower’s Well+BEING program, created to encourage healthy lifestyles for its global workforce, and two new signature projects bringing sustainable assisted living and memory care communities to Midtown Manhattan. According to Welltower CEO Thomas DeRosa, “Wellness is at the center of what we do, and we are committed to providing healthy environments for the people who visit, work and live in our properties, in addition to increasing operational efficiency and creating long-term sustainable value for our stakeholders.”
Welltower utilizes key tools and resources to continuously improve sustainability performance across its portfolio. In 2017, the company identified the IREM Certified Sustainable Property (CSP) framework and certification as an attainable, affordable and meaningful recognition program that can be utilized to assess a building’s sustainability performance. Welltower is an early adopter of the certification with more than 20 CSP certified medical office buildings to date and more applications in progress.
IREM CSP categories include Energy, Water, Waste, Purchasing and Health and Wellness, and points are achieved for several sustainable best practices within each category implemented at the building. In the Health and Wellness category, point opportunities include conducting an indoor environmental quality (IEQ) survey, verifying ventilation rates meet ASHRAE standards and using low-emitting materials in common areas. Available points come with user-friendly forms to guide applicants through the completion process and supply links to additional resources. “The IREM CSP certification provides a great toolkit for understanding our building performance, especially for sectors not currently eligible for other certification schemes,” affirms Shea Jameel, Welltower’s sustainability manager. “I appreciate that it is comprehensive and includes the health and wellness categories.”
In addition to certifying eligible buildings, Welltower also uses the IREM CSP framework to benchmark a building’s sustainability performance and develop strategies to increase scores and engage property management teams. “Our property managers do an excellent job managing our buildings every day. Working with them on the IREM CSP process has been incredibly rewarding. It takes time to research, inspect and document all the measures, but our property managers agree that the process provides value and would recommend it to other facility managers,” says Jameel. One property manager noted that the IREM CSP enables differentiation from peers as “proof of Welltower’s commitment to a higher quality operating standard.” Property managers can utilize the IREM CSP framework to target certification and apply lessons learned and best practices, particularly around health and wellness strategies, even to buildings not undergoing certification.
High Points for Health
A Welltower medical office building located in downtown Stamford, Conn., recently attained IREM CSP certification, scoring more points in Health and Wellness than in any other category. In addition to important energy-efficient features, such as a white roof, high-efficiency lighting and an ENERGY STAR score of 76, points were awarded for health and wellness measures including availability of water in common areas, use of green cleaning, use of green-certified materials, ventilation that meets ASHRAE standards, and regular indoor air quality testing. The building’s location near public transit and a park that encourages getting outdoors also promotes sustainability and wellbeing. “I’m very happy we were able to utilize the IREM CSP program and achieve certification for this building to recognize all the great environmental and wellness features and operational best practices that have been implemented,” says Jameel. “Adding the certification for increased market differentiation for this high-performance building is a win-win for Welltower and a great value-add for our tenants.”
As sustainability continues to evolve in commercial real estate, Welltower will continue playing a global leadership role. As demonstrated by their early adoption of IREM CSP, Welltower is committed to creating ongoing value for their stakeholders. But for the Welltower team, the positive impact on staff, tenants, residents, guests, visitors and the environment is the greatest value of all.