The pulse of green building design through the world of real estate is undeniable: a small but swelling sector of homes and offices in New Orleans and around the world generate their own power, chip away at humanity’s carbon footprint and eat up waste by using recycled materials.
But what about the humans inside, living out their daily lives, cooking dinner, studying for class and sitting through meetings?
In New Orleans, more than 450 people gathered in a room at the Roosevelt Hotel on Monday to attack that question.
“Health and wellness in the built environment should not be a privilege, it should be a right,” said Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute, which held its inaugural meeting in New Orleans.
The institute on Monday launched a program setting standards for buildings primed for human livelihood. Think purified air and water systems, designs that trigger healthy eating and physical activity and harnessing light to improve sleep and thought.
Developers can apply to certify buildings under the new standards, and the group is partnering with the Green Building Certification Institute, which administers the more familiar LEED program for environmental design certification. The WELL Building launch comes after a two-year pilot program.
Scialla and his twin brother left Goldman Sachs investment firm last year to focus on Paul Scialla’s wellness-focused real estate firm Delos, which pioneered the new building design standards.
He offered up schools as an example to measure the potential impact of thinking about humans when building. The best lighting elements can boost students’ mental acuity, supporting kids “who are our next Einsteins,” he said, potentially impacting human history by giving people spaces optimized for thinking.
Scialla talked with a panel of experts on Monday in a discussion moderated by Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said the nation needs “a culture change in America where it is unacceptable” to be unhealthy.
Elvis Presley’s biggest contribution to society wasn’t rock ‘n roll, Roizen said. It was the day in 1956 when the star got a polio vaccine on live broadcast TV, sending immunization rates skyrocketing. With astronomical rates of diabetes and other chronic diseases, the nation needs another big spark of change — immediately, he said.
“If we take 50 years, we’re wiped out, and we will not have the society we have,” Roizen said.
Scialla said the world’s largest asset class is real estate, valued at $150 trillion. Meanwhile, he said, consumers spend $2 trillion per year on health and wellness products.
There’s an opportunity to bring human wellness design into any building with four walls and a roof, he said, using revenues from the institute — a public benefit corporation — to both expand the institute’s work and develop housing for displaced people around the world.