Is ‘healthy building’ boom wishful thinking in a post-pandemic world?

Jan. 22, 2021
We’ve been hearing concerns about the C&I lighting market since the pandemic began. Will mainstream interest in healthy buildings help push human-centric programs like WELL, thereby bolstering the C&I sector?

This week, I stumbled across an article from Sonner Kehrt at WIRED titled “The ‘Healthy Building’ Surge Will Outlast the Pandemic.” In the article, green building specialists and architects tout the big picture of building better indoor environments. They chiefly point to the sustainability and wellbeing principles driven by WELL Building certification, which they foresee expanding into projects in the long term, post-pandemic.

“You don’t say?” I thought to myself… Because we have been hearing opposing schools of thought on related concerns within the LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) community which admittedly only covers a small segment of the WELL certification objectives. Many insiders have mentioned the slowdown in commercial & industrial (C&I) lighting sales and projects. As the pandemic continues and remote working becomes more routine, empty or near-empty offices look more and more like the norm going forward. That was one topic of conversation during last week’s IES webinar with industry trade-press editors.

But lighting industry messages have been mixed. Indeed, Signify, the world’s largest lighting company, reported during an April 2020 analysts’ call that food retailers, as well as commercial sites that were closed due to temporary restrictions, were deciding to initiate lighting refurbishments, albeit in small numbers. However, by September, Signify CEO Eric Rondolat admitted to LEDs Magazine contributor Mark Halper that “there are strong signs at this point in time that there may be less investment from promoters and investment companies in general in office spaces.” A mere 12 weeks later, the company announced that it was working on trimming down its own corporate headquarters and bringing more focus to other business sectors that could bring more revenue as C&I retracts.

Still, we have continued to publish articles ultimately proposing that the pandemic could be the impetus for prioritizing a healthier experience in indoor environments. For example, Energy Focus chairman and CEO James Tu has written that “When people have to think hard before they use public places for work, meetings, or study, their expectations of facility performance are greatly elevated.” He urges the industry to put human-centric design principles first in the development of SSL products, controls, and systems, because the proper integration of technologies from circadian-effective lighting to ultraviolet disinfection to air-quality control to building security systems will combine as “exponential technologies to advance human lives.” And lighting industry consultants David Shiller and Juan Carlos Blacker recently outlined rebates and incentives that can drive down the overall costs of projects and improve returns, especially with regard to market-transformation and certification program updates.

While I do think the WIRED article paints an appealing picture, it’s a bit idealistic. The fact remains that benefits of health-driven building designs need to pay in dividends, so to speak. More case studies will need to report on quantifiable outcomes that motivate building owners and facilities managers to make healthy building upgrades a business priority (WELL driven or not). Keep those lines of communications open send us details on wellbeing-focused projects that have demonstrated positive outcomes for both occupants and the bottom line, so we can share that knowledge with the broader audience.

>>Read the article from the WIRED website.

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About the Author

Carrie Meadows | Editor-in-Chief, LEDs Magazine

Carrie Meadows has more than 20 years of experience in the publishing and media industry. She worked with the PennWell Technology Group for more than 17 years, having been part of the editorial staff at Solid State Technology, Microlithography World, Lightwave, Portable Design, CleanRooms, Laser Focus World, and Vision Systems Design before the group was acquired by current parent company Endeavor Business Media.

Meadows has received finalist recognition for LEDs Magazine in the FOLIO Eddie Awards, and has volunteered as a judge on several B2B editorial awards committees. She received a BA in English literature from Saint Anselm College, and earned thesis honors in the college's Geisel Library. Without the patience to sit down and write a book of her own, she has gladly undertaken the role of editor for the writings of friends and family.

Meadows enjoys living in the beautiful but sometimes unpredictable four seasons of the New England region, volunteering with an animal shelter, reading (of course), and walking with friends and extended "dog family" in her spare time.