There is now a standard to measure how buildings can affect the health of people occupying them. It's called the WELL Building Standard.

Engineers, interior design experts, and architects are gathering at this week's Buildex conference in Vancouver to talk about how building design can increase workers' productivity.

"What WELL has sprung up from is the idea that if you can have healthier occupants, they'll be happier, they'll be pleased about that, and it's a way to draw in new talent," said Helen Brennek, who works the engineering consulting firm WSP Canada.

"At the same time you can actually increase the productivity of your office workers."

Like the LEED standard for sustainable design, building owners can apply for WELL certification, but only a handful in the world have received the designation so far.

Brennek is speaking at the Buildex conference Wednesday.

What makes a building good for you

Some elements of WELL are straightforward, like building "beautiful, accessible, central stairways," said Brennek.

"Most to the time we walk into a building, the stairwell is like a far flung cave on either corner of the building."

Helen Brennek

Helen Brennek, who works at the engineering consulting firm WSP Canada, is speaking at the Buildex conference in Vancouver. (Charlie Cho/CBC)

This is part of the overall idea that designers should create circulation spaces in buildings that encourage movement and activity, said Brennek.

In addition, people benefit from having access to quiet spaces, hammocks, and open windows, she said.

Other aspects of WELL require more analysis, like the air and water quality inside the building. 

Productivity is the goal

While WELL is about improving people's health, the benefit for businesses that own these buildings lies in productivity.

"Productivity is the holy grail of these business trying to lower costs," said Brennek.

Increased productivity can go a long way toward offsetting overhead costs, for instance.

The building industry follows a rule of thumb called the 3-30-300 ratio. For every square foot of space, $3 is spent on utilities, $30 is spent on facilities, and $300 is spent on the people inside it.

"A one per cent increase in productivity actually translates to eliminating all of your utilities costs," said Brennek

To listen to the full interview, click the link labelled: How buildings affect health and wellbeing.