by Alana Spencer
This has been a year of massive change, a true testament to human resiliency, and has placed a spotlight on the importance of social and health impacts within our daily lives. While the environmental performance discussion on the design and construction of projects has become generally normalized, social and health impacts are finally becoming prevalent topics for new construction and existing building projects, a silver lining in 2020. It’s time to act on the fact that where we live, work, and congregate impacts our health and communities.
Fortunately, there are high-performance, cost-effective social and health impact opportunities on every project for those who are directly and indirectly affected by the project scope. In addition to the direct impact that the natural and built environment have on human health through environmental exposure, features of the public realm, active design, walkability, and access to diverse uses/community connectivity, all play a pivotal role in health outcomes and long-term human behaviors. There are more reasons than ever to integrate social and health design impacts, in concert, as an integral piece of overall project performance.
Key components to address social and health impacts across the life-cycle of a project:
In Design Construction:
- Project Team – commitment to equity across the project team.
- Community – consider the project’s surrounding community and address inequalities with social improvement strategies. Engage with communities throughout the project.
- Responsible Supply Chain Management – requirements of material and product suppliers to ensure that they have verifiable corporate social responsibility strategies.
- Operational Excellence – ongoing strategies that address social, economic, health needs and inequalities for those who operate and maintain the project building; develop a monitoring plan with performance metrics to evaluate the operational social and health impacts designed for the project.
Select strategies from each component:
- Project Team – diversity and inclusion represented on the team; pay living wages across the project team; provide workforce development/training; support the local economy; consider linkages between the project’s design and operations particularly as it relates to potential health and wellness programming.
- Community – Identify community needs for space and services including site selection, landscape design; analyze climate region/resiliency vulnerabilities; address existing infrastructure; address existing health needs and minimize project features that could present risks to health; establish a feedback loop through community engagement.
- Responsible Supply Chain Management – Identify Supplier Assessments/Codes of Conduct that promote fair trade, respect for human rights, and other equity practices among disadvantaged communities; Create healthier environments for those affected by manufacturing of the materials and products created for the project.
- Operational Excellence – Ensuring living wage pay and benefits for work performed to support personal financial and health stability; promote/provide ongoing skill development/training; Corporate social responsibility commitment at the organization level.
As a best practice, these impacts should be considered from the onset of the project, with the entire project team, collaborating with stakeholders from the surrounding community. The key to social and health-promoting project outcomes is through an early analysis of the project team, community, supply chain and eventual operations. The analysis will help to facilitate consideration of the impacts that project design and construction have on social and health / well-being, bringing the project closer to implementation. Consider including social and health impacts into the RFP to prepare the team for holistic view of the project and address more thoroughly in the project’s kick-off meeting.
Frameworks are value-adds to projects looking to start a conversation, map out goals, and take action. There are several available and a few include:
- LEED Social Impacts credits
- Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)
- B Lab
- ILFI’s JUST program
- SITES, Human Health and Well-Being category
Simply start. Integrate health and social design to positively impact design and construction projects for all. No more excuses, our future depends on it.
Alana Spencer, LEED AP BD+C, is Fitwel ambassador/sustainability leader at Vanderweil Engineers.