Wellbeing cannot be fully outsourced

By - , Build 183

The Oxford English Dictionary defines wellbeing as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy or happy’. What it does not – and cannot – define is a singular state that will achieve this goal. There simply isn’t one, says BRANZ Chief Executive Chelydra Percy.

Chelydra Percy
Chelydra Percy

AS WITH most things in life, one size does not fit all. What I may require to achieve wellbeing is unlikely to be what you need. Potato, potato.

Given it’s such a highly subjective concept with many intangibles, can the industry be wholly responsible for building for wellbeing? In my view, the answer is no – it’s a partnership where industry knowledge, skills and services can inform and support our personal choices.

Industry know-how and can-do

Naturally, the construction sector can provide the framework to address the physical aspects that contribute to improved health outcomes – weathertightness, insulation, quality air and light and use of non-toxic, environmentally friendly materials.

Our planners, designers and architects can come to the party through humancentric and smart spatial design in residential and urban settings. Landscape architects can ensure the built environment connects us with nature, and I hope you will read about initiatives in these areas featured in this issue of Build.

But ultimately, wellbeing is an individual experience and the responsibility for achieving it cannot be fully outsourced.

Making our own choices

Where possible, each of us needs to take responsibility for ensuring we contribute to our own wellbeing, including in the context of building. That means understanding how we live in our homes, best perform at work, what we surround ourselves with, what promotes health and, ultimately, what makes us well.

When building new or renovating, we have to prioritise and maybe compromise if we are to achieve wellbeing. Maybe it’s a better ventilation system instead of the latest kitchen gadget or double glazing rather than extra square footage.

I have spoken often about the impact resolving ventilation and weathertightness issues in my own home had on the health of my son. That’s a tangible outcome of building for wellbeing.

What is less tangible – but was important for my own wellbeing – was the decision to install a central heating system to ensure a consistent temperature throughout my home. Another was using sound-proofing plasterboard to reduce noise and promote a calm environment in which to work.

Building better business

In a business context, the stakes are even higher as the effects are often felt by large numbers of people. Maybe it’s about employers taking a much broader view of the impact of work environments on employees’ wellbeing. This might require a range of different spaces that allow for quiet work or video calls, connect people to nature or foster collaboration.

In this regard, it’s great to see the growth in demand in New Zealand for commercial Green Star-rated and WELL buildings where wellbeing is a genuine focus of the design. As supply meets this demand, the average quality of our commercial office stock will improve, having a positive impact on the wellbeing of our corporate workforce.

Social responsibility

But what about other workplaces? What about our factories, warehouses and retail environments? What about in the rental context or in social housing? The majority of New Zealanders are not in a position to choose the environment in which they work or live. They have little or no influence over the external factors that affect their own wellbeing.

Therefore, the industry needs to work together to understand and address the changes needed to deliver wellbeing from the end user’s perspective.

The greatest responsibility is on clients and those who hold the cheque book – they must value and prioritise measures that improve wellbeing for those who will live and work in these spaces.

In short, the industry can build for wellbeing, but it needs to be commissioned to do so.

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Chelydra Percy
Chelydra Percy