Design and Construction, Emergency Preparedness, Green Building, Human Resources, Maintenance and Operations, Safety

Former Surgeons General, Execs Issue Policy Prescription for Healthy Buildings

Organized by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a group of renowned public health leaders issued an open letter to the nation’s policymakers titled “Buildings as a Prescription for Health.”

The letter, signed by six former Surgeons General and six executives from top public health organizations, urges members of Congress, mayors, governors, and school superintendents to prioritize healthy buildings. It lays out compelling evidence showing the outsized role buildings can play to enhance health outcomes, prevent disease, and boost economic productivity.

“Buildings have a profound impact on our safety and well-being. Yet we’re largely missing out on the benefits of healthy building practices because our policymakers aren’t thinking about them as part of a prescription for public health,” said Rachel Hodgdon, president and CEO of IWBI. “This letter shows unequivocally why we need our leaders in government to guide this policy shift and help ensure the places and spaces where we live our lives keep all of us safe, healthy, and well.”

Signatories include the following health leaders:

  • Dr. Richard Carmona, 17th Surgeon General of the United States;
  • Dr. David Satcher, 16th Surgeon General of the United States;
  • Dr. Joycelyn Elders, 15th Surgeon General of the United States;
  • Dr. Antonia Novello, 14th Surgeon General of the United States;
  • Dr. Boris D. Lushniak, former Acting Surgeon General of the United States (2013-2014);
  • Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, former Acting Surgeon General of the United States (2002 & 2006);
  • Harold P. Wimmer, President and CEO, American Lung Association;
  • Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director, American Public Health Association
  • Kenneth Mendez, President and CEO, Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America;
  • Colin Milner, CEO, International Council on Active Aging;
  • Rachel Hodgdon, President and CEO, International WELL Building Institute; and
  • William Potts-Datema, DrPH, Interim CEO, Society for Public Health Education.

“Buildings are not just walls and roofs; they are health-critical environments where we spend 90% of our lives,” said Dr. Carmona, the 17th Surgeon General of the United States. “The pandemic showed us that our current building policies are severely lacking in health-focused strategies. We can’t afford to ignore this any longer.”

The sign-on letter underscores the urgency of revising building policies to be in alignment with public health goals. It also highlights the potential for staggering economic benefits.

Key highlights from the letter include:

  • A potential $200 billion annual productivity gain corresponding to a 20% to 50% reduction in Sick Building Syndrome symptoms for office workers in the U.S.
  • An estimated $38 billion in annual economic benefits from increasing minimum ventilation rates in U.S. offices.
  • A return of $3.48 for every dollar companies spend on workplace wellness programs due to reduced medical costs, and an additional return of $5.82 due to reduced absenteeism.
  • An up-to-101% improvement in cognitive function, supporting employee productivity benefits up to $7,500 per person per year.

The letter comes at a time when the nation faces complex public health challenges, from the enduring effects of the COVID-19 pandemic to the escalating threats of climate change. In light of this, the letter’s signatories also highlight how healthy building solutions play a pivotal strategy in the nation’s preparedness for global health challenges, including the climate crisis and other future health threats, stressing that delay in policy action could increase the health risks to all those inside buildings.

“The time for action is now, not just for the health of our citizens but for the economic prosperity of our country,” added Dr. Carmona.

Read the full letter here.

ALSO READ: Top Trends in Healthy Buildings: A Guide for Facilities Managers

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