Raising the Bar on Health and Wellness in Industrial Buildings

September 1, 2022 • John Salustri

When it comes to addressing concerns about health and wellness—and how they impact tenant comfort and satisfaction—the industrial real estate sector is about 10 years behind its office sector counterpart. This according to Carl Lam, industrial director for QuadReal Property Group, a global real estate firm based in Canada.

Joanne Frank, president and CEO of the Center for Active Design, a New York-based nonprofit that uses design to foster healthy and engaged communities, echoed Lam’s assertion. She said the industrial sector also trails other commercial real estate sectors in terms of employee absenteeism and stress levels.

If those pressures on industrial property owners and managers were not sufficient, Jessica Long, global investment manager Nuveen’s senior director of sustainability for the Americas, added one more: “Our clients and investors are also increasingly asking about ESG [environmental, social, governance] protocols and managing financial risk.”

These experts, who shared their insights at BOMA International’s most recent annual conference, concluded that there are no universal solutions for solving all these challenges in the industrial sector.

“Different occupancy types have different expectations,” Lam explained, pointing to such examples as noise control in manufacturing facilities. In warehousing and distribution spaces, he added, among the biggest drivers of high employee turnover are access to public transit and pay disparity.

That’s why it’s critical to get direct feedback from building occupants, Lam advised, adding that this is an approach that’s further challenged if a third-party logistics firm (3PL) is occupying the space for a client. The 3PLs “tend to be outside the communication loop,” he said. Feedback also can be complicated by the triple-net nature of most industrial leases, rendering the property manager hands-off when it comes to internal changes.

Although solutions can vary by asset and occupant type, certain truths remain. Execution may vary but, as Frank said, “We all have the same needs around access to such benefits as natural lighting, healthy food and green spaces.”

And though costs can be a major hurdle, there will always be what Lam described as “low-hanging fruit.” Budget-conscience strategies can include lighting and temperature adjustments; tweaking heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems by adjusting air filters; and improving landscaping for environmental and biophilic reasons. All of these can have a subtle, but significant, impact, Lam explained.

Other health and safety features that are growing in popularity for both office and industrial properties include: increasing access to natural lighting; offering widespread access to hydration and hand hygiene stations; and creating lactation or meditation rooms.

In terms of a more holistic and social approach to health and well-being, the experts recommended local outreach with such initiatives as contributions to area food banks and the creation of community gardens. These make it possible for industrial tenants and members of the local community to work side-by-side, while also making an impact on ESG goals.

Whatever the solution for a particular facility, Long said benchmarking through such programs as the BOMA 360 Performance Program, Fitwel, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or ENERGY STAR® provide twofold benefits. They track progress and they communicate clearly to all stakeholders the efforts being made.

But there is a subtler awareness that also takes place. Frank says there’s a missed opportunity if, as part of regular tenant satisfaction surveys, occupants aren’t told that their building has a renewed focus on health and wellness. The good news for industrial property professionals, according to Frank, is that “operational strategies had the strongest connection to tenant satisfaction—not design or location.”

At the end of the day, she said, the essential question is: “What makes a healthy building?”

The question is fitting for all assets. So, too, is the answer: “It’s an environment that responds to the needs of the occupants.”

Achieving this is a matter of physical, operational and social enhancements, Frank said, grounded in “evidence-based strategies and measured outcomes.


John Salustri is editor-in-chief of Salustri Content Solutions, a national editorial advisory firm based in East Northport, New York. He is best known as the founding editor of GlobeSt.com. Prior to launching GlobeSt.com, Salustri was editor of Real Estate Forum.