The global wellness industry is estimated to be worth almost £4trn, and designing our urban environments for well-being in the UK could boost our economy by £15bn, according to a recent study by British Land.

Unsurprisingly then, Wood for Good’s autumn marketing summit explored the market potential for healthy timber building products and how the timber industry can contribute. The event set out to understand more about what architects are being asked for when it comes to the use of wood products in the built environment, and the evidence they need to satisfy clients about the industry’s health and well-being claims.

Launching the most successful Wood for Good marketing summit to date, Harry Knibb, sustainable places principal consultant at WSP, gave the keynote speech on what a healthy building means. He began by quizzing the audience on awareness about air quality, now the largest global environmental health risk, and the issues around VOCs and other indoor air pollutants.

Barrier to engagement

The biggest barrier to much greater understanding and engagement with the health and well-being agenda is the lack of data available about the performance of our built environment, Mr Knibb explained – we get more nutrition and health information on a £3 sandwich than we do on a £500,000 home.

Until now, most of the information known about healthy buildings is focused on the commercial and healthcare sectors. For office construction we know that building designers typically look at water and air quality, noise and acoustics, employee engagement, thermal comfort and location.

Mr Knibb also reported that workers now value their workplace culture and facilities as much as their salary. Recruiters are well aware of this and its contribution to talent attraction and retention, and researchers are also establishing the significant productivity benefits for staff working in more comfortable environments. A healthy, comfortable working environment reduces absenteeism, increases productivity and the company makes more profit – all the elements for a solid business case.

Mr Knibb was joined by Olga Turner, surveyor and co-founder of Ekkist, and Catherine Harrington, senior architect at Architype, where the panel faced an engaged audience and put across the business case for healthy buildings.

Ms Turner called for more certification of timber products to make it easier to evidence healthy products when aiming to achieve the WELL standard for a project. Research by bodies such as the Wood Protection Association is already helping to address concerns about timber treatments, but it was unanimous across the panel and audience that data is critical for products claiming to provide health and well-being benefits.

The panel spoke of opportunities in the residential market, and Ms Turner highlighted the Build to Rent sector, which is keen on health and well-being as its USP. Ms Harrington spoke of the increasing interest from the educational sector. Her practice, Architype, is currently measuring the performance of building material previously installed in schools.

“Innovation, good design, promoting the sustainability benefits of wood, product certification, research and industry collaboration are all key to marrying up the timber industry with health and well-being”, said Christiane Lellig, campaign director for Wood for Good.

It’s an on-going theme and a growing market that needs to be taken seriously. Interest is growing in how health and well-being applies to the timber industry and the built environment. In 2019 the discussion will continue with the TTJ Wood and Wellness Conference on February 13 and the ASBP Healthy Buildings Conference on February 28.