Healthy Buildings: Fad or the Future?

Writer Ken Dooley works at Granlund’s Innovation department.

The Health and Well-being boom seems to be influencing every industry at the moment and it’s no surprise that this also includes the real estate sector. This is especially relevant to office buildings where more and more employers want to ensure that they are providing a healthy workplace. The trend is growing as it is seen as an important way to attract and retain staff and also to increase productivity by decreasing sick leave.

Building design

A recent article in the Guardian discussed this trend in the context of the Dutch office market and focused on the ability of certain office designs to reduce the risk of employee burnout. So the question everyone is asking is: how do you design a building to be healthy?

The Amsterdam-based design studio, D/DOCK, has identified 10 indicators which together make up their healing office concept. The indicators include indoor climate, daylight, physical activity, healthy food, diversity and nature. D/DOCK believe that if these elements are improved, then sick leave can be reduced by up to 30% and productivity can be improved by up to 20%. They also claim that the end result is a longer life expectancy for employees as they spend such a large proportion of their time in the workplace.

So from a building design point of view this means greater focus on indoor air quality and maximising daylight. It means healthier food in the restaurants and a greater focus on encouraging more activity while at work. This could be as simple as encouraging people to take the stairs instead of the elevator or the emergence of treadmills under our desks!

johnson-treadmill.jpg.662x0_q70_crop-scale.jpgPicture: Steven M. Johnson

WELL Building Standard

Guidance on how to design healthy buildings can also be found in the WELL building standard. In October 2014, the international WELL building institute launched the world’s first standard that focuses exclusively on improving human health and well-being through the built environment.

The purpose is to measure, certify and monitor the performance of building features that impact health and well-being. It focuses 105 criteria which includes traditional design measures such as internal conditions and daylight but also food, activity, safety and many more.

Real-time monitoring

Another industry area that is commanding attention is the real-time monitoring of workplace activity. This is being driven by HealthTech such as wearable devices or smartphone apps which gives the user real-time feedback on daily targets such as the number of steps taken that day.

In the US most of the large health insurers have or are about to offer discounts to employees using these kinds of devices. While, in Finland, LähiTapiola insurance group have announced a pilot to offer discounted health insurance to people who use the Wellmo app. In one US study more than 20,000 people chose to wear activity tracking devices at work and after 2 years the organisers claim that the fitness tracker group had 59% lower healthcare costs than their colleagues without trackers. Another study using fitbits claimed an average of 25% less per person in healthcare costs than a control group.

We at Granlud are also committed to delivering healthy buildings so if you are interested in anything from daylight modelling to WELL certification then let us know!

Building a Culture of Experimentation (kokeilukulttuuri)

Writer Ken Dooley is the Sustainability Group Manager at Granlund Consulting

There is no doubt that digitalisation will continue to disrupt established industries and the construction and real estate industries are no different.

We are all aware of the impact that Google has made on advertising, Uber has made on the taxi industry and AirBnB has made on hotels, so how do established companies keep up with the disruptors in this increasingly digital age? The answer is experimentation.

Large companies are beginning to look at start-ups for inspiration and one marked difference is in the agility of development processes.  Big player companies have established internal processes and spend vast amounts of time and energy planning their next steps. In contrast, start-ups are empowered by the lean methods of people like Eric Ries and are able to try new things and experiment much more often. This is depicted by the mindset of the lean start-up movement which is embodied by phrases such as “get out of the building” and “start before you are ready”. This approach advocates speaking to customers and building ad hoc solutions that solve real world problems. It is totally opposite of spending large portions of time and money developing a product in-house and showing it to customers for the first time on launch day. The expectation is that the products and services developed by the lean approach are more customer oriented as they are incrementally developed with real customer feedback. This is why experimentation is becoming a popular development tool and even the Finnish government are conducting experiments which they call strategic policy trials.

Experiment 1: Hackathon

One of Granlund’s first attempts at experimentation was last year’s Behaviour Change Hackathon where the aim was to develop insights and tools for reducing user energy consumption in buildings.  The event was a departure from a traditional real estate industry workshop as it encouraged participation from a diverse range of backgrounds with extra emphasis on the inclusion of behavioural psychologists, software developers and energy experts. The event generated 5 concepts and on the day Granlund promised to bring at least one idea to the level of a prototype.

Experiment 2: Location

The idea from the hackathon that was chosen for further development was a concept called WarmEnough which was described in the hackathon as a solution to “optimise indoor temperature based on crowdsourced temperature feedback via mobile app”. Granlund worked with local start-up Nomenal who were part of the original hackathon team that came up with the WarmEnough idea.

The resultant smartphone app enabled building users to send a very simple feedback message which had 3 possible comments (1) I am too warm, (2) I am happy with the temperature or (3) I am too cold. The most important part of the app was that the feedback was location enabled. This meant that each feedback item could be tracked to the position in the building that it was sent from so that building managers could look for trends and prioritise areas with multiple feedback cases. In all, 2 separate apps were developed in order to test the best method for attaching location to the feedback. One app was developed using iBeacons and one app was developed using IndoorAtlas. A screenshot of the app may be seen below along with the map of the building showing where feedback has been sent from.

Dooley feedback
On the left: a screenshot of the warm enough app, on the right: a visual representation of the 3rd floor feedback generated by the app.

Experiment 3: Games

The local gaming ecosystem is one of Finland’s biggest success stories of recent years and so Granlund have been experimenting with how gaming can improve the user experience of our products and services. One way that gaming can be used in our business involves a “playable” user feedback survey and this concept is currently being developed with Oulu based gaming company PlaySign. The core idea is that taking part in the survey has to be fun and it must also give an immediate visual representation of the feedback that has been received.

Dooley feedback 2
Screenshots of an early prototype of the playable survey showing (left) neutral starting point at the beginning of the survey, (middle) setting showing that the area is marginally cold (right) setting showing that the area is very cold.

Experiment 4: More Location

In order to build on our expertise in the field of indoor positioning Granlund have also been experimenting with indoor mapping in our headquarters in Helsinki. Using the Steerpath technology of a local start-up Granlund have been developing an smartphone indoor mapping system that understands a users location and can direct them to parts of the building such as meeting rooms that they have never been to before. It is essentially a google maps for indoors.

Experiment 5: Occupancy

The latest concept being tested in our headquarters is real-time methods of measuring occupancy in buildings. More on this later!

Circular Economy and the Construction Industry

Presentation1 Dooley 09122015I have been to a number of sustainability conferences and events this year and I have noticed that circular economy seems to be the latest phrase being used to describe sustainable construction materials. In the various keynote speeches that I have heard, it seems to have replaced phrases such as life cycle assessment (LCA), life cycle costing (LCC) and embodied green house gas emissions. This raises the question: how is circular economy different from these other terms?

LCA, LCC and embodied emissions calculations are all still relevant today and especially when a product consumes energy over it’s lifetime. Their purpose is to show which material or product produces the lowest environmental impact over it’s whole life from manufacture to disposal (cradle to grave). One of the most typical decisions involves the selection of a building’s superstructure and the comparison of timber, concrete and steel.

However, circular economy takes a slightly longer term approach and has a greater focus on the material or product at the end of its life. When the material or product has reached the end of its life, circular economy prefers the component to be reused in its existing form rather than just recycled. In order to facilitate reuse, designers are encouraged to consider how the building will be disassembled at the end of its life and this process is called design for disassembly or design for deconstruction.

Circular Economy and Buildings

Kasper Guldager Jensen of 3XN architects gave an excellent presentation entitled Circular Sustainability at the Finnish Green Building Council’s recent Green Celebration event.

Writer is the Sustainability Group Manager at Granlund Consulting

He claimed that a new building can be prepared for a circular future at a cost of only an additional 0.35% of the construction budget. In other words this is the cost of designing for disassembly. This calculation is based on a 42 000 m2 new build Danish office building which has a budget of 115 million euros.

When we consider the end of this building’s life then the demolition costs are € 2.15 million at today’s rates. Jensen claimed that in the future companies will not have to pay for the demolition of a building that has been designed for disassembly.

Instead the owners of these buildings will earn money from the disassembly and harvesting of materials to a value of approximately 4% of its new build value. The owners of the Danish office building that was used as a case study will actually be paid € 4.7 million for the building materials at the end of the buildings life.

Granlund Host Finland’s First Ever Behaviour Change Hackathon: 5 Tips to Reduce Building User Energy Consumption


On the first Monday in May software developers, behavioural psychologists and energy experts came together at Granlund’s headquarters in Helsinki to prototype ideas that reduce user energy consumption in buildings. The event was organised by Granlund and Demos Helsinki and was a byproduct of the Smart Retro Project 

Considering that the vast majority of buildings only have knowledge of their total electricity consumption and their total heating consumption, the goal of the hackathon was to scale down the requirements and to stick to simple, practical solutions that would be quick to build, and would help promote sustainable behavior”

 What is user energy consumption?

Buildings can be excellently designed by teams of engineers and architects but until they are occupied by the eventual users it is very difficult to obtain a detailed understanding of how they will be used. This is predominately because people use buildings in an unpredictable way and as a result they represent the “human error” in the complex engineering system that is the modern building. There are many important questions that cannot be answered as each day is essentially a unique event. Examples of these key questions are:

  • At what time will the last person leave the building so that all ventilation, lighting and heating systems can be shut down?
  • Can we trust people to turn off the light over their desk when they leave or should we install an automatic system to do this?

User energy consumption analysis of buildings concerns the interaction between the installed energy consuming systems (for example: lighting), the related control systems (for example: light switches) and the people that occupy the building. At the hackathon Outi Kuittinen of Demos Helsinki explained that “Our behaviour can indeed have a major impact on energy consumption. One study (see image below) found that being wasteful with our energy use could lead up to a 33% increase in the default energy consumption of a building. Correspondingly, being conservative with our energy use could lead up to 32% less consumption from the baseline amount. Hence, by acting smart, we can actively cut down our energy consumption by over a half


With this in mind there are two opposing views as to how to minimise user energy consumption in buildings.

  • Keep it simple: the first view favours simple control systems that are operated by the users and the benefits of this approach are low cost of installation and ease of use of the control systems. The downside of this approach is that the majority building users are not motivated to minimise energy consumption and thus energy consuming systems are frequently left on, even at times when they are no longer needed.
  • Automation: the second view favours automation over user control. This approach uses pre-set time schedules to turn on the systems in the morning and shut down the systems in the evening. It also uses approaches such as carbon dioxide detectors to control ventilation rates and occupancy sensors to control lighting. The downside of this approach is that it can be frustrating for the building users if the systems turn themselves off when they are still required. Automatic control systems must minimise disruption to the users while also minimising energy consumption and it is not always so easy.

The best solutions often use a hybrid approach.

Why is user energy difficult to measure?

In order to adequately map and measure user energy consumption we require a building that has a very high level of sub-metering as a minimum. It would also be beneficial for the building to have a very sophisticated method of measuring occupancy. The required level of sub-metering is not being installed in the most advanced modern buildings and as of yet there is not a commonly used and accurate method of measuring occupancy. We require these systems as we would like to compare the energy consumed in the different areas of the building with the number of occupants at that time. We would also like to have competition between different areas of the building by comparing the lighting energy consumption of floor 1 versus floor 2 in an office building for example. Considering that the vast majority of buildings only have knowledge of their total electricity consumption and their total heating consumption, the goal of the hackathon was to scale down the requirements and to stick to simple, practical solutions that would be quick to build, and would help promote sustainable behavior.

“The hackathon focused on solutions for existing office buildings that did not have sub-metering”

“successful development of these solutions would raise the awareness of the benefits of behavior change in the real estate context”

Targets of the hackathon

Throughout the preparation for this event our definition of a hackathon was: an event where software developers collaborate intensively with a wide range of experts on software projects that aim to solve a particular problem. The hackathon focused on solutions for existing office buildings that did not have sub-metering and where measuring user behavior was difficult and each team was given a different focus area from the list of: lighting, appliances, elevators, space use and heating. The targeted outcome was to create software solutions that could be implemented and evaluated without the need for behavior change studies carried out by experts or investments in hardware. It was also noted that successful development of these solutions would raise the awareness of the benefits of behavior change in the real estate context.


Hackathon results
The results of the 5 teams are briefly summarised below:

Warm Enough: the heating team’s solution was to “optimise indoor temperature based on crowdsourced temperature feedback via mobile app”. The main aim of the concept was to stop office buildings being overheated in winter and to find a temperature that might be lower than is currently standard but which suits is “warm enough for 75%” of the building occupants. For example if a particular office building is currently heated to 23oC then maybe 20oC would be “warm enough for 75%”. The 25% for which the set temperature is not warm enough would then be provided with specialist solutions such as woolen socks, a warmed chair or they could even be relocated into a warmer room. The process of determining which temperature is “warm enough for 75%” involves testing different temperatures and gathering feedback from the building users via an application. This concept could also be used to stop office buildings being overcooled in summer.


Stairs are the new normal: the target of the elevators team was to minimise the use of elevators in order to reduce energy consumption and to promote the health benefits of taking the stairs. The team’s aim was to normalise the use of the stairs and to create the perception that the elevators were only for those building users who could not take the stairs due to disability. They suggested taking away items such as restaurant menus, music and information screens from the elevator and adding them to the stairs. They also suggested adding images of green feet on the stairs and information posters describing the benefits of choosing the stairs.


Monitoring monitors: the appliances team created and demonstrated a screen use tracker that encouraged users to turn off their computer monitors when they shut down their computers. The “Easy Reminder” tracks the amount of energy you’ve wasted and lets you know how far you’d drive by a car with the same energy. The tracker also compares that figure to those of your colleagues and gives positive feedback when you have improved your behavior.


Shedding light on occupancy: The lighting team aimed to help building users to be proactive when turning items off. One typical problem can be summed up as follows: I think I am the last person leaving tonight and I want to turn off all the lights but what if someone is still working? They aimed to solve this solution by creating a location related application that shows that a user is still in the building working. For privacy reasons the application is not accurate a shows the persons general location. This will help building users be more proactive and building managers be more efficient in setting the shut-down schedules. Eventually this application could even be used to automatically shut down the building systems once the last person has gone home.

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Standing room only? the space use team focused on reducing the amount of office space allocated to meeting rooms. They did not suggest abolishing meeting rooms altogether but instead encouraged companies to be more creative as to where they hold their meetings. This could achieve an increase in energy efficiency by being more space efficient and could also increase productivity by using fun meeting spaces such as gardens and rooftops and by having standing only meetings in corridors.

Thank you once again to all the participants and let’s keep this discussion going!