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“There’s no doubt that data is the foundation of enabling behavioral modifications that allow employees to be more effective, productive, and engaged in the sustainability and wellness of their environment.” -Alexander Alonso, PhD, Chief Knowledge Officer for the Society for Human Resource Management

How smart building data is enabling the rise of sustainability and wellness to the C-suite

May 11, 2021
Chief sustainability, wellness, or smart building officers will rely on the data from intelligent building systems to achieve corporate objectives.

The concept of smart buildings continues to gain ground as the gold standard in the commercial real estate market, and President Joe Biden’s “Green New Deal” that demonstrates his administration’s commitment to focusing on energy efficiency and renewable energy promises to further jumpstart smart building initiatives. At the same time, companies everywhere are realizing that the wellbeing and engagement of their employees have a significant impact on productivity and the ability to compete as an employer.

With this shifting mindset and incentive comes a new focus in the corporate enterprise environment—a quick search on Indeed or ZipRecruiter renders some new positions with titles like sustainability officer, wellness officer, and even smart building officer. Salaries for these positions range anywhere from $75K to $300K a year, and while the job descriptions inherently vary from company to company, there’s also a bit of overlap. A closer look indicates that for the most part, sustainability officers are tasked with either meeting emissions and waste goals for environmental sustainability or ensuring the overall sustainability of the business. The main responsibility of wellness officers (typically a subset of human resources) is to improve employee mental and physical health, engagement, and overall workplace experience. While not as prevalent, smart building officer positions are more focused on technologies, data, and system integration within existing smart buildings.

Just do it

Take Nike for example. As part of their “Move to Zero,” Nike’s sustainability position posted in mid-April centers around meeting specific 2025 targets for carbon emissions, waste diversion, water efficiency, and clean chemistry alternatives. Office furniture maker Steelcase is looking for a full-time “wellness navigator” to create a culture of overall wellbeing for its employees, while Dallas Fort Worth is searching for the right individual to keep the airport’s more than 2,000 employees fit and healthy. And if you want to apply for either of the recent smart building opportunities at commercial real estate companies Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) or WeWork, a background in engineering and IT is preferred, along with experience in data analytics and smart buildings technology. In fact, WeWork is asking for in-depth experience in both IoT/IIoT networks and protocols, including BACnet, BLE, Zigbee, LoRaWAN and WiFi.

“While we’ve only seen about a 7% increase in the number of wellness officers over the past two decades, the number of our members that have a wellness initiative has increased from 19% to about 40% over the past five years, especially among larger corporations that have thousands of employees,” says Alexander Alonso, PhD, Chief Knowledge Officer for the Society for Human Resource Management, and an expert in industrial-organizational psychology (i.e., the scientific study of human behavior in the workplace). “It also used to be that wellness was more about incentivizing employees, but with employer health costs more than doubling over the past 10 years, it’s now being treated as a core component to sustaining an enterprise. We’re even starting to see physicians and psychologists pop up as wellness officers.”

Data: The common thread

One thing that these positions seem to all have in common is the need for data—and it’s easy to envision how they can leverage smart building technologies to acquire that data. Reducing carbon emissions and waste can’t happen without sensor technology monitoring energy and resource consumption. Ensuring air quality and proper ventilation for employee health requires information about temperature, CO2 levels, humidity, pollutants, and occupancy. Building intelligence can’t be achieved without actionable data from a range of building systems that can be shared and analyzed. It’s therefore safe to assume that these new positions could ultimately have a positive impact on the deployment of smart building technologies.

“There’s no doubt that data is also the foundation of enabling behavioral modifications that allow employees to be more effective, productive, and engaged in the sustainability and wellness of their environment,” says Alonso. “We’ve seen studies where universities that are transparent and provide actual data for students to understand the impact of their contribution end up experiencing a much higher engagement and increased alumni donations.”

Tech-savvy Millennials and Generation Z (born between 1980 and 2010) who are projected to represent 75% of the global workforce by 2025 are also driving companies to embrace sustainability and create a workplace environment that prioritizes wellness. “Millennials and Gen Z are looking for greater wellness and flexibility, but they also want customization, opportunities to engage, and career growth. At the same time, they want these aspects to align with smart technologies and sustainability,” says Alonso. “Businesses should focus on making sure their company is a platform for safety and sustainability, but beyond that, they need to learn how to weave in wellness as a customized option to appeal to these individuals.”

Alonso believes that without question, we will continue to see a rise in roles surrounding sustainability, wellness, and smart buildings over the next decade. And while these positions may not garner as much influence and prestige as other C-suite officers, there’s no doubt that they will rely heavily on data via smart building technologies and become increasingly important to enterprise business success.

About the Author

Betsy Conroy

Betsy Conroy has spent the past three decades writing quality technical content and leveraging that content to launch impactful integrated marketing campaigns. She started her career as a technical and promotional writer for medical, security, and environmental corporations. In early 2000, she became an independent freelance writer, editor, and content consultant, focusing primarily on B2B manufacturers and associations in the electrical, networking, and telecommunications industries. Betsy frequently publishes content in a variety of industry publications on behalf of her clients and is also a contributing writer to Smart Buildings Technology Magazine. She was previously a monthly contributing writer to Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine and chief editor of BICSI News Magazine for five years where she was instrumental in bringing the publication from a newsletter status to that of a preeminent trade magazine and helping to launch BICSI’s premier publication, ICT Today.

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