Promoting Health at the Local Level: Highlighting Collaboration on Cincinnati's Occupant Health Guide to Better Support the Region

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Source: Angela Loder, Ph.D. and Elizabeth Rojas, International WELL Building Institute (IWBI)

Signature Interview Series: IWBI’s Angela Loder Sits Down with Elizabeth Rojas of Cincinnati 2030 District

We’re in the midst of a pivotal moment in transforming the way we interact with our shared spaces. And we can do that better, together.

The Occupant Health Guide, released in collaboration with IWBI by the Cincinnati 2030 District, an organization with a mission to create a network of healthy, high-performing buildings in Cincinnati, OH, helps organizations prioritize healthy building design and operation strategies based on local health data–and is a step toward transforming our interactions in physical and social environments.

The Guide represents nearly two years of cross-sector collaboration and is intended to serve as a model for other cities and districts around the world aiming to bring attention to building practices that can most directly address local health concerns.

Angela Loder, IWBI’s Vice President of Research, sat down with Elizabeth Rojas, Director of the Cincinnati 2030 District, to discuss our work and shared goals.

Can you tell us a bit about the Cincinnati 2030 District and its initiatives?
The Cincinnati 2030 District is a membership organization that seeks to create a network of healthy, high-performing buildings in the city of Cincinnati. Our members are property owners and managers, developers, and commercial tenants who make a collective commitment to reduce their buildings’ energy use, water consumption, and transportation emissions by 50% by the year 2030. Our 42 members have committed 318 buildings and 27.7 million square feet to the Cincinnati 2030 District. We belong to the 2030 District Network, which covers 23 cities in North America all working toward the same goal.

The Occupant Health Guide launched in August 2021 as a locally customized resource to enable Cincinnati employers, real estate owners, facility managers and policymakers to make evidenced-based decisions for their own community. What were the key considerations as it was developed and some of the key takeaways since launch?
We wanted to avoid a cookie-cutter approach to increasing occupant health so we really focused on the biggest health concerns in our region. We used a local Community Health Needs Assessment and analyzed local spending from a major health insurance company to determine the most pressing health challenges and how to shape our model to respond to them. For instance, the Cincinnati region has one of the highest rates of particle pollution in the U.S., so strategies to improve indoor air quality, like installing high-performing air filters, are especially important in our region. The Community Health Needs Assessment found that mental health was the second-highest concern in the region, so providing restorative spaces indoors as well as access to outdoor spaces and views can help combat stress and mental fatigue.

What are the biggest opportunities with the Health Occupant Guide?
We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, so any improvements in the health of the buildings we occupy will help lead to better health outcomes. Many of the diseases and conditions that surfaced in our research are chronic, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, obesity and high cholesterol. These are generally complex conditions that don’t trace easily back to one source, so a multi-pronged approach of improving air quality and water quality, increasing exposure to natural light and nature, promoting opportunities to move and eat better, and improving the quality of building materials will attack many of the sources of chronic disease and poor health. One water fountain may not seem like a big deal, but combining access to good water with a host of other improvements creates a culture of health that will lead to better outcomes.

Do you see this model being replicated in other cities or 2030 Districts?
Absolutely! I think every city should embrace this general approach and tailor it for their specific needs and circumstances. We are always happy to share our experience and lessons learned.

How can property managers and tenants learn more? Anything else you’d like to share?
A good starting point is to watch this webinar on our Occupant Health Guide, and then review the Cincinnati 2030 District Occupant Health Guide itself, which contains much more information. This work is definitely not one-size-fits-all, though. Property managers and tenants are the best people to look closely at the buildings they occupy, dig deeper into local health concerns, and start developing strategies to make our workspaces healthier places to be. And it’s easier done in collaboration with others who understand the local context. Pooling resources and sharing ideas have helped make this work more robust than any of us could have done on our own.