Download the latest Executive Orden: OE-2020-048
ReImagina Puerto Rico, en colaboración con Habitat for Humanity of Puerto Rico, Enterprise Community Partners y la Asociación de Constructores de Puerto Rico diseñaron una guía que explica soluciones importantes para prevenir el impacto de huracanes y generar resiliencia en los sistemas de vivienda de la isla. Esa ‘resiliencia’ que hace que los seres humanos seamos capaces de salir adelante y luchar en momentos de adversidad. La guía está elaborada de forma que profesionales del campo de construcción, así como el público general puedan entenderla. A través de dibujos y gráficas, esta guía presenta lo vulnerable que pueden ser las construcciones al someterse a la fuerza del viento, así como recomendaciones de bajo costo para que la vivienda sea más resistente. Las siguientes recomendaciones son útiles para las nuevas construcciones, al igual que para la reparación y el refuerzo de las ya existentes. La guía también incluye consejos prácticos
Oprime para acceder a la guía: Guía para incrementar la resiliencia de viviendas contra huracanes
Dear PRBA members,
It is our hope that both, you and your family are safe and implementing the necessary measures to protect your lives. During the last few weeks, we at the PRBA have been diligently working with our Board of Directors to ensure that our industry members can return to work, always having as a priority the health, safety and well-being of our team members.
Here are some of the initiatives we have been working on:
Guidelines for Occupational Safety and Protection:
In recent days, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced, announced the reopening of some sectors of the economy. The Construction Industry is among them, and we will begin operating on Monday, May 11.
The construction industry is governed by high security standards and due to its nature, it is among the industries with the lowest risk of infection. However, we are aware that we have to be much more careful and implement additional measures to protect our workforce.
With the main objective of establishing additional mitigation measures to protect all those who work for partner companies and the industry in general, we have developed the Guidelines for Occupational Safety and Protection. Governor Wanda Vázquez herself, referred to these guidelines as a role model for the construction industry.
In order to responsibly return to our workplaces, we have to incorporate all the security measures and protocols to avoid the infection with COVID-19 and protect the lives of our team members. These guidelines, are an additional tool that we have available to protect our people.
Special Advisory Commission on Economic Affairs (Economic Task Force)
We were invited by the Honorable Governor, Wanda Vázquez Garced to join the Economic Task Force to seek solutions aimed at reactivating our economy without putting our people’s live and health at risk. Many of the recommendations we have provided have been included in the Executive Orders issued by the Governor and have been sent to the Medical Task Force. We have also sent a communication to the Medical Task Force detailing our proposal for a staggered opening that does not jeopardize health.
Internal Task Force
The PRBA established an Internal Task Force mainly composed of former PRBA chairmen, which has also the support of a doctor who provides medical advice. The purpose of creating this task force is to evaluate the situation our industry is facing as a result of the pandemic and make recommendations to our Board of Directors and the government.
Proposals from Laboratorio Clínico Toledo
With the intention that our members can have all the possible and necessary tools and can be prepared to start operating as soon as the Governor authorizes it, we contacted several clinical laboratories in the Island so that they could submit their proposals to perform the test for COVID-19 at our workplaces, at a special cost to all our members.
A few days ago, we sent to our members the proposal submitted by the Toledo Clinical Laboratory, which turned out to be the most cost effective. We invite you to evaluate this proposal with no obligation.
Department of Housing
COVID-19 cannot deviate us from our priorities: moving forward with our plan of providing decent and safe housing and structures. We have continued our conversations with the Department of Housing to move forward with the CBDG-DR Action Plan and that the much-needed construction of thousands of homes that Puerto Rico needs can begin.
Private Sector Coalition
The PRBA is part of the Private Sector Coalition, an organization that brings together more than 30 industries and professional non-profit organizations. Through the Coalition, we have been evaluating the different situations and challenges that different components of the private sector have been facing to draw the attention of the executive and legislative branches and propose solutions. As a result of this, several communications have been issued and meetings with the Office of the Governor and the Department of Economic Development and Commerce have been held.
At the PRBA we have continued with our active role of advocating for our industry in various governmental areas, including the Executive Branch and the Legislative Assembly. An example of this is our constant participation in the legislation promoted by the leadership of the House of Representatives, through PC 2468, led by the Chairman of the House Finance Commission, Hon. Antonio ‘Tony’ Soto, to grant incentives and relief packages to companies in the midst of the COVID-19 scenario. At the same time, this legislation proposed the legal framework for the reopening of the different sectors of the economy. This piece of legislation is now being considered by the Senate following its approval by the House of Representatives.
At the same time, we continue the dialogue, monitoring and follow up on the legislative measures that propose a moratorium on the eviction processes for the rental housing market, as well as the amendments proposed in the Senate of Puerto Rico to the Notary Law, to make the law more flexible in the granting of public deeds and other notarial documents.
The PRBA continues to work on specific recommendations, which we will propose and defend, related to the transcendental changes that out current permit system and regulatory framework must-have in a way to temper the current legal framework to the new economic scenario we are facing as a result of this pandemic. This added to the leadership undertaken by the PRBA along with some of its leaders, in the Economic Task Force, and in other public and private forums, advocating for the reopening of the activities at the construction sector and its different components, in strict compliance with the protocols and occupational safety and health controls to protect our employees, customers and suppliers.
There is no doubt that this pandemic has forced us to reinvent ourselves and change the way we communicate with our members and the community. Education and orientation of or membership has always been a priority to the PRBA. In order to continue providing education and guidance, we have held four “webinars” on:
- Contributions- with the collaboration of Kevane Grant Thornton
- CDBG-DR funds with the Secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Housing, Luis Carlos Fernández, Esq., and the Deputy Secretary of the CDBG-DR Program, Eng. Dennis González.
- Economic and Security Projections with the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
- Economic Impact of the COVID-19 with a team of experts led by Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González
We appreciate the constant support you have given us in these webinars and will continue to search for relevant topics for our membership. We remain committed to protect and defend our industry, but most of all, protecting the lives of all our partners, their employees and their families.
Alfredo Martínez Álvarez, Jr.
“Puerto Rico necesita urgentemente dos cosas para asegurar que la flexibilización no nos lleve a un problema peor: un sistema de rastreo de casos, que no lo tenemos, y más controles en el aeropuerto, que se tienen que reforzar”, afirmó hoy el principal ejecutivo de la firma Estudios Técnicos, José Joaquín Villamil, al analizar los posibles impactos de la apertura gradual de la economía durante la pandemia del COVID-19, durante el webcast de la ACPR: ‘El impacto económico del COVID-19″, llevado a cabo el viernes, 1 de mayo de 2020.
Descarga la noticia de El Nuevo Día: Dificil medir el impacto económico y social del COVID-19 El Nuevo Día 5 2 20
Many governments across Canada extended states of emergency and the Federal government has suggested that it will be several weeks before emergency measures can safely be lifted.
Pursuant to various orders promulgated under the authority of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act (“EMCPA”) most industries in Ontario have been impacted either by being required to close or at minimum altering operations. Although most construction activity in Ontario was permitted to continue initially, revised lists published on April 3, 2020 and on April 10, 2020 narrowed the projects that were deemed essential. Despite this, a significant amount of construction activity continues today although with measures to ensure social distancing and the safety of personnel on site. Outside of Ontario, each of the provinces and territories have implemented similar measures to protect the health and safety of construction industry stakeholders.
There is no question that all participants in the construction industry have experienced, and will continue to experience, impacts on their operations because of COVID-19. These impacts include, among others, schedule delays, workforce disruptions, equipment and supply chain disruptions, reduced productivity due to on site health and safety measures (e.g., social distancing, staggering of work, enhanced sanitary measures, etc.), permit delays or restrictions on new permits, and financing restrictions or cash flow shortages.
These circumstances may trigger requirements under construction contracts to provide delay notices, enforce force majeure clauses or in some cases claim that the contact has been frustrated. Such steps where summarized in our previous bulletins (see, in particular, our publications dated March 24, 2020 – Can I Safely Release Holdback in Ontario After March 16 2020, April 3, 2020 – The Impact of COVID-19 on the Construction Industry A Reference Guide to the Changed Landscape, April 8, 2020 – Project Management Amid COVID-19 The Triage and April 10, 2020 – Show Me the Money Government of Ontario to Amend Emergency Order to Allow Release of Holdbacks.
Despite significant ongoing challenges, projects that were halted will eventually resume, projects that have been slowed will return to a more regular schedule and projects that were to start but did not, will mobilize. The construction industry and its participants should anticipate an eventual return to work but this return will be to a new normal.
No one can predict what this new normal will look like, however, the end of the pandemic will undoubtedly lead to a significant increase in claims for delays or increased costs because of the COVID-19 outbreak, lead to changes in scheduling needs and reinforce the need to coordinate and cooperate at all levels of the construction pyramid.
Below we offer a few highlights of what we believe all construction industry stakeholders should expect, and tips to deal with the new normal in construction.
Claims for Time and Money
Construction industry stakeholders will continue to advance or respond to claims for time, money, or both resulting from the pandemic. A party’s entitlement to time or money will be rooted in the construction contract, and each contract will need to be carefully analyzed to determine a party’s specific entitlement.
The onus of proof for these time and money claims will rests with the Contractor, and that onus includes proof of cause and effect. It is not sufficient to simply cite the pandemic and expect relief without demonstrating an actual impact sustained by the Contractor that is directly linked to the pandemic. The Contractor also has a legal obligation to mitigate. It is not enough to sit back, let the costs run, and then expect recovery. The Contractor is obliged to take the reasonable steps necessary to mitigate the adverse consequences of the pandemic upon the project, which steps will vary depending on the circumstances of the project.
It is without any doubt that the pandemic and underlying measures implemented by the various authorities have impacted the schedule of most construction projects globally.
Once the pandemic ends, it will be important for all project stakeholders to evaluate the impact of the delay on all aspects of the project, including an evaluation of the baseline schedule, critical path delays, and impacts on near critical activities.
Owners will want to enforce the contract’s scheduling requirements and carefully review any schedule updates to anticipate impacts to the schedule and mitigate where possible. Schedule updates often highlight critical information, which will affect all aspects of the project, including supply chain delays. Ensuring proper adherence to scheduling requirements under the terms of the contact will allow for re-sequencing of activities or re-distribution of the workforce, when and where possible. Workforce coordination, including staggering of work, will likely continue even when projects resume as physical distancing requirements are likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.
A careful review of the project scheduling will also allow parties to anticipate and mitigate where possible scheduling impacts on upcoming projects.
Coordination and Cooperation
Just as making sure that the contractual scheduling requirements are adhered to, the implied or express terms of coordination and cooperation will need to be followed. The pandemic has demonstrated that any projections, modeling or best laid plans require constant attention, reevaluation and adjustment. All parties to a construction project will need to cooperatively work together for the common interest of completing the project.
The better strategy for parties is to treat this coordination and cooperation at least as importantly as strict insistence upon one’s rights and remedies under the contract. Should a dispute end up before a judge or arbitrator, consider the likely attitude that will inform his or her approach, amid the highly unusual and pervasive disruption of the pandemic, to interpreting what may be ambiguous contractual terms or assessments as to the reasonableness of positions taken. A cooperative claimant, having demonstrated an empathetic approach to the circumstances, will do better.
Parties should establish and adhere to strict communication protocols with all participants involved in a project including insurers, lenders, landlords and suppliers. These efforts will likely bear fruit, even in the face of inevitable disputes.
Communication will be key with bonding and surety companies and insurance providers. Whether coverage will be available for COVID-19 will be dependent on the terms of the specific policy, however, proper and timely notice is required.
It will be important to accurately document the cause and effect of each event in order to substantiate a party’s position regarding an entitlement. This applies in all circumstances, including efforts undertaken to minimize the impacts of the pandemic – the key will be to document everything.
This pandemic was not foreseeable and unfortunately, its duration and fallout remain uncertain. What is certain is that we are transitioning to a new normal. Being prepared for this will be essential to managing the outcome and minimizing negative impacts.
In summary, we offer this:
- Analyze your contract requirements;
- Comply with your contractual notice requirements;
- Adapt and Adjust your schedule;
- Coordinate and Cooperate with all participants; and
- Document everything.
McMillan’s team of construction lawyers continues to be fully available to answer your construction and project-related questions. If you have any questions or concerns you would like to discuss, please do not hesitate to contact Jason J. Annibale (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Glenn Grenier (email@example.com).
Jason J. Annibale, Geza R. Banfai, Jamieson D. Virgin, Patrick A. Thompson
The foregoing provides only an overview and does not constitute legal advice. Readers are cautioned against making any decisions based on this material alone. Rather, specific legal advice should be obtained.
© McMillan LLP 2020
This article was originally published here.
The global spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is generating unprecedented delays, disruptions and uncertainty on construction projects. Travel restrictions, social distancing and quarantines are increasingly disrupting supply chains, contractor workforces and the availability of governmental personnel for project inspections, with resulting delays and increased costs. This article offers guidance to developers and owners dealing with projects affected by COVID-19 and highlights actions they should consider to mitigate the project impacts.
Impact of COVID-19 on Construction Projects
COVID-19’s impact on construction projects is mixed and varies by state. Many states consider construction an “essential” service, following guidance from the federal Department of Homeland Security, which issued a non-binding list of 16 “critical infrastructure sectors.” Other states and some local municipalities take a narrower view, requiring virtually all construction to cease.
New York initially exempted most construction from state-mandated restrictions, but as of March 27, 2020 narrowed the definition of “essential” to shut down all projects other than the construction of roads, bridges, transit facilities, utilities, hospitals or health care facilities, affordable housing and homeless shelters, and allowing necessary work to safely secure and shut-down construction sites. In New York, determinations as to “essential” projects have been delegated to the Empire State Development Corporation and a process has been established for seeking this classification, which will provide further guidance on the boundaries of the current restrictions. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation issued guidance on essential construction in support of cleanup activities, which is helpful to determine when a remedial construction activity can go forward, as covered in a GT Alert, New York Environmental Regulator Issues Guidance on Essential Construction in Support of Cleanup Activities.
While California has issued no orders specifically limiting construction activities, adopting the federal guidelines, many counties and cities within California have adopted much more restrictive guidelines limiting ongoing construction to housing (especially affordable housing), projects immediately necessary to the maintenance, operation, or repair of Essential Infrastructure, healthcare facilities, etc. and requiring all worksites observe strict construction site COVID-19 protocols.
Stay-at-home orders in Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota and Wisconsin presently also generally exempt construction.
New Jersey initially exempted construction without specific limits, but on April 8, 2020 prohibited all “non-essential” construction, allowing only projects at hospitals and schools, in transportation and utility sectors, affordable housing, emergency repairs and other limited instances.
Pennsylvania’s mandate to close all “non-life sustaining businesses” effectively stops all construction, with exemptions available to construction supporting health care providers and for emergency repairs.
Boston, Cambridge and other Massachusetts cities halted all construction, but the governor overrode the local orders and deemed all construction “essential,” allowing all projects to continue provided workers follow social distancing, washing hands and other corona protocols. Later, the governor modified that stance, designating construction of office buildings, retail and hotels as non-essential.
In all cases, there may be evolving developments that may further define or change the restrictions and permitted exceptions.
ACTIONS OWNERS AND DEVELOPERS SHOULD CONSIDER
Whether totally shut-down or only delayed and disrupted, many construction projects are being impacted by the pandemic. The owner should consider the following actions to address and mitigate the project impacts.
Action #1: Identify and Assess Relevant Local and State Restrictions on Construction Activities
Initially, the owner should consult appropriate legal counsel and carefully examine the state and local government shut-down orders to identify restrictions on construction activities and only proceed accordingly.
Action #2: Identify and Assess Relevant Contractual Provisions
The owner should carefully examine the construction contract to identify key provisions implicated by the pandemic. Although this article discusses the commonly-used American Institute of Architects (AIA) form contract (A201-2017 edition), a critical caveat is that each situation is fact-specific and contract-specific. While standard contract forms are widely used, the forms often are modified and standard terms and conditions frequently are changed based upon negotiations. Crucial provisions such as those addressing force majeure, notice time limits, compensable costs resulting from delays, risk allocation and damages limitations may be significantly different from the AIA standard forms and therefore each contract should be carefully reviewed and analyzed.
Action #3: Communicate and Work with the Contractor to Identify, Assess, and Mitigate Project Impacts
The owner should communicate with critical contractors, designers, and suppliers to assess the actual and potential impacts on contract performance and discuss how to potentially mitigate project disruptions, in an effort to achieve the overriding objective – complete the project as soon as possible within or as close as possible to the budgeted costs. COVID-19 may impact design and construction contracts in a variety of ways, including impacts to supply chains, contractor workforces, designer personnel, and the availability of government inspectors.
The owner should consider directing its project management team to confirm that the contractor is taking appropriate site health and safety measures, including adhering to federal, state, and local guidelines as to distancing, cleansing, disinfecting, etc., and that sites are being properly manned and managed considering current circumstances.
The owner should request updated schedules from the contractor and consider setting flexible contract completion dates.
The owner should consider, with the contractor, possibly prioritizing and/or accelerating certain work areas and delaying others, as well as planning to recover delays once the COVID-19-based restrictions are lifted.
Action #4: Consider Contract Notice Requirements and Respond to Notices from the Contractor
Delay Notices from the Contractor
The standard contract requires the contractor to provide notice of delay claims “…within 21 days after occurrence of the event giving rise to such Claim or within 21 days after the claimant first recognizes the condition giving rise to the Claim, whichever is later.”
In responding to delay notices, the owner should consider whether the notice qualifies as a “claim” or merely is an advance warning of potential delays, to which no formal response may be necessary and perhaps should not be given. The owner should not respond unnecessarily in a manner that portrays it as unsympathetic or which could be misconstrued as directing activity that puts anyone at risk or acknowledging a delay claim that has been neither properly submitted nor supported. The contractor bears the burden to establish how a delay has impacted the work and should be regularly informing the owner of project impacts as information becomes available.
Notices from the Owner to the Contractor
When sending notices to the contractor, the owner should consider the need for the notice, how it will be received, and how it may impact the future of the project.
Where concurrent delays exist, the owner should consider putting the contractor on notice of such delays at the earliest possible time.
A timely response by the owner to schedule updates that identify delays may avoid the appearance that the owner accepts the delay or has engaged in a “course of dealing” that modifies the express contract.
The owner should consider putting the contractor on notice of observed safety violations, including deviations from governmental or trade association guidelines for maintaining a safe construction site during the pandemic. Under the standard contract, the contractor is responsible for site safety, compliance with all applicable laws and dealing with emergencies on the site “to prevent threatened damage, injury, or loss.” However, the owner also may be liable for dangerous conditions, at times under statutory or common law, or possibly where it exerts control over the construction site, directs the contractor’s means and methods, or otherwise contributes to an injury. In those instances, the owner may be liable for failing to maintain a safe site, irrespective of contract terms placing primary responsibility on the contractor.
Action #5: Consider Project Suspension and Termination Options
Suspension or Termination by the Owner
Depending upon a construction project’s specific circumstances, the owner may wish to consider suspending and/or terminating the project due to the impact of COVID-19. Each situation is different and must be considered individually.
The standard contract allows the owner to suspend the contract “for convenience…for such period of time as the owner may determine.” In a convenience suspension, the owner may be responsible for the “cost and time” caused by the suspension, delay or interruption including the contractor’s profit unless the contractor’s performance “…is, was, or would have been, so suspended, delayed, or interrupted, by another cause for which the contractor is responsible…”. The standard contract also allows the owner to terminate the contract for convenience.
The owner should consider that a convenience suspension or termination may require it to pay the contractor’s resulting costs, which typically include demobilization costs and may include payment for goods and materials ordered or in fabrication, as well as lost deposits and termination fees, so the contract terms must be carefully considered. Further, the owner may need to consider the potential ability to quickly restart if the project is suspended or terminated with the intention of restarting later. It also will be critical to consider impacts on performed work, as a convenience termination may invalidate warranties and the owner’s ability to pursue the contractor for defective work.
Termination by the Contractor
Under standard AIA contract forms, the contractor may terminate the contract if the work is stopped for 30 consecutive days by government order or national emergency. In such circumstances, the contractor is entitled to recover “…payment for Work executed, as well as reasonable overhead and profit on Work not executed, and costs incurred by reason of such termination.” These provisions may incentivize the contractor to terminate the contract after a government-ordered 30-day shutdown by allowing recovery from the owner not just for work performed and termination costs, but also anticipated profit on work not performed, particularly where the contractor otherwise would be entitled only to a time extension due to COVID-19-based delays.
Action #6: Consider Contractor Claims for Time Extensions and Delay Damages
The pandemic likely will unleash floods of contractor claims for time extensions, delay damages, project disruptions and labor inefficiencies.
The delays directly caused by COVID-19 may be “excusable” under the contract because the pandemic is a “cause beyond the contractor’s control,” A201 Art. 8.3, or under common law theories of frustration of purpose or impossibility/impracticability, see GT Alert “Risk Allocation for Economic Losses from Coronavirus Disease 2019,” entitling the contractor to a time extension to perform the work and potentially to delay and disruption damages.
“No damages for delay” (NDFD) clauses commonly found in construction contracts may or may not protect the owner from the contractor’s delay damage claims. Generally, these clauses are designed to protect the owner from a contractor’s delay damage claim by allowing a time extension, but no additional compensation, in the event of project delays. Courts generally enforce unambiguous NDFD clauses, but there are exceptions, one of which is for “delays not contemplated” by the parties.
Whether a NDFD clause protects the owner from pandemic-based delay damage claims will depend upon the clause’s exact language and is fact-dependent. In some instances, the delays may be deemed uncontemplated, rendering the NDFD clause entirely ineffective. However, a limited NDFD clause (e.g., allowing delay damages after the first 30 or 60 days of delay) might be enforced. Also, where the contract specifically allocates the risk of delays caused by a pandemic, those clauses may be upheld, although such provisions are uncommon.
The owner should consider the following steps to address contractor delay and disruption claims. First, the owner should assemble key project documents, including daily reports, meeting minutes, RFI and change order logs, progress reports, etc. These documents will be crucial in evaluating the contractor’s claims.
Second, the owner should consider whether concurrent delays affect the contractor’s claims for project impacts. Under standard contract forms, where a contractor suffers a compensable delay such as that caused by the pandemic, but the contractor is responsible for a concurrent delay, the net effect may be that the delay is excusable but non-compensable, entitling the contractor only to a time extension.
Third, the owner should determine whether the contractor’s delay damage claim is properly documented and limited only to permissible damages. Under standard contract forms, the contractor bears the burden to prove how the delay impacted its work and the steps it took to mitigate damages. Also, the contract may limit the contractor’s delay damages, such as by allowing payment for extended general conditions costs but not increased labor and material costs, or by waiving all “consequential damages” such as office, financing or personnel expenses or claims for lost profit.
These recommendations are offered as general guidance. The facts and circumstances of each project, including considerations such as financing documents, leasing, joint venture partnerships, market conditions and contract terms, may warrant deviations from the general guidance offered herein.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an important milestone in the modern environmental movement. This year is significant because we are most likely celebrating Earth day from home.
The Covid-19 pandemic has done the unimaginable. It has brought the entire world to a standstill. This forced pause has uncovered the undeniable link between our way of life and the health of our planet. It has given us a unique opportunity to stop, reflect, and RESET. In honor of Earth Day, here are five questions to think about:
What if each person only consumed what they really needed?
The pandemic has forced us to reflect about how much we own and what we need. We are more mindful of food waste and making the most with what’s available. We are reusing and repurposing as much as possible. We realized we can live with what we have and be happy with simple things.
Does it really make sense to buy goods that travel millions of miles instead of supporting the local farmer and local businesses?
This pandemic has opened our eyes to the importance of buying local. Supporting local farmers and local businesses aids in building a healthy economic environment. Next time you hear about your local farmer’s market, make it a point to visit and support them.
Do we all need to go to the office to get the job done?
Working from home can be beneficial to both the company and the employee. It provides us with better opportunities for work/life balance. For companies, it also affords them the option to find talent anywhere in the world. The more we work from home, the more we can enjoy time with our families…and the less we commute to work, the less harmful carbon dioxide we will emit into the Earth’s atmosphere.
Do you have to fly to that meeting or can you do it virtually?
The travel restrictions due to COVID-19 have forced us to do things differently. Turns out we can still have face to face interactions without having to leave our loved ones, unintentionally spreading diseases and viruses and contributing large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere from the burning of greenhouse gases.
Can we all finally understand the collective power we all possess?
When most of world decided to stay home, we immediately saw the results of our collective actions at work. The air was cleaner. The sounds were purer. A carless Los Angeles with blue skies and no visible air pollution. Birds chirping in busy New York Avenues, their sounds previously drowned out in noise pollution. And closer to home, manatee’s swimming happily in our lagoon. Small, deliberate actions add up quickly to tangible results.
As we celebrate this year’s Earth Day at home and the COVID-19 pandemic eventually comes to an end, let’s not lose the lessons and takeaways. We need to rethink and reassess how we live, what is necessary, and whether we want to go back to things as they were. Our planet’s survival depends on it.
By Ricardo Alvarez-Diaz and Cristina Villalon – Designers and Entrepreneurs www.advfirm.com
Like it or not, humans have become an indoor species, so buildings have a major impact on our health. That’s why the Healthy Building Movement is gaining momentum, say John Macomber and Joseph Allen.
Will you ever again step onto a crowded elevator without hesitation? Reach for a doorknob without concern (or gloves)?
Easing social distancing restrictions might reopen businesses, but as long as memories of COVID-19 lockdowns are still fresh in people’s minds, the experience of being inside an office building most likely will not return to “normal.”
Even before the pandemic struck, there were plenty of reasons to be concerned about air quality and ventilation in the buildings where we live and work. After all, healthier indoor environments don’t just keep us from getting sick—they also enhance cognitive performance.
“OFFICES WITH THE PREMIER HEALTH STORY WILL GET THE PREMIUM RENT AND GET THE TENANTS, AND THE OFFICES WITH A LAGGING HEALTH STORY WILL LAG.”
To convey to managers the benefits of the healthy building movement, John D. Macomber, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School, recently wrote a book about it: Healthy Buildings: How Indoor Spaces Drive Performance and Productivity, to be published April 21.
Although facilities managers might think they’re saving a few dollars on electricity and air filters, “There’s just no reason anymore to economize on airflow and filtration,” Macomber says. “That just doesn’t make any sense. It’s a cheap way to help people be healthier.”
Together with co-author Joseph G. Allen, a professor at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Macomber explores “nine foundations for a healthy building” and studies how simple tweaks to increase air flow and quality can have dramatic effects on workers.
But the economic benefits don’t stop there. Macomber expects that a growing public focus on health measures will drive major changes across a variety of industries, but especially in travel and hospitality. Increasingly, Macomber postulates, savvy business leaders and landlords will begin to leverage healthier indoor spaces as recruitment tools and sources of competitive advantage. Anxieties over COVID-19 are likely to accelerate these trends, he says.
“I think awareness is heightened, and in this economy there’ll be a drop in demand for space, both for apartments and offices,” he says. “With those two things together, I think that the offices with the premier health story will get the premium rent and get the tenants, and the offices with a lagging health story will lag.”
THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS
More Business-Related Pandemic Coverage from Around Harvard and Beyond
- How to Manage Coronavirus Layoffs with Compassion (Harvard Business Review)
- Organizational Responses to COVID-19 and Climate Change: A Conversation with Rebecca Henderson (Environmental Insights)
- COVID-19 Business Impact Center (Harvard Business School)
Many elite companies already use their building’s efficiency or grandeur to send a signal to customers and workforce talent. As a result of the global pandemic, Macomber expects an emphasis on indoor air quality and other healthy building measures will diffuse through the rest of the economy.
As the country begins to return to work, concerns about the spread of infectious disease will “make it easier than ever to invest in the basics of a healthy building, notably around ventilation, air quality, water, moisture, and security,” says Macomber. “Those aren’t expensive to begin with. So, I think those will propagate through pretty quickly, and they’ll be must-haves, because the cost is not relatively very high, and the benefit is extremely high.”
As anyone who has ever felt sleepy on a stuffy airplane can attest, poor ventilation impedes cognition. “Casinos figured this out a long time ago, pumping in extra air and keeping the temperature cool to keep you awake at the gaming tables and slot machines longer,” Allen and Macomber write.
But through scientific, double-blind studies of workers in offices with various levels of air quality and flow, in which the workers were compared with themselves to gauge differences in personal performance, the authors of Healthy Buildings can quantify these effects.
Across all nine dimensions of cognitive function, which include things like “strategy,” “focused activity level,” and “crisis response,” performance was dramatically improved when study subjects worked in the optimal conditions (with high rates of ventilation and low concentrations of carbon dioxide and other harsh compounds).
“Think about that for one second—simply increasing the amount of air brought into an office, something nearly every office can easily do, had a quantifiable benefit to higher-order cognitive function in knowledge workers,” Macomber and Allen write.
Macomber is careful, though, not to make the leap from enhanced performance to increased productivity, because productivity involves so many different factors.
Among the nine foundations for a healthy building (see graphic) is “security,” a term the authors expect will take on a broader meaning in a post-pandemic world. Building security will involve monitoring not just who enters and what they are physically carrying, but also what they might be carrying internally. In addition to metal detectors, infrared scanners at building entrances will take visitors’ temperatures, to help prevent the spread of viruses and other pathogens, similar to technology already in place at some airports.
As people begin to internalize the collective nature of public health, sharing of personal health and air quality metrics—using wearables and smartphones—could lead to new applications that provide real-time information about the conditions inside buildings. Imagine an app that does for public health what WAZE has done for traffic congestion, Macomber says.
“There is going to be substantially more awareness and interest on the part of the public, in terms of the quality of the spaces that they’re occupying, and they’ll be selective about their airplanes and about their cruise ships,” he predicts. “And pretty quickly they’ll be selective about their apartments and their offices as well, and they’ll share that information with other people.”
Source: Harvard Business School