During July and early August 2020, governments across Europe began to encourage workers to return to the office. However, there still was a sense of uncertainty about returning, predominantly apprehension surrounding the threat of localized COVID-19 outbreaks. Recent reports have suggested offices in the UK have seen the fewest number of people return to the office when compared to their counterparts. For instance, the UK has had 35 percent of white-collar employees return to work since the lockdown. This is considerably below other countries, such as France (83 percent), Italy (76 percent), Spain (73 percent) and Germany (70 percent).
Per comments by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a strong recovery for the economy will require people to have the confidence to return to the workplace in a safe manner. Much of this hinges upon assuring employees they are returning to an environment where they can safely enjoy their work, collaborate with their colleagues and achieve the objectives of their organizations.
What was clear to see following the global implementation of lockdown measures and the closure of commercial buildings in every corner of the globe was that the property sector was neither prepared nor equipped to manage a situation of this nature. As we enhance our immune systems, we should also strengthen the immunity of our buildings by rethinking how they are designed, constructed, maintained and operated.
In this context, the framework behind The IMMUNE Building Standard was initiated, with a strategy to engineer safer built environments for people and organizations returning to their offices. IMMUNE, which was developed by Genesis Property, a European property manager, is a set of measures, technical solutions, and facility-management practices to certify how built environments can withstand present and future health challenges and minimize the impact of a pandemic, such as COVID-19, and other bacteriological or toxicological threats in the most sustainable way possible.
To provide a new global standard as a reference for buildings of all types, Genesis Property allocated budget, exceeding $1 million U.S., for prototyping and enlisted an expert team of around 20 multisector research and development professionals from the health, technology, real estate, architectural and engineering fields, who borrowed learnings from hospitals’ and IT industry’s clean rooms to develop the IMMUNE model. The team was led by Dr. Adrian Streinu-Cercel, a professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases and president of the University Senate of the Carol Davila University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, Romania, and Professor and Dr. Matei Bals, general manager of the most important hospital treating COVID-19 in Romania, the National Insti- tute for Infectious Diseases. The standard includes 100-plus recommended measures for buildings to implement. (Learn more about the specific measures.)
The IMMUNE index measures include architectural engineering, technology, design, and two levels of operational practices—perpetual and ready-to-action—and offers a step-by-step guide for anyone involved in the realm of real-estate development, including architects, engineers, designers, developers and building owners, with target benchmarks to help them create a resilient future workplace.
An authorized building assessor in the field of sustainable building design, development and certification, will evaluate and award a property with one of the three IMMUNE labels: Strong, equivalent of 3 stars; Powerful, equivalent of 4 stars; or Resilient, equivalent of 5 stars. The label, which is based on the number of criteria met during the official assessment, demonstrates a building’s diligence and commitment to implementing the Healthy by Design approach while considering best practices to achieve the IMMUNE standard.
One of the main advantages of the standard is that because it is an open-source inaugural version, there will be adequate opportunities to re-assess and evolve to ensure the workplace is the safest it can be, regardless of its size and facilities, as we continue to learn more about the challenges we face.