Ensure that workers and customers can return to businesses safely

Mahesh Ramanujam
June 9, 2021

This article was originally published as “As COVID recedes, ensure that workers and customers can get down to business in safety” on June 8 by The Miami Herald, and this version is shared with permission.

As other countries continue to face tragic outbreaks of coronavirus, the United States is moving deeper into a post-pandemic reality. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that fully vaccinated Americans can stop wearing masks or social distancing in most indoor and outdoor settings, regardless of size. In Florida, all remaining COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted July 1.

But after a year of quarantining, social distancing and Zoom meetings, some citizens’ apprehension about strolling back into buildings just like before is normal. Is your office’s air-filtration system sufficient, or has your employer put into place infection-control monitoring procedures? Are the tables too cramped in that new restaurant? Will your favorite retailers continue to deep-clean their stores?

People want to go back indoors, but they understandably want to know with greater certainty that these places are adequately prepared to handle reentry. A simple “trust us” from building managers is not enough.

Fortunately, USGBC developed nine LEED Safety First credits specifically to assist with reentry during COVID-19. These credits outline sustainable best practices for workplace reoccupancy, managing indoor air quality, cleaning and disinfecting spaces, building water-system recommissioning, HVAC and plumbing operations, pandemic planning and social equity in pandemic planning.

As the global certification body for LEED, the premier global rating system for sustainability, GBCI has already awarded nearly 60 of these credits, and close to 400 other projects around the world are pursuing more than 560 additional credits. This way, when people are ready to go back inside their workplaces, schools, child care centers, restaurants or favorite retailers, they can have confidence that steps have been taken to welcome them safely back indoors. The same trust and confidence that come with LEED can be relied upon with the LEED Safety First credits for building reentry.

Reentry anxiety is part of a broader shift of the focus of the built community. A revitalized interest in health and wellness issues is here to stay, well beyond the current pandemic. Even as more professionals return to the office, more students to schools and more foodies to restaurants, health and wellness are going to remain in the spotlight.

Shortly after the pandemic ground much of America to a halt, USGBC doubled down on its commitment to making green buildings part of a lasting, human health-centric solution. According to a 2021 survey of our built community, eight in 10 respondents (81%)—representing 50 countries—said they would like to see this continue post-pandemic. Indeed, the top issues ranked by the green-building community for how USGBC and GBCI can help going forward were indoor air quality and individuals’ health and well-being.

While LEED remains USGBC and GBCI’s core program, nearly seven in 10 (68%) of our market respondents told us that we should continue to evolve our portfolio. Indeed, GBCI has grown to include a suite of nearly 10 certification programs and 15 professional credentials and certificates covering almost every facet of the sustainability industry—from green buildings and sustainable landscape development to zero-waste performance and resilient design to power grids and infrastructure. Each of these programs allows us to help communities meet and exceed sustainability goals and enable the adoption of next-generation practices, while leaning into health and wellness.

As the United States enters a new phase, there is no easy way to determine who has been vaccinated and who hasn’t, as many business owners are pointing out. The new CDC guidelines essentially work on the honor system, leaving it up to people to do the right thing. The world wants to get going back to business, but it’s anything but business as usual.

New tools to help ensure and communicate safety are key to getting the country back up and running. Whether you are back in the office, enjoying a meal at a restaurant or going shopping, you will want to trust—but verify—that your health and wellness are protected. Our transition to remote living was tough, but the transition back to interacting indoors doesn’t have to be—as long as people can feel safe while doing it.

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