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Eulogies for the office were abound for months. Just a few years after massive building sprees in Silicon Valley, the coronavirus pandemic led tech giants like Twitter to offer working from home forever.

Not so fast, said Google, suggesting a hybrid work model instead. Even the CEO of Zoomargued that videoconferencing won’t replace office life anytime soon. Not to mention the industries – health care, manufacturing, retail and transportation – that simply cannot work from home.

As we begin to turn the corner and more employees return to workplaces, the debate shouldn’t be over the magic number of days to go into the office. Instead, with health taking center stage, the way we can relate to spaces when we are in them matters most. To keep employees feeling safe and happy, businesses and the commercial real estate market are adapting quickly but not in altogether novel ways. They are more rapidly embracing what much of the sustainability community has been advancing for more than a quarter century.

From our collaboration with businesses, we see how many are rethinking their approaches to spaces to stay competitive and continue to attract top talent, while also focusing on ways that their offices can invest in health-focused technology and design practices. I encourage companies that once questioned how to boost interactions between workers to improve performance to now also consider how their very spaces can make employees healthier.

And that’s just work; let’s not forget about play. Households are ready to pump trillions of dollars of stockpiled cash and pent-up consumerism into the global economy if they can feel safe and healthy while doing it. Don’t be surprised if we are looking towards the Roaring 2020s instead of a Bubble Boy future – so long as restaurants, movie theaters and shopping centers can focus on health and wellness too.

A proven way that businesses can ensure wellness and recruit talent is through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the world’s most widely used green building standard and the foundation of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The LEED rating system provides a path for reducing operational costs, improving efficiency, reducing emissions and supporting health. In fact, the benefits of LEED affect the health and prosperity of entire communities. LEED-certified buildings save money for families, businesses and taxpayers, while reducing carbon and creating a healthier environment in which people can thrive. 

Employees are happier, healthier and more productive in LEED certified buildings, with 79 percent saying they would choose a job in a LEED-certified building over a non-LEED building.By the end of 2020, there were over 106,000 registered and certified LEED commercial projects, and nearly 2 million registered and certified residential units. USGBC also supports a growing green building workforce, which includes nearly 205,000 accredited LEED green building professionals, who are at the heart of transforming buildings to be more sustainable, healthy and resilient.

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. We ensured that LEED continues to protect health and wellness by delivering nine LEED pilot credits to help building teams provide healthy spaces, and to assist with re-entry during COVID-19. The pilot credits outline sustainable best practices that align with public health and industry guidelines related to cleaning and disinfecting spaces, workplace re-occupancy, building water system recommissioning, managing indoor air quality, HVAC and plumbing operations, pandemic planning and social equity in pandemic planning. 

We believe that healthy people in healthy places is the fastest way to build a healthy economy. The world doesn’t have to choose between public health and a healthy economy; the future will require both to thrive. That’s why going forward, we will prioritize our efforts as we serve an evolving market to build people’s trust that their spaces are healthy and have a positive impact not only on them, but the economy at large.

While the traditional concept of office use may adapt in the near term, offices themselves aren’t going away. Even with many professionals working from home, sustainable and healthy buildings have remained a priority, with over 400 million square feet of space certified to LEED standards in 2020 alone. The built community has been busy getting ready to welcome workers back, in a better way than before. 

Looking past the doomsayers, how buildings are designed, constructed, operated and maintained is more important now, coming out of the pandemic, than it has ever been. 

Mahesh Ramanujam is the President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI).

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