WELL Building Standard Institute LogoThe word “sustainability” has been surrounding us for many years now.  Standards such as the LEED Green Building System (LEED) or Energy Star have become not only a marketing edge, but an expectation. Although these standards address some aspects of human health, their main focus is saving energy and resources. The newly-released WELL Building Standard (WELL) is the first research-based standard focusing specifically on the health and wellness of building occupants. Developed by the Delos Group, it is the result of seven years of collaborative effort to define the strategies of promoting employee wellness. The WELL Building Standard recognizes that our environment influences not only our health, but also our behavior. It promotes a holistic approach to human wellness addressing needs beyond just the physical ones.

Most of us spend the majority of our lives in built environments which has a profound effect on our wellness – whether we are aware of it or not. And who doesn’t want to live a healthier, happier, more productive and less stressful life? Furthermore, the WELL creators assert that, for a typical organization, 92% of overall operational cost is personnel. It makes sense to keep employees happy, healthy and more productive as it translates directly to the “bottom line”. Some of the larger pharmaceutical companies have begun to implement wellness related benefits and are looking into WELL standard, as they better understand the attraction and retention of talent is key to staying competitive.

The WELL Building Standard is organized into seven categories, called “concepts”: Air, Water, Light, Comfort, Fitness, Nourishment and Mind.  These concepts are further divided into “features” and the “features” are divided into parts. There are 102 features in total, comprised of performance metrics, design strategies and procedures. Similar to LEED, each concept includes mandatory features, called “preconditions”, which must be met in order to achieve basic certification (which in this case is WELL Silver).  Optional features, which are known as “optimizations”, are required for WELL Gold and Platinum certification levels.   Here’s a brief summary of the concepts.

  • Air focuses on minimizing or eliminating pollutants and harmful substances such as asbestos, lead, formaldehyde, PCB (Polychlorinated Biphenyl), VOC (Volatile organic compounds), as well as mold, tobacco smoke, pesticides and herbicides. Proposed strategies include: filtering, smoking bans, increased ventilation, cleaning protocols, use of antimicrobial surfaces and promoting materials that do not emit harmful substances.
  • Water is to provide safe and clean water and to promote drinking water, both through water filtering/treatment and strategic placement of water dispensers.
  • Nourishment promotes healthy eating habits and food culture.  Facilities that provide food service or vending are required to provide fresh fruit and vegetables, limit foods or drinks with refined ingredients and completely ban foods with transfats. Additional strategies include: food labelling for allergens, nutritional values and artificial ingredients, meal sizes and promotion of sustainably-grown food (either purchased or grown by building occupants).
  • Light was developed to minimize disruption to occupants’ circadian rhythm, promote healthy light levels and healthy sleep. There are prescribed lighting levels and intensity, work and ceiling surface light reflectance values and electric light color standards. Elimination of both solar and artificial light glare and promoting the use of daylight as a primary source of light in occupied spaces are recommended.
  • Fitness is to include exercise and fitness into daily lives by designing the built environment to promote walking and the use of stairs, as well as providing fitness training programs, financial incentives for employees to use fitness centers, participation in races and bike commuting. Other strategies include providing active workstations, such as treadmill or bicycle desks, or prevalent adjustable-height desks.
  • Comfort centers on creating a comfortable and productive environment. This concept addresses a wide range of factors that influence our sense of comfort, such as thermal, acoustical, ergonomic and olfactory considerations.  The requirements include an ADA-compliant building, ergonomic workplace design (such as providing monitor height, desk height and seat adjustments) and acoustical planning for limiting exterior noise (as well as separation of loud interior areas and prescriptive maximum noise levels for mechanical equipment). Ventilation values must meet ASHRAE Standard 55 2013.  Optional features include the use of sound masking, sound barriers, sound-reducing surfaces, designing to specific reverberation time values, separation of odor-producing areas and promotion of radiant heating and cooling.
  • Mind provides strategies to support cognitive and emotional health and is composed of multifaceted features. Strategies include building features such as integration of nature in building design (biofilic design) and providing focus and relaxation spaces, including furniture for short naps.   Other features are policies and protocols promoting healthy sleeping habits and reducing the stress of business travels.  Additionally, there are features targeting life-work balance improvement by providing enhanced parental leave or family support and employer-supported child care. Improvement of mental health is addressed by offering onsite stress management and programs for issues such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, etc. Altruism is promoted by the support of employees’ charitable activities and matching employees’ charitable contributions.

The summary above doesn’t cover all 102 features, but gives an idea of the aspects addressed by the WELL Building Standard.

More than 100 projects, encompassing more than 22 million square feet, have already registered or certified through WELL. Similar to LEED, there is no specific WELL pilot program or rating system for manufacturing facilities, and some of the features may not apply to these facilities, since WELL standard is geared towards office environment. However, most of pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities include office areas and not having specific rating systems for LEED did not stop pharmaceutical and other industries from certifying their manufacturing facilities on Gold and Platinum levels, and the same can happen with WELL.  As a minimum, the WELL standard could be used as a guideline for improving the wellness of any building occupants, since many of its features are universally-applicable.

You may be asking now – how do I get a facility WELL-certified? How much does it cost? Is it similar to LEED?

WELL Building Standard has been designed to work hand-in-hand with the LEED rating system and has many similarities in terms of organizational structure and certification process, however there are some clear differences. The process will be explained in more detail in a future blog post concerning the WELL Building Standard.  In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about WELL, please visit www.wellcertified.com.

By: Magdalena Krapf  AIA, LEED AP, Senior Associate, JacobsWyper Architects

Sources: WELL Building Standard V1

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