Of the 87 per cent of total healthcare costs attributed to tobacco, food, physical activity and stress, 67 per cent are related to individuals under the age of 65. Such statistics from the U.S.-based Cleveland Clinic directly point to how the workforce is being impacted by these illnesses.
Since buildings, which house this pre-retirement cohort, have the ability to positively affect employee health and wellness, The WELL Building Standard (WELL), created by Delos, has emerged in direct response to offer certification that takes into account seven areas: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
A plethora of studies is now connecting the growing concern for wellness, according to Regan Smith, managing principal at WSP Canada Inc., who spoke about WELL during a recent seminar at PM Expo.
Take, for instance, the American Society of Interior Designers 2015/2016 Outlook on the state of the industry. Energy efficiency is the new normal, it states, and health and wellness is a growing commitment—the number one trend. Meanwhile, residential designers are reporting a higher adoption than commercial designers.
And yet another study, out of the UK, called Shoppers Vista, recorded that shoppers felt empowered to make positive decisions related to healthy eating, up 20 per cent in the last seven years.
“WELL is offering a brand for both corporations and buildings to promote health,” said Smith. “We spend 90 per cent of our time indoors; the built form directly impacts our health.”
The WELL process and updates
“There has been interesting uptake in the last year since it’s been available on the marketplace,” Smith added. “The development that went into the standard came from a number of individuals informed by doctors and health care providers, in addition to architects and designers. The focus was to address all of the human systems and a building’s impact.”
Currently, three types of projects can register online: new and existing buildings, new and/or existing interior space and compliance for a core and shell building. Certification comes with a Silver, Gold or Platinum level and requires a three-year recertification cycle, except for the latter project category.
Mandatory requirements, items all projects need to meet, are called pre-conditions. Optional items are called optimizations, and depending on how many optimizations are pursued on a project, higher certification levels can be achieved. As it stands, there are 41 mandatory requirements, 36 for interior or tenant fit-outs and 30 for the core and shell compliance path. If 40 per cent of optimizations are achieved, a project reaches a Gold level, while 80 per cent contributes to a Platinum level.
After registration, a WELL assessor from the Green Business Certification Inc. is assigned to a project and a WELL commissioning takes place where the project receives a WELL report on its performance. In the online reference guide, some components require testing, others need a letter of sign-off, while others need annotated documentation. Every three years annual performance data needs to be conducted, and there is a resubmission component where an individual comes to a site to conduct verification tests.
Differences between LEED and WELL
While both LEED v4 and WELL are organized to work seamlessly together, WELL requires less documentation than LEED.
“Some say LEED is a focus on quantity while WELL is a focus on quality,” Smith pointed out. “LEED also focuses on energy and energy performance, which is not specifically addressed in WELL.”
In comparison, indoor air, water and comfort are all relevant to both LEED and WELL; however, in existing buildings, WELL is more focused on the personal health and wellbeing of occupants whereas LEED is more focused on how a building is being operated.
According to Smith, specific requirements that greatly overlap include the smoking ban, an education requirement, daylighting, indoor air quality when it comes to ASHRAE 62, water, active transportation, material transparency, thermal comfort related to ASHRAE 55 and noise control.
“There is not a significant amount of research that shows the direct impact or results of pursuing the WELL Building Standard within your space,” noted Smith, “which is typical when pursuing new standards as there are risks associated with being the first.”
Yet, she adds, there are also rewards, such as bragging rights and being featured in media and publications. Still, one main question that continues to arise is, “What are the results and what are people saying?”
“The amount of hard data that is available is lacking,” she added. “Individuals who have pursued WELL are saying that ongoing research is happening and they are collecting data, but it’s not there yet.”
The first WELL space was CBRE’s office in Los Angeles. Based on its WELL standard employee survey, 92 per cent of tenants said the new space created a positive effect on their health, 94 per cent said the new space created a positive effect in the business performance and 90 per cent would not go back to their old way of working.
With pilots coming onto the market and feedback rolling in, further refinement is expected to create a standard that is usable to the industry.
“There was a time when we thought quantifying and measuring energy and getting those numbers right was challenging,” Smith said. “Now, we’re trying to measure overall human health and tie it back to the built form.”