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When we ‘took to the streets’ and told people we were putting together a major feature on Wellbeing and the WELL Building Standard, one name kept popping up in conversation – Cundall. The leading consultancy’s Principal, Kavita Kumari, can tell us more.

There’s a very good reason for this. Cundall is a business that is at the very forefront of this revolution. Established in the UK over 40 years ago, Cundall is an international multi-disciplinary consultancy operating from over 20 locations across the globe.

Cundall’s own office fit-out at One Carter Lane in London was the very first WELL Certified project in Europe, achieving Gold Standard (and has also achieved SKA Gold and BREEAM Excellent Ratings). Therefore, Cundall is the perfect business for us to talk to and feature in this Spotlight.

Cundall not only lives and breathes this stuff, it also delivers on its commitment to occupant wellbeing by providing services that include the WELL Building Standard™ (WELL) – a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact on human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

We’re fortunate enough to meet up with Kavita, who can give us a refreshingly honest insight into integrating not just the standard itself but all the things that go with it – both good and not so good.

We start by asking Kavita about whether Cundall, as a business, has seen a genuine pick-up in wellbeing and the WELL Building Standard™ from its clients since embarking on its own journey? ‘There’s certainly a lot of interest – but I think the main issue that the WELL Building Institute is having when it comes to uptake at the moment is the cost,’ she considers. ‘Globally, a lot of people are saying it is very expensive. Unlike BREEAM, where you pay between £2,000-3,000 for certification, WELL works on a sliding scale, depending on the floor area, and could go up to as high as $50,000.

‘This is all an education process for everyone. A lot of people are still nervous about it because it is a relatively new standard. What the WELL Building Institute is now trying to do is to find equivalent local standards globally – and is starting to work with them. I think this is a very good thing. They are certainly becoming more aware of those local standards and are open to talking about this.

‘People are certainly very interested in wellbeing and I am pushing for health and wellbeing all the time now. Little things can make a significant impact on your space, be that your home, work, school or any other. You don’t have to go for full accreditation and go through the whole process from start to finish – you can do little things that don’t cost much whilst contributing to the circular economy. You can apply the concept of biophilia – υ humankind’s innate and beneficial affinity with nature – by bringing plants into your space. We’ve added a number of recycled timber panels – which were quite inexpensive – and then dressed them with plants and moss. Not only do the panels bring that wellbeing into our space, but they also have excellent acoustic properties.’

‘The WELL Building Standard™ can be broken down into little pieces – for example, you can break temperature or acoustics or thermal comfort or lighting down into bite-size pieces so people can understand them. It’s always much easier to understand when you can see things and touch things – and see how much they are going to cost.

‘When we first looked at WELL I think it was a bit of a shock for some people – this is a new standard that doesn’t have an equivalent in the UK! Once we started to break things down – to go out and find some of these simple, cost-effective elements or realise they were already in the design and we’d started to live with them, we realised that all this is available and doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

‘It’s about learning. You have to point people in a certain direction. What we have found is that a lot of contractors tend to be comfortable with what they are used to – because it works. They can guarantee the end results. Also, due to programme limitations, they don’t have the flexibility to try new things.

‘At Cundall we did have that luxury – we were the client and I had three different options for everything! I was able to play with these options, which was great – but in the end, I did have to deliver. I had to present a υ business case and it was agreed that we would go for the lower standard – Silver – but we managed to get Gold!

‘I think once someone like us has achieved this challenge, it becomes easier for others to have a go. It’s about sharing this knowledge – about having ongoing discussions and encouraging people to go beyond what they are used to. Whenever there is anything new, there will always be a knowledge gap.

‘We now get a lot of people ringing us
ad-hoc to discover what things they can consider. I attend a lot of industry events and talk to interior designers who ask me what I think about the things they are doing in terms of wellbeing. I tell them to always keep to the most natural products – this is the easiest way forward. The thing about WELL and wellbeing is that it is all about transparency. You know exactly what is in your food – and you should also know exactly what is in your products.

‘We made a decision to not only reach that certain standard – but to go a little bit beyond it. For example, we encourage cycling to work and we have said that if you buy a bicycle, the company will contribute so much towards it. We don’t want these initiatives to be a box ticking exercise – we want them to be fully embraced within the business. We are investing in these initiatives for a reason. We give people a choice when it comes to food, for example, and they are happy! We are giving people an alternative to help them live more healthily – and they are fully embracing it. People were cynical when we started introducing soya milk here. Now, the soya milk always runs out!’

Kavita is a Principal at Cundall and a WELL AP, belonging to the WELL Faculty programme. She led and delivered the first WELL certified building in Europe.
Kavita is also a Chartered Environmentalist and Chartered Engineer and has knowledge of both local and International green building standards; she is a RESET AP, a CIBSE and BRE Fellow, a Fitwel Ambassador, and a registered Low Carbon Consultant. She is part of the BRE Strategic Ecology Framework working group, which dictates the ecology criteria for BREEAM. Her extensive research into green and healthy materials, natural and human centric lighting, indoor air and water quality, occupant comfort, smart technology and biophilia has given her an insight into understanding health and wellbeing drivers and supports her sustainability advice, enabling projects to commence with a solid foundation for successful delivery.