We have all now at least heard of the WELL Building Standard. We asked the founder, Paul Scialla, to give us a real insight.
During 18 years of working on Wall Street, the meteoric rise of the green building and environmental sustainability was a trend that was hard to miss. It would come to fundamentally change real estate forever (and for the better), creating in its wake a multi-billion dollar market that simply didn’t exist 20 years ago – one that focused on energy efficiency, water conservation, waste reduction and materials performance. But in this focus on the building and its impact on the planet, I kept feeling like something was missing. And it dawned on me that what was missing in this equation was the building’s impact on people.
Fast-forward to today, and a growing body of research continues to underscore the impact indoor spaces can have on the health and wellness of the people inside of them. As we spend 90% of our time indoors, it has become increasingly clear that now is the time to bring health and wellness to the forefront of the building conversation. Furthermore, with Real Estate and Wellness being two of the largest and most rapidly growing industries worldwide, I noticed a real opportunity to develop a programme that would marry these two concepts. It was this interest in sustainability and human health that eventually led to the development of the WELL Building Standard, the first building standard focused exclusively on the ways that the built environment affects human health and wellness.
Administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), WELL focuses on the environments in which we live, work, play, eat, and learn, and on how those places affect both our minds and bodies. By setting requirements in seven categories that have been scientifically proven to impact the occupant experience, including air, water, nourishment, life, fitness, comfort and mind, WELL harnesses the built environment as a tool that works in the background to improve our comfort and wellness, drives better health choices, and generally enhances, not compromises, our health.
WELL was developed through seven years of rigorous research in collaboration with leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals to provide a framework for how to incorporate a variety of strategies to integrate human health and wellness into the heart of building design, construction and operations. Comprising over 100 features within the seven core concepts of building performance, WELL takes a holistic approach to its monitoring of the built environment in order to deliver both active and passive health benefits to the people inside of these buildings.
As discussed, every feature of the WELL Building Standard is intended to address specific issues and building elements that impact the health, comfort or knowledge of occupants. While each of these elements has been shown to affect wellness in a different way and to a different degree, there are several building elements that have a particularly significant affect on human health, including lighting and indoor air quality. Light is the primary driver that aligns our body’s biological clock, our circadian rhythm, with the sun’s 24-hour day. Circadian lighting provides optimum light exposure for different times of day, such as energising light in the morning and an evening ambience that prepares the body for rest and therefore can help improve one’s energy, mood, productivity and υ overall sleep quality. The air we breathe is another fundamental component of our health and poor indoor air quality can contribute to conditions such as asthma, allergies and other upper respiratory challenges. As such, the WELL Building Standard includes several features that serve to create optimal lighting conditions and indoor air quality to support the health and wellness of building occupants.
How does it work?
While the task may seem daunting at first, incorporating WELL into the built environment is actually much simpler than it seems. Upon registration, all project teams are assigned a WELL Assessor to ensure that the project complies with WELL Building Standard requirements. The WELL Assessor is responsible for a project’s documentation review and performance verification and is an incredibly useful resource to aid in the process.
Once a project has decided to pursue WELL Certification, the upsides are vast. Addressing occupant health can help to reduce the largest line item in the 30-year costs of a building – the personnel – which accounts for 90% of the building’s costs. Whether it’s a building owner looking to differentiate their space so they can lease out to tenants or whether it is a company looking to retain and attract employees, enhance productivity or potentially reduce healthcare costs, WELL has the potential to offer a valuable return on investment.
The rapid adoption of WELL worldwide further underscores the fact that building owners, developers and operators, as well as businesses and corporations, are taking notice of these effects and of the impact healthier indoor environments can have on the people inside of them. Since the launch of WELL V1 in 2014, more than 525 projects encompassing over 100 million sq ft of real estate have been either registered or certified under WELL in 31 countries. Although WELL V1 is currently optimised for commercial and institutional office buildings and has seen particularly wide adoption among the corporate community, IWBI has developed six pilot versions of the standard to test and refine how WELL can be applied to other building sectors. The pilot programmes allow us to solicit feedback from participants so that we can expand the markets that WELL can reach. There are now WELL pilot programmes for retail, multifamily residential, education, restaurant, commercial kitchen and community projects. The most recent of these pilot programmes, the WELL Community Standard, is a district-scale rating system, which aims to set a new precedent for city-planning, building and development by providing a thorough understanding of how communities can employ appropriate, actionable strategies and interventions to promote the health of their residents.
In addition to WELL’s wide range of applicability across various real estate sectors, WELL V1 can be applied to various types of projects including new and existing buildings, new and existing interiors and core and shell developments. Our goal is to make WELL as accessible as possible, which is why we offer certifications for both new and existing buildings. This will be further demonstrated through the development of WELL V2, which will incorporate this ethic of simplicity with a customisable approach. We expect the next version of the rating system to be released in early 2018.