25 (120) 2016
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New building certification scheme

by Bartosz Marcol, WELL AP energy efficiency and sustainability consultant, WSP Polska
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Sustainability is based on three pillars: environment, economy and society. Until recently, the sustainable approach for buildings was mainly focused on the first two.

Although most of the existing green building certification schemes (like BREEAM or LEED) include aspects related to health and well-being of the occupants, their scope is limited. This is where the WELL Building Standard starts to shine.

The WELL Building Standard is an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring the performance of building features that impact health and well-being [1]. It puts people back into the centre of the building’s design, construction and operation processes. It reminds us what the reason behind erection of buildings is. The purpose is to create spaces where people can live, work and rest. This is  important because our environment along with lifestyle, genetics and health care are one of the most important factors that influence our health. Since we spend around 90% of our time indoors, it’s crucial that we pay great attention to the quality of our indoor environments. WELL is administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. The WELL Building Standard is designed to work harmoniously with the LEED Green Building Rating System, the Living Building Challenge and other leading global green building standards like BREEAM.

Why investors should consider certifying buildings using The WELL Building Standard?

The creation of healthy indoor environment is especially important in commercial buildings where people consume and generate significant amount of money. It has been shown that during 30 year period the personnel costs can reach 92% of the buildings’ operation costs [2]. Thus even small increase of few percent in the employees’ productivity can scale up to significant increase in employers’ income giving meaningful return on investment. Also investors can become more visible on the market and enhance their portfolios introducing new brand of healthy real estate. Another benefit is that the lease price can be higher due to an increased building standard. Tenants often acknowledge the fact that the office spaces have great influence on the productivity of their employees thus they are looking for buildings designed for people and in consequence targeted occupancy rate can be achieved faster. Tenants can observe higher employee retention, productivity and overall happiness, lower absenteeism and can recruit more ambitious employees that pay attention on their working place. On the other hand building occupants can enjoy the highest quality of the indoor environment in WELL certified buildings which keeps them healthy, let them feel more comfortable and more productive.

Certification typologies

The WELL Building Standard certification can be applied to new or existing buildings and interiors as well as to core and shell projects. However, existing developments will require general refurbishment as some of mandatory features force substantial changes in the building structure or systems. At this point WELL is developed mostly for commercial and institutional offices but pilot programmes are available for other real estate sectors like: retail, residential, education, commercial kitchen and restaurant. Furthermore future pilots for communities, exercise facilities, public assembly and healthcare are on various stages of development. Three levels of certification are available: silver, gold and platinum and are awarded depending on the quantity of health and well-being related features applied to the project.

Involved parties

Several parties are involved in the WELL building certification process. Owners are responsible for authorizing registration of the project and are required to validate various documents. Project administrators act as project manager and oversees the WELL process. WELL Assessor is the third-party certification entity responsible for assessing/reviewing of the projects. WELL Accredited Professional (WELL AP) are building industry professionals who are knowledgeable of the conceptual and applied frameworks of WELL, and are experienced in its application on registered and certified WELL projects used to demonstrate that WELL features are satisfied. Finally additional signatories might be involved because Some WELL documents will require validation by the appropriate professional overseeing the relevant aspect of design, construction or operations. Therefore, architects, contractors, and mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineers are required to provide specific declarations and/or calculations pertaining to the project.

Organization of the WELL Building Standard

The WELL Building Standard consists of 100 features grouped into seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

Since we breathe more than 15,000 litres per day, clean air is a critical component to our health. Features that fall into this category helps provide and maintain good indoor air quality through filtration, sanitisation, pollution control, ventilation, humidity control and monitoring.

WELL buildings also provide excellent water quality. More than two-thirds of the human body is comprised of water. To stay properly hydrated women should drink 2.7 and men 3.7 litres per day. In total The WELL Building Standard regulates 34 parameters including inorganic, organic, microbial and agricultural contaminants.

All foods sold or distributed on a daily basis on the premises by the project owner shall meet stringent criteria. Special attention is brought to fruits, vegetables, processed foods, food allergies, sugar content, food storage, artificial ingredients, nutritional information and labelling or dining areas.

Light is another crucial aspect of indoor environment. It facilitates vision allowing us to see and influence the human body serving as cue for the circadian rhythm. Appropriate exposure to the light during the day helps us sleep better. Nowadays high quality lighting design takes into consideration not only the amount of light, lighting efficiency and avoidance of glare but also the fact how it influence our sleep-wake cycles.

The WELL Building Standard was developed acknowledging that a sound mind in a sound body. Environment that surrounds us can influence our behaviour. WELL is trying to encourage building occupants to move more and is shaping the built environment to induce healthy habits. For instance staircases are designed to attract occupants by music, art or lighting.

Indoor environments can be perceived as comfortable on many levels: thermal, acoustical, ergonomics, spatial (occupants with disabilities) or olfactory. The indoor environment should be a place of comfort to prevent stress and injury and facilitate productivity and well-being of the occupants.

We should always remember that our minds and bodies are inextricably connected. The WELL Building Standard recognises the features of the built environment and identifies workplace policies that can be implemented to positively impact mood, sleep, stress levels and psychosocial status in order to promote and enable overall occupant health and well-being.

Health in the built environment is a new, emerging and fascinating field which puts us – the people in the centre of design. The WELL Building Standard is transforming the places we live, work and learn into systems intended to promote and improve human health and well-being. From now on buildings can be perceived as tools to remind us that health is wealth.

[1] The WELL Building Standard v1 with May 2016 addenda by Delos Living LLC.
[2] Osso, Annette. Sustainable Building Technical Manual. [Online] 1994. Public Technology, Inc. 16.

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