Inside the WELL Building Standard

LEED was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council back in 2000 and for 15 years has helped building owners and operators be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council back in 2000 and for 15 years has helped building owners and operators be environmentally responsible and use resources efficiently.

Taking that concept one step further, The WELL Building Standard was developed last October as the first protocol of its kind to focus on human wellness within the built environment, with specific performance requirements in seven key concept categories relevant to occupant health—Air, Water, Light, Nourishment, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.

Delos pioneered the standard, helping to develop the framework and establish the research behind WELL, and in 2013, Delos (which boasts Leonardo DiCaprio on its advisory board) created the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) as a means to share the WELL Building Standard globally.

“The WELL Building Standard focuses on the people in the building,” says Paul Scialla, IWBI’s founder and Delos’ CEO. “It marries best practices in design and construction with evidence-based medical and scientific research—harnessing the built environment as a vehicle to support human health and wellbeing.”

WELL is administered by IWBI and is third-party certified through IWBI’s collaboration with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), which is the same organization that administers the LEED certification program.

Scialla notes the WELL Building Standard is the culmination of seven years of research and development in collaboration with leading physicians, scientists and industry professionals
“In the early stages of research and development, we reviewed and analyzed thousands of studies and published research relevant to occupant health within the built environment in order to better understand how the indoor environments where we spend more than 90 percent of our time are impacting our health and wellness,” he says. “From there we identified seven key concept categories relevant to occupant health and began to set descriptive and performance-based requirements for features such as lighting and air and water quality.”

Getting it off the ground

Prior to the public launch of WELL v1.0, IWBI conducted a two-year pilot program and three-phase peer review process.

“It was very important for us to undergo a thorough and transparent expert peer review that engaged with the scientific, practitioner and medical communities in order to get support and buy-in from leading medical experts and industry professionals,” Scialla says. “During the scientific review phase, researchers reviewed and responded specifically to performance benchmarks set by the WELL Building Standard, such as air and water contaminants, the relationship between indoor lighting and our circadian rhythm, and mold and other biological contaminants.”

The second, practitioner review phase included engaging with leading science and green building practitioners for further review and refinement of the standard. The final, medical peer review phase was led by Dr. Michael Roizen, chief wellness officer of the Cleveland Clinic (and a member of the IWBI Advisory Council) and consisted of a comprehensive medical review of the WELL Building Standard.

Calculating the score

WELL Certification requires an on-site WELL Commissioning process that includes post-occupancy performance testing of features including air and water quality. The process includes a third-party certification review, administered by GBCI, and re-commissioning every three years is required to maintain certification.

“Once a building demonstrates the achievement of all preconditions (the WELL features necessary for baseline certification), WELL Certification is awarded,” Scialla says. “Higher levels of certification can be achieved by pursuing Optimization Features which are optional enhancements. While many of the WELL features are performance-based, some are descriptive standards that require technologies, design strategies or certain protocols be implemented that provide information, education and support for making positive lifestyle choices.”

The certification levels are Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Up and running

There are approximately 8 million square feet of commercial, institutional and multifamily projects in the U.S. and globally that are registered or certified for the WELL Building Standard.
CBRE Group’s new Global Corporate Headquarters in downtown Los Angeles was certified under the pilot program in November 2013 and became the first commercial office building in the world to be both LEED Gold and WELL Pilot Certified.

Other projects include the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, Pa. (the first institution worldwide to achieve WELL Platinum Pilot Certification, the highest rating awarded by IWBI); and LYFE Kitchen restaurants in Tarzana, Calif., Evanston, Ill. and Park Meadows, Col., which have been certified under the WELL Building Standard pilot program.

Scialla says each of the WELL Pilot Certified LYFE Kitchen locations incorporate state-of-the-art designs and evidence-based wellness features, such as advanced air purification, water filtration systems, innovative lighting strategies, healthy entrances with dirt and virus track-in controls and photo-catalytic coatings on common restaurant touch points.

Brian J. Levitt, president of NAVA Real Estate Development, Denver, is utilizing the program for Northfield Stapleton, an open-air, 1,200,000-square-foot retail town center located at the Stapleton International Airport redevelopment in Denver.

“We will go for LEED as we always do, but this is a great enhancement of some of the things you find in LEED, like air quality and lighting and energy efficiency, but with some new dimensions such as food and nourishment in mind,” he says. “We will be buying systems and technologies that are more stringent in terms of performance and more selective in what we do.” For example, its parking garage deck will offer garden beds where people will be able to grow organic vegetables.

“Colorado is unique in the sense that health and wellness is very hip as a lifestyle, so to have one of the first WELL-certified projects here, across from a park where people can run, I think will attract people to live here,” Levitt says. “This will knock people’s socks off, and I think is the next big thing.”

Multi-housing pilot program

While v1.0 of WELL is currently optimized for commercial and institutional projects, its multifamily pilot will launch in April 2015. Upon launch, new multi-housing projects will be able to register online to be part of the pilot program at wellcertified.com.

“We’ve been speaking with many multifamily developers, and they see tremendous potential demand from the consumer perspective,” Scialla says. “In the marketplace, this will also provide developers with a strong competitive edge and allows them to differentiate their projects. Offering people an apartment or condominium that provides their family with healthier lighting systems and improved indoor air and water quality, among other features, will be a game changer for the industry.”

Advanced air purification may seem somewhat basic, but Scialla believes that if it can offer that feature to families with children who suffer from asthma so they can live in a space where they’re able to breathe easier, then it is accomplishing its goal.

“We don’t have a limit to the number of multi-housing developments that can register to be part of the pilot program and are looking forward to receiving registration from diverse range of projects across various cities, countries and climates,” Scialla says. “At the moment, there are at least four projects and over one million square feet of new multifamily construction awaiting the formal launch to enroll in the new pilot.”

On board

Getting people involved wasn’t difficult, Scialla says, and he feels very fortunate to have an outstanding group of visionaries leading the IWBI Advisory Council. These individuals include: Laurel Blatchford (SVP of Solutions at Enterprise Community Partners), Whitney Austin Gray (Health Research and Innovation Director of Cannon Design), Jason McLennan (CEO of the International Living Future Institute), Mahesh Ramanujam (COO of the US Green Building Council) and Dr. Michael Roizen (Chief Wellness Officer at the Cleveland Clinic).

Looking ahead

Scialla notes that the industry response to the program thus far has been very positive and that GBCI guarantees a best-in-class certification infrastructure that helps make it seamless for professionals and organizations already using LEED.

“As more projects are WELL-certified in the coming years, we look forward to publishing statistical data and further evidence that helps demonstrate the ROI for companies, schools and other organizations that are considering going for WELL Certification,” adds Scialla.

For example, one year after certification, CBRE conducted and published a post-occupancy study with very encouraging findings, such as: 92 percent of the respondents said that the new space has created a positive effect on their health and wellbeing, and 83 percent of employees feel more productive in the new office space.

“There is a strong economic and value proposition for WELL certification, and we look forward to continuing to strengthen the business case for WELL as more findings are gathered,” Scialla says. “We look forward to further widespread adoption as interest continues to grow.”

WELL and IWBI is an innovative framework that drives public benefit. After all, health and wellness are not a privilege, and they should not just be for premium projects—they should be accessible to people at all price points.