Why WELL?

| November 4, 2016

by Jennifer Taranto

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The WELL Building Standard is a relatively new building rating system that measures the performance of a building as it relates to the occupant’s health and well-being. In short, where LEED cares about the health of the planet, WELL cares about the health of the people in the built environment.

As LEED made strides to transform the market, sustainability practitioners often talked about the perceived improved productivity of employees and the reduced absenteeism. These outcomes, which were secondary to carbon reduction, were, at best, observations discerned from clients, but without any formidable proof until now. Harvard recently released a study finding that carbon dioxide (CO2) has a direct negative impact on cognitive ability, thus proving that productivity really is better in green buildings with better indoor air quality.

Here is where WELL enters the picture. The WELL Building Standard dovetails neatly where LEED leaves off by including features that specifically address the occupants and are backed up by science and medical evidence. It addresses the quality of the air, water, food, and light within a space while at the same time guiding companies on policies related to fitness, comfort, and mental well-being.

A company’s largest expense is its staff, which can come close to nearly 90% of the costs of any business. Because of this, as noted in a 2013 World Green Building Council study, any improvements made in indoor air quality have a far greater return on investment than cuts to energy usage. Those improvements to indoor air quality improve the productivity of your employees, reduce absenteeism and — more importantly — increase presenteeism. Those improvements to your employees’ performance will far outweigh the improvements in energy performance, which account for a 1% to 3% savings. Make no mistake; this is not a call to ignore energy efficiency and replace it with wellness initiatives, but rather a call to action to supplement your carbon reduction goals with improvements to your employees’ health.

In this market, there is a war on talent. Employers want the best and brightest workforce to push research forward on new pharmaceuticals, the best coders to create new software, and the brightest attorneys to help people and businesses do the right thing. The question they’ll ask is, “Why should I work for your firm?” The WELL Building Standard allows companies to cite specific, tangible examples to help answer that question.

Through our discussions with clients about the WELL Building Standard, we have heard that the rating system has allowed them to put their arms around disjointed efforts and budget allocations among various departments to speak with a unified, clear voice about the benefits these efforts offer to existing and new talent. WELL has brought multiple departments, previously working in silos, to the table to improve the potential health outcomes for everyone.

Achieving WELL certification for your project will create an integrated project team. There are features that require alterations to the built environment, those that require alterations in facilities maintenance, and those that will require organizational policy changes as well as added incentives for employees. Furthermore the features are field tested and verified so that you can point to third-party scientific test results showing the quality of the air, water, light, and acoustics in your space.

We are experiencing this collaborative effect firsthand as we seek WELL certification for our own new Manhattan office and plan to share more lessons from that process as we move forward. In the meantime, learn more about becoming WELL certified at wellcertified.com.

 

 

20160329_163546Jennifer Taranto, LEED AP ID+C, BD+C, WELL AP, is director of sustainability at Structure Tone. 

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