LEED and the WELL Building Standard
By Kelly Ryan
Everyone might know what is trending on social media, but do you know what is trending in the world of building design? While LEED is still the frontrunner of green building rating systems, a new standard is increasingly becoming all the rage among designers. The WELL building standard was developed by the real estate firm Delos in 2013 and takes a human-centered approach to the process of designing a building. Like LEED, the standard has various credits that projects must achieve to become certified. The seven aspects of the WELL standard are: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. These are centered around the concept of improving human wellness and how the office environment shapes our physical and mental health. While WELL certification may seem like just another trend to boost an organization’s brand, recent studies have shown that our office environment affects us much more then we know.
The statistic that we spend on average 90% of our time indoors, much of that at work, might not surprise you. However, do you ever think about how much this can affect things like the human immune system, productivity levels, and even the performance of a company? Spoiler alert: the office environment we spend the majority of our lives in has an enormous impact on our health, which directly influences how we work. A study from the WELL certified CBRE office in Los Angeles showed 83% of employees reporting having higher productivity levels than their previous office environment. In addition, 94% said the new space created a positive effect in the business’ performance. This productivity boost is attributable in part to healthier and happier occupants. A few aspects of WELL focus entirely on human physical and mental health, advocating for not only cleaner air and water but also healthier dining habits, fitness habits, and increasing exposure to the natural environment. Designing office layouts with workstations closer to windows allows for employees to have maximum natural light exposure. Previous studies completed on office environments with increased natural light show tremendous positive effects on our physical health including increased hours of sleep at night and decreased stress levels and anxiety.
Stepping back and analyzing whether or not WELL certification is worth the investment, it is important to remember that staff costs typically account for over 90% of business operating costs. With the office environment being such a big expense already for companies, it is becoming more and more evident that investing in staff wellness far outweigh the costs.
LEED and WELL
Though LEED and WELL have different focus areas, the WELL standard was designed to work harmoniously with LEED, with the two having a 20-30% overlap. Looking at the technical similarities between the two rating systems, almost the entirety of the indoor air quality standards for LEED corresponds with the WELL air criteria. The two also share requirements when it comes to allowing natural daylight into the building. Though complying with one does not necessarily guarantee credit for the other, this overlap may give project team the incentive they need to target both certifications.
The Future of WELL
While WELL has not yet achieved board market adoption, it’s clear that human health and wellness in the workplace is taking a high priority among millennials, who by 2020 will comprise around 40% of the workforce. Studies are showing that millennials are placing more and more value on a healthy work environment and making employment decisions based on this priority. An increasing demand for human wellness-focused work environments may lead to a higher number of companies pursuing WELL certified office spaces in the future.