Returns on investment by treating building occupants WELL

An overview of the WELL Building Standard and its links to LEED

November 2016 — Did you know that if you break down the total cost of building operations for an office building, employers spend more than 95% of their annual operating costs on the occupants rather than the building itself? This means that personnel expenses such as employee salaries and benefits outweigh the cost of energy, water, and other resource consumption dramatically.  It also means that even a small impact on productivity, engagement and satisfaction in the workplace can have major returns on investment. “We engineers have been over here trying to squeeze water from stones and find energy cost savings,” Michael Arny, Leonardo Academy President, engineer and a WELL Accredited Professional said, “as a result there’s been a whole human performance area of green buildings that’s gone largely unaddressed. Of course energy savings remain very important, but facility managers should also be cognizant of additional opportunities in the human performance area of green buildings.”

The new WELL Building Standard™ does just that. The first of its kind, WELL focuses entirely on the health and wellbeing of building occupants. It aims to connect the best practices in design, construction and operations with health and wellness actions with the ultimate goal of encouraging healthy, more active lifestyles, reducing occupant exposure to harmful pollutants and ultimately improving the physical health, mental health, and productivity of building occupants. This is of critical importance since most people now spend the vast majority of their waking hours in commercial buildings.

WELL functions by identifying performance metrics, design strategies, and policies that can be implemented by the building owners, operators, designers, engineers, contractors and everyday users. The process starts with an assessment / gap analysis to determine which of the WELL requirements apply to a building, are already met, or are practical to meet. Then the project team develops an implementation strategy to identify how the desired level of achievement will be met. The gap analysis can be updated throughout the process to show progress towards meeting WELL requirements. To earn WELL certification, the building registers in the WELL program and is then assigned a WELL Assessor to review documentation and verify the level of achievement though an onsite evaluation.

In terms of scope, the WELL standard applies to commercial and institutional buildings that fall into the following project types: New and Existing Buildings, New and Existing Interiors, and Core and Shell. There are also pilot programs available for Multifamily Residential, Educational Facilities, Retail, Restaurants, and Commercial Kitchens. Future pilots, or those currently in various stages of development, include Communities, Exercise Facilities, Public Assembly, and Healthcare.

For those familiar with the LEED® rating system, these categories may sound familiar. The WELL Building Standard is one of a range of sustainability standards that the US Green Building Council has joined under its expanding umbrella. In fact, Rick Fedrizzi, founding CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, has transitioned into the position of CEO of the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the administrating body for the WELL standard.

In addition to the different focal points of each standard—LEED on building performance and WELL on human health and wellbeing—the two standards maintain some key operational differences as well. Where LEED uses “prerequisites” and “credits” to refer to specific requirements and credit-earning opportunities for certification, the WELL standard actions are called “features,” which are divided into sets of “preconditions” and “optimizations” that must be achieved to earn certification. WELL requires that 100% of preconditions be met for and certain percentages of optimizations be met to earn Silver, Gold, or Platinum certification. Like LEED, WELL utilizes a “scorecard” to allow project teams to track and record their achievements. WELL’s scorecard is organized according to 7 concepts that collectively address occupant health and wellbeing. They are Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort, and Mind.

Although LEED and WELL overall are very different, there is a level of reciprocity between the two standards. If you implement WELL for a building, it will give you a leg up on some LEED credits and if you implement LEED O+M for a building, it will give you a leg up on some WELL features. Both standards present unique opportunities for businesses to improve operational efficiency and earn significant returns on internal investment.

Leonardo Academy is a nonprofit organization that develops sustainability solutions through consultation and certification services in the LEED Green Building Rating System and the Cleaner & Greener sustainable event program. Leonardo Academy also provides sustainability and continuing education training, including training for the LEED Green Associate credential for individuals who support green buildings in their profession, such as building owners and facility managers.

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