How does your office space affect your health? If you think about it, most office spaces and buildings are designed to minimize the physical activity of its occupants. While many office spaces today are certified as meeting the sustainability standards of LEED, that does not necessarily equate to an office environment positively affecting its occupants’ health. Since its introduction, we are seeing many of the LEED sustainability standards incorporated into building codes and construction practices. These standards fulfill two primary objectives – preserving the environment and saving money. While it is assumed that they benefit the occupants’ health, that’s not necessarily the case. To help combat the national obesity epidemic and rise in the diagnosis of chronic diseases, new building standards are being introduced to focus on how the physical environment supports the occupants’ well being. Outlined below is an overview of The WELL Building Standard® (originated by the Delos Group, a New York developer) and what it means to office space occupiers. In my next post, I will address a broader healthy building standard from New York City. This standard, known as the Active Design Guidelines, was developed in a public-private partnership in 2010, which was supported by Mayor Bloomberg, and led to the 2013 launch of the non-profit Center for Active Design.
As we spend about 90% of our time indoors, a new healthy building standard was created called The Well Building Standard® (“WELL”) by New York based Delos Group based upon six years of scientific and medical research. In 2012, President Bill Clinton announced at the Clinton Global Initiative that WELL will be jointly certified by the US Green Building Council (“USGBC”) which also certifies if LEED standards are met. “We always say green buildings are healthier for their inhabitants, but until now, we didn’t have an aggressive system that looked at wellness and the human condition from a completely separate lens,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of GBCI (Green Building Certification Institute) and president, CEO and founding chairman of the USGBC. While WELL has been used mostly in higher-end residential buildings/construction (including hotels), it is also being introduced to office space, schools as well as lower-income housing. In addition to President Clinton, Delos has tapped some other high-profile people including Dr. Deepak Chopra, former US Congressman Dick Gephardt, Leonardo DiCaprio, WILL.I.AM, Nicholas LaRusso (Mayo Clinic Medical Director), Mel Martinez (former HUD Secretary) and Rick Fedrizzi.
WELL is currently in a pilot mode and a revised version of the standard will be publicly released later this year.
WELL began as a proprietary standard by New York developer Delos Living (http://delosliving.com/), a pioneer in wellness real estate for residential, commercial (office) and institutional (schools) buildings. It fulfills a Clinton Global Initiative Commitment to improve the way people live by developing spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life.
Here’s Bill Clinton: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dOkutylICkU#action=share
Do we really need another building standard?
When I first heard about this new standard, I was suspect and wondered why do we need another building standard? After looking into it more closely, I see that it does have merit and fills a void focused on health and well being that sustainability standards do not fully address.
Cynically, some may say that Delos created this new standard as point of market differentiation for their developments. But there is hard research behind the standard and the association with the USGBC will lend it greater objectivity . Moreover, the Bloomberg Administration was the driving force behind a similar initiative called the Active Design Guidelines and the non-profit Center for Active Design to promote health through design of buildings, streets and neighborhoods.
What are the benefits to office occupiers?
I see 4 reasons why businesses should care about the “health” of their workspace:
- Increase productivity and reduce time employees are out of the office sick;
- Curb rising health care costs;
- Help to recruit talented employees; and
- fits with a today’s office space incorporating more residential components.
What is the WELL Building Standard®?
Dovetailing with green building standards (LEED), WELL measures a space’s impact on the occupants’ health by looking at 7factors which WELL refers to as “Standard Concepts”. These include air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. It then links these 7 concepts with 12 aspects of human health: cardiovascular, cosmetic, respiratory, emotional, metabolic, gastrointestinal, health literacy, longevity and aging, immune, sleep, musculoskeletal and cognitive.
Here’s a quick overview of these 7 Standard Concepts:
1. Air. Quality air is vital to a healthy environment. We have all heard about “Sick Building” situations. According to Delos, $93 Billion is lost annually in US productivity due to headaches, fatigue and irritation associated with poor indoor air quality. While LEED addresses air quality, the objective of WELL, according to Delos, “is to achieve medically validated performance thresholds for healthy indoor living.”
2. Water. While LEED requirements focus more on water conservation, WELL focuses on achieving optimal water quality for consumption. Municipal water quality standards are not as stringent as required in the medical and scientific communities. That is particularly evident when we hear about rising levels of pathogens and prescription drugs in our water supply.
3. Nourishment. To encourage healthy eating habits, WELL is looking for the availability of healthy food options in the immediate area, e.g., supermarkets, etc… Also, they are looking for the promotion of awareness of a healthy diet.
4. Light. The quality and timing of light in a space are very important to the occupants’ well being. Our body’s circadian rhythm is adjusted based upon lighting. Lack of natural light leads to lower levels of alertness and, to some, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The goal is to minimize disruption to our body while providing ample illumination for all tasks.
5. Fitness. We have all heard that sitting at our desks for an extended period is worse than smoking “a pack a day”. Given all the benefits of physical fitness and activity, the goal is to provide occupants with numerous opportunities for physical activities. Beyond the building gym, physical activities can also include promoting the use of stairs.
6. Comfort. To improve productivity and concentration, a space should promote comfort both physically and mentally. Some factors of this concept include noise reduction, ergonomic designs, temperature control, and anti-microbial surfaces.
7. Mind. This concept seeks to enrich mental and emotional well-being through design and technology. The goal is to reduce stress and calm the mind. That includes incorporating elements of nature in the space.
The International Well Building Institute (IWBI) in partnership with the Green Building Certification Institute (GCBI – whom certifies LEED buildings and accredits LEED professionals) have created a dual streamlined LEED and WELL certification. The certification process is based upon an on-site audit and submission of required project documentation. Analogous to LEED’s levels of certification (certified, silver, gold and platinum), WELL has three levels: Blue, Silver and Gold. To maintain certification, the space needs to be re-audited every three years.
To learn about WELL and to obtain an executive summary of the Standard, please visit Delos Living at – http://delosliving.com/about/well-building-standard/#
Who is Using WELL?
To learn about some projects underway, please visit Delos Living at – http://delosliving.com/works/
The early office user adopters of this WELL standard will most likely be companies battling for coveted talented workers. As it is jointly administered with LEED by the USGBC, I foresee that companies that are going through the LEED certification process of their office space will also seek the WELL certification.
As this standard and the New York Active Building standard promotes the use of public transit and biking, I am wondering if this will further challenge suburban office properties and enhance urban office properties. A likely suburban exception is major technology companies in suburban campuses such as Silicon Valley would likely embrace and encourage the standard and provide public transit and biking options.
Improving Well Being Is More Than Just Standards
While this new standard has merit, it must be kept in mind that it is part of the overall solution of improving health. As HOK’s Leigh Stringer (nationally recognized expert in workplace sustainability) observed: “Emerging standards on ‘healthy’ city planning and building design are really useful for defining what space can do for the health of occupants. But to really make breakthroughs and improve the health of occupants’ long term, organizations need to provide incentives, training and operational strategies to encourage healthy behavior. Buildings can nudge, but they won’t get us to the finish line. And given that 70% of America is overweight or obese, we’ve got to do more than just put in a nice staircase.”