The WELL Building Standard is creating a lot of talk, but are the benefits enough to convince hard-pressed FMs to spend time and money on yet another level of certification?
Accreditation to sustainability standards such as BREEAM and LEED are firmly established within the built environment. But with wellness now the fastest-growing trend on social media, the twin strands of sustainability and wellbeing are coming together in a much more holistic way.
The WELL Building Standard is the first of its kind to focus solely on the health and wellness of building occupants. It awards certification to those that meet stringent benchmarks on air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.
The standard, which was pioneered by US construction giant Delos and is managed and administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), was given a global boost late last year when a report from the World Green Building Council (WGBC), ‘Building the business case: health, wellbeing and productivity in green offices’, highlighted the global momentum behind healthy and green office design and operation. This followed a previous WGBC report, ‘Health, wellbeing and productivity in offices’, which argued that the design of an office has a marked impact on the health, wellbeing and productivity of its occupants.
But how feasible is it for FMs and property managers to spend time and money seeking yet another certification? According to Mark Conway of Active FM: “The people that seem most interested in this are the blue chips looking to attract highly educated individuals, but for a majority of organisations throughout Britain this sort of thing gets left out.”
He does, however, report that while many of his clients do not talk about the standard, their level of interest in wellbeing and wellness at work has grown.
COMPLEX AND CHALLENGING
JLL, a professional services and investment management firm specialising in property, was involved in the earlier WGBC report. Marie Puybaraud, global head of research, explains: “I’m a big fan of the WELL Building Standard which is setting a fantastic new challenge for our industry. However, at the same time it is bringing in a lot of complexity and challenges in how to apply it in different countries where the cost of implementation could be so high.
“As a standard to set a new goal, revolutionise the way we look at health, wellbeing and productivity within our industry, it is crucial. But it is also calling for a new way of thinking – and that is where there is a gap between the [standard] and what we can actually do.”
Where we also need to be careful, warns Puybaraud, is in attempting to measure the impact of well buildings on productivity levels. This is not only incredibly difficult to gauge but misses the whole point of the standard, which should concentrate on the impact on people’s quality of life.
“We can measure the qualitative impact that wellbeing can have on performance (rather than productivity), which is the human impact, because it’s more subtle, and in 10 years’ time we want employers to say they want their staff to be happy at work and offer them great places to work, rated not in numbers but the level of comfort.”
In the UK, it’s still early days for the standard, with the new London office of construction engineer Cundall at One Carter Lane, London, being the first building in Europe to achieve WELL certification. This not only includes the application of WELL criteria such as testing and monitoring of air and water quality, but also occupant-friendly features such as layouts that maximise natural daylight combined with sensors that reduce or increase lux levels as appropriate.
The building was also required to meet certain preconditions at the planning stage, such as changing facilities, showers and cycle racks to encourage healthy habits like cycling to work. Other criteria were more concerned with day-to-day office life and activities, such as weekly yoga classes and access to fresh fruit in the café.
A handful of other buildings in the UK are currently striving to meet the standard. Office fit-out and refurbishment specialist Overbury, for example, has recently been contracted to build and advise on the redevelopment of Deloitte’s UK headquarters, which aims for both a BREEAM Outstanding rating and a WELL Building Standard Gold certificate. The 265,000 sq ft fit-out will include the basement, lower ground floor, finishes to the main reception, several client floors, and the workplace and amenities floors at One New Street Square, London, which the financial services giant has taken on a 20-year pre-let.
When the project is complete, external verification will ensure that the necessary preconditions and wellbeing features have been achieved.
Joe Croft, head of environmental and sustainability at Overbury, says: “As the standard is largely performance based and developed on the basis of scientific and medical research, many of the expected benefits are specific and measurable. For example, those features that are preconditions for certification will ensure high standards of air and water quality, access to healthy food and nutritional information, and acoustic and thermal comfort for occupants.”
Croft agrees that while the standard offers a high level of measurable output, it is probably too costly for some organisations. However, he believes that for most FMs, adopting elements of the standard could still be of enormous benefit, as FMs will need to become more knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics such as air and water quality, even in buildings that are not WELL certified.