Editor's Letter

May 20, 2015

A Nutrition Label for Buildings.

Can you envision your facility as a 24-hour carwash for the human body?

That’s the way Paul Scialla, a co-founder of Delos, the New York real estate firm behind the WELL building standard, described his WELL-certified condo project in a New York Times article.

The WELL standard is administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), a public benefit corporation whose mission is to improve human health and wellbeing through the built environment. IWBI was launched by Delos in 2013, following a Clinton Global Initiative commitment by Scialla to develop spaces that enhance occupant health and quality of life.

The standard “is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing.”

It is a nutrition label that shows how healthy the ingredients of a building are for its occupants. It encompasses more than other green certifications – in case you are wondering what another certification in the green alphabet soup could offer.

Seven concepts – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind – are the core of the standard. While some features for clean air and water sound familiar and indeed represent transferable LEED credits, others go into new territory:

  • Refined food ingredient restrictions, a trans-fat ban, fruit and vegetable variety, meal size requirements, and 1 square foot of gardening area per occupant.
  • Circadian lighting design with melanopic light in work areas.
  • Active design through exterior pedestrian amenities; for the interior, desk height flexibility is specified.
  • On-site fitness amenities and incentive plans to participate.
  • Biophilic elements including “nature incorporation” and “nature interaction.”
  • Altruism component with charitable activities and contributions.
  • Furniture suitable for “workplace sleep support,” i.e., naps.
  • Travel policy that gives occupants the choice to avoid red-eye flights or work remotely on the day of arrival from a red-eye.

The WELL verification matrix and other information are available at the IWBI website. The standard’s active approach goes well beyond the notion that a building will do no harm. But how far will its acceptance go? The hotel industry has been an early adopter. MGM has expanded an initial offering of WELL-certified guest rooms at its Las Vegas property, where the rooms have fetched a 20% premium over standard rooms.

I could be skeptical about how widely the WELL standard will be adopted – until I recall where green buildings were 20 years or even 10 years ago. When connected to profit and occupant productivity, the active wellbeing approach gains traction. It also adds value to the roles of facility and property managers as influencers of profit and productivity.

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