WELL Building Standard

The idea of health and wellbeing is one that has advanced substantially over the past few years. Yet, for something so intrinsic to our own physical state, it is a concept that remains difficult to comprehend. Part of this difficulty lies in the challenge of defining what ‘wellness’ actually is. Whomever you ask, whether it be a doctor, lawyer or anyone else, will come back with an array of different answers, characterising the ways in which wellness has intertwined into their own lives. 

Nevertheless, the pursuance of well-being pervades within society and has made its way into the mainstream; so much so that a study by SRI International indicates that the global wellness market is now three times larger than the pharmaceutical industry, with a capitalisation of $3.4 trillion[1].  This growth is an indication of the societal transition towards attaching greater importance to their health and, more broadly, quality of life. Governments have also begun to involve themselves in this elevated valuation through the consideration, and in some cases application, of Gross National Happiness as a rating system that contests the underlying premises of the traditionally used Gross Domestic Product.

Now Delos have followed suit in the real estate industry, establishing the WELL Building Standard, which solely assess health and wellness in buildings. The release of the standard in October 2014 follows 7 years of scientific research[2] and expert consultation in the plethora of ways in which the built environment affects health. The concept is not entirely unfamiliar to the industry, with international standards such as BREEAM, currently assessing credits on health and well-being. The WELL standard, however, provides a far more comprehensive understanding of the subject, as reflected in its detail.

There is no doubt that the design and construction of “green buildings” has given a vast body of evidence to display the financial viability of such preferences, merely from a maintenance and operational perspective. These costs, in most cases, are marginal in comparison to the expense of paying personnel. So, the theory goes, if one is able to increase productivity amongst staff through a better working environment, then the return on investment will be relatively swift.

One study, carried out by Harvard’s School of Public Health, on the relationship between indoor air quality and cognitive performance was particularly compelling. The study simulated what could be considered typical office conditions, wherein levels of contaminants, such as VOC’s (Volatile Organic Compounds) and CO2, were elevated due to the building environment, and compared cognitive performance results against those of an environment with enhanced ventilation. The results, on average, showed a doubling in cognitive performance across the two environments. Most apparent were the strategy and information usage results, which showed a 288% and 299% increase respectively[3].

The culmination of similar research has contributed to the first category of the WELL assessment, namely that of air. The other seven topics include comfort, fitness, light, nourishment, water and mind. Many of these concepts are loosely known to large organisations, with many, such as IBM introducing programmes to help people lose weight[4]. The WELL Building Standard acts as a comprehensive framework for companies to bypass their own suppositions on how to increase performance, through the thoroughness of the assessment.

The standard is still in early stages of development, with only a handful of buildings globally having gained certification. One of the current drawbacks with the assessment is its lack of geographical flexibility, as some requirements are specific to North American standards. This is an issue which Delos is working to develop following client feedback.

Greengage has undergone our own analysis of the current WELL standards to assist clients in translating them into a format compatible with British standards. It is evident that such an exercise will prove to be invaluable as an increasing number of companies seek to capitalise on the merits of this new standard.