Tracy Backus stands in front of ICE’s biophilia walls, out of which greenery is growing to promote employee well-being. | Images by Carrie Rossenfeld

Event Coverage: How LEED Has Shifted to WELL

Carrie Rossenfeld Event Coverage

Until recently, LEED building standards were the ultimate goal for high-end office developments. Within the past few years, however, WELL building standards have taken over as the new goal for which to strive. Such was the subject of a recent presentation by Innovative Commercial Environments in San Diego titled “The Impact of Health & Well-Being at Work.”

Led by Teknion director Tracy Backus and OFS’s VP of well-being and development Paul Anderson, the event discussed how to propel environmental health and wellness through design.

Backus said wellness represents something different to each of us, but today’s focus on wellness is more about putting money into the people in a building and less about real estate and energy costs. “The asset is people — not real estate — in a WELL building standard,” she said.

Paul Anderson began his presentation with a scream to show how strongly people react to their environment.

Anderson said the true measure of a space is how it makes you feel, and health and wellness in building design are not going away. Wellness standards in the workplace have to do with changing our environment and the way we live via nourishing food, movement, and standing vs. sitting.

While it may sound daunting, applying wellness standards to the built environment doesn’t have to cost a lot. Anderson gave the example of CBRE’s Downtown Los Angeles offices, a WELL building that only had a 1.73 percent premium on overall construction. “It doesn’t cost as much as people think.” He added that people will pay more for WELL buildings, which demonstrates their value.

“WELL is a tool to maximize employee performance,” said Anderson, adding that WELL buildings help attract and retain employees. Also, WELL standards are growing faster than LEED standards when comparing the square footage of buildings adhering to those standards. Anderson said 1,043 projects totaling over 198 million square feet are applying WELL standards across 38 countries.

The categories addressed in WELL standards are air, including materials used, ventilation, moisture control; water — fresh-water hydration stations must be offered every 100 feet, and water filters must be changed every three months, meaning HR departments must get involved; nourishment — more fruits and vegetables offered in the workplace, along with healthier catering options and “mindful eating areas” that promote people eating together; light — adopting lighting that takes humans’ circadian rhythms into account throughout the day; fitness — collaborative spaces, sit/stand desks, walk scores, and motion; comfort—acoustics and noise cancelation, sound-absorbing surfaces, adjustability of temperature controls for all, and olfactory (pleasing aromas); and mind — altruism, connection to biophilia (green-plant walls), and meaning beyond just the building.

Many of the categories mentioned above require buy-in from employees, executives, and HR to make them work.