How designing to the WELL building standard helps human health

November 1, 2016 Markous Gad

Buildings are more sustainable than ever. Now it’s time to make them healthier.


Over the last two decades, increased awareness about building impacts and the rapid expansion of green buildings have established numerous sustainable building practices focusing on project site, envelope, systems, and interior finishes. These practices, however, mostly overlook the impact of built environment on the occupants. It’s well known that the health of building occupants directly relates to a productive and happy workforce. 94% of Human Resources executives report that their company considers health factors when making decisions on the design, location, and operations of their buildings. We spend approximately 90% of our time indoors, so access to daylight and scenic views have been shown to improve everything from student test scores to patient recovery times to sleeping rhythms. Accordingly, there was a need for a standard focused on establishing and maintaining a healthy building environment that could be applied to a variety of building types, including commercial tenant spaces, existing commercial buildings, hospitality, sports facilities, restaurants, and residential buildings.  The answer is the WELL Building Standard™, which provides the opportunity to design and build with a human-centered approach, which ultimately supports the industry in comprehensively addressing human health.



How to build WELL
Now we, as designers, can help building owners improve their spaces and incorporate a stronger focus on human health into their spaces. Here’s how it works.

The WELL Building StandardTM   is a third-party certified program, resulting from IWBI’s collaboration with the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). GBCI is the same organization that administers LEED®, which monitories sustainability in building design and construction. After seven years of research and development in partnership with health experts, researchers, real estate professionals, and scientists in fields ranging from ergonomics and acoustics to sociology, and psychology developed a standard, which includes seven impact categories (air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind). These seven categories are further divided into 102 features, which are comprised of performance metrics, design strategies and procedures. Each feature is ascribed to 12 human body systems--cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, integumentary, muscular, nervous, reproductive, and respiratory, skeletal, and urinary--that are intended to benefit from its implementation.  

The results of building WELL
In addition to enhancing the building users’ health and wellbeing, The WELL Building StandardTM can add a great value to building owners and operators. For instance, staff costs, including salaries and benefits, typically account for about 90% of business operating costs. According to a study conducted on the world’s first WELL Certified™ pilot office – the CBRE world headquarters in Los Angeles, 83% of employees say they feel more productive in the new building. 90% would recommend the new space to colleagues and 92% feel the new space has had a positive effect on their health and wellbeing. Where the return on investment with LEED® is lower operating costs and, the payback in the WELL Building StandardTM comes in the form of the happy and healthy employees, who make the company productive and successful. When you create a healthy, positive work environment productivity rises, absenteeism reduces and companies can attract talent, and enhance employee satisfaction. The WELL Building StandardTM works towards changing the way organizations and people spend money on preventative medicine, alternative healing, health and wellness.

Integrating with LEED®
The WELL Building StandardTM is designed to overlap and work hand-in-hand with the LEED®, and there are many similarities in terms of organizational structure and certification process. This relationship assures that WELL works seamlessly with other sustainable certifications. You might say it’s “LEED® for people.” Currently, more 200 projects encompassing more than 35 million square feet have already registered or certified through WELLTM in 20 countries. It’s the first standard to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of the people in buildings and here at Stantec, our designers are some of the first to put this standard into practice. Our Boston team has designed the world’s first WELL-Certified™ urban district in Tampa, Florida, a future roadmap for how design can support public health.

         Related item: Can cities actually make us healthier?

About the Author

Markous Gad

As a sustainability specialist, Markous bridges his background in architectural design with his passion for sustainability. He helps LEED® facilitators and energy modelers through quality management, sustainability education, and LEED facilitation on projects in the health care, education, recreation, and commercial sectors across Canada and the United States.

More Content by Markous Gad
Previous Article
Inside AMP's new run-of-river hydropower plants
Inside AMP's new run-of-river hydropower plants

The four hydropower projects built by American Municipal Power are highlighted in the September/October 201...

Next Article
A model employee: Dr. Fangbiao Lin and his computational fluid dynamics obsession
A model employee: Dr. Fangbiao Lin and his computational fluid dynamics obsession

Part two of our 10-part Stantec R&D Fund 10th Anniversary Series takes us into the world of Dr. Fanbiao Lin...