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TO GOOD HEALTH

New standard puts wellness of a building's occupants at forefront of design

PHOTO/DENMARSH PHOTOGRAPHY INC. The Center for Sustainable Landscapes – a 24,350 square-foot education, research and administration facility which opened in December 2012 – is part of the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Pittsburgh. The institution, which gets more than 300,000 visitors annually, has since been certified to meet the WELL Building Standard.

Whether they be clients, employees or visitors, the people that occupy a company’s buildings are influenced by their surroundings.

Besides their physical health, their immediate environment also affects mood and emotions, which helps to shape their attitudes, decisions and, ultimately, actions.

This environmental effect – how buildings influence the people who occupy them – largely has been ignored.

But that is changing. A relatively new global standard of rating buildings is gaining traction in real estate and design.

Known as the WELL Building Standard, it works hand-in-hand with the well-known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. But it kicks it up a notch with a more comprehensive approach.

Focusing on a building’s air and water quality, lighting, fitness integration, food culture, mindfulness and other concepts, the WELL Building Standard reaches across a broad spectrum of health and wellness elements.

By focusing on these elements, the standard seeks to promote productivity while enhancing the emotional health of the building’s occupants.

“We think there is a benefit [of WELL] to the Lehigh Valley because of cases of asthma, allergies. … It raises awareness of what we can do,” said Christa Duelberg-Kraftician, director at Spillman Farmer Architects in Bethlehem.

“… The young generation is much more into health. The rating system really caters to that.”

350-PLUS EXAMPLES GLOBALLY

Delos Living LLC, based in New York City, created the standard after six years of research and development, according to the International WELL Building Institute, a public benefit corporation formed in 2013 to launch the standard in 2014. WELL is managed and administered by the institute.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the standard is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that affect human health and wellbeing. Furthermore, the standard is third-party certified by the Green Business Certification, which administers the LEED certification program and its professional credentialing program.

The WELL Building Standard can be found in more than 350 projects around the world that include mixed use, office, hospitality, health care, retail and residential buildings, according to the institute.

Though some buildings have become certified in the WELL Building Standard, including projects in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, there are none yet in the Greater Lehigh Valley. But that could change as the standard gains more exposure.

HAND IN HAND WITH LEED

The WELL standard “goes way beyond LEED or any other rating system,” Duelberg-Kraftician said.

At the same time, however, many LEED standards coincide with WELL, reducing paperwork.

The importance of light, clear views outside and even the texture of walls and how each of those elements affects the mood of people are just some of the factors the standard explores – along with a building’s air quality and circulation.

That being said, achieving the standard and meeting all of its requirements are no small feat.

“It is not an easy effort,” Duelberg-Kraftician said. “You really have to put your mind to it.”

ATTRACTING MILLENNIALS

While it may take companies considerable time to achieve, the payback could be worth it.

If anything, it forces those who design buildings to think about the impact of design elements.

With such a massive influx of young adults already entering the workforce and more to come, it’s a standard whose time may have arrived.

Duelberg-Kraftician said the younger generation is much more concerned about health and wellness than previous generations, and that includes the places they work.

LARGE EMPLOYERS ARE WATCHING

In many ways, the WELL Building Standard represents the new LEED, which has started to become commonplace in design – after first gaining acceptance in major cities. The same scenario could occur with WELL.

“I think it certainly is going to affect anyone doing work in health care first,” said Frederick Bonsall, principal at Bonsall Shafferman Architects & Space Planners in Hanover Township, Northampton County. “We have … some big corporate clients, a bigger company that has corporate standards. … They are aware of it.”

With the WELL standard, bigger corporations that have multiple offices and hundreds of employees are more concerned with it than smaller companies renting space in single locations, he added.

LEGALLY SOUND

Bonsall said the WELL Building Standard is worth pursuing.

“I think that’s a concern that both sides of the parties are concerned about,” he said.

Companies are concerned about legal issues that could arise, he added.

As an example, an employee could say he got sick because the air quality of the building is poor, and now he needs compensation. But if companies are doing what they can to pursue the WELL standard, employees would be less likely to pursue a legal case.

SOUND STRATEGY

CBRE Inc., a global real estate firm with an office in Fogelsville, has a building registered for WELL certification in Vancouver, Canada, and designed its global corporate headquarters in Los Angeles as a WELL-certified pilot office.

The firm has converted more than 30 of its offices around the world to Workplace360 offices, said William Wolf, executive vice president of CBRE Inc., based in its Fogelsville office.

This CBRE initiative, similar to the WELL Building Standard, offers a workplace strategy designed to promote flexibility, mobility and productivity through a technology-powered mobile way of working. The paperless office environment has no assigned workplace stations and increases flexibility.

Wolf said most, if not all, CBRE offices, potentially including Fogelsville, will be converted to that format.

TAKING STEPS

Wolf said companies can take small steps to get existing buildings certified.

Lighting can be upgraded, adjustable employee workstations can be installed and acoustical felt walls can block noises. The mind’s performance can be enhanced by adding artwork and sculptures to the environment, he added. Cafeterias can offer healthy alternatives.

“It can be done at different levels or to what a company wants to undertake,” Wolf said. “The best thing is for us to, in essence, show by example for our corporate clients both on the office and industrial side.”

Industrial sites are starting to include fitness centers, bike racks, showers and other elements that are related to the WELL Building Standard, Wolf said.

This too, could start to be seen widely in the Greater Lehigh Valley, he said.

RETENTION, PRODUCTIVITY

Wolf sees employee retention as a key benefit of WELL.

“As you try to retain employees, which is a key factor in today’s economy, this is probably the best and easiest way,” Wolf said. “It’s getting rid of the stress and it combats that stress level, sedentary activities. It will cut down absenteeism.”

The WELL standard creates buildings where employees want to be, retaining talent while increasing productivity, Wolf said.

“It shows the importance of developing a workplace culture that enhances an employee’s health,” he said.

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