M+A Architects


Is WELL Building Standard the new LEED?

  • SEPTEMBER 23, 2015
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There has been a new rating system popping up in the sustainability realm that has started gaining momentum: The WELL Building Standard. To date, there are not many WELL Certified Buildings (currently 7 projects seeking or certified on the WELL website) but that is not representative of the potential future of the program. The chatter is that this could be the next big thing. With that said, what do you need to know about this new rating system?

WELL will work very closely with the LEED Rating System. There are many synergies between the two and the same organization (GBCI) oversees the certification of them both. However, they are definitely not direct competitors. While there is still a ‘green’ thread woven throughout the WELL Building Standard, it is much more focused on how the built environment plays a role in occupant health. Take bike racks for example: including bike racks and showering facilities is a strategy within both rating systems, but the reasoning and method behind it is slightly different within each. With LEED, the main purpose for incorporating bike racks into a project is to encourage alternative transportation when commuting—decreasing pollution and land development. WELL recognizes the reduction of the carbon footprint, but it incorporates bike racks because it is a ‘healthy, low-impact mode of transportation that can help maintain weight and cardiovascular health.’

WELL Building Standard Image courtesy of Delos.com

The WELL Building Standard is the product of ‘seven years of research done by leading physicians, scientists, and industry professionals.’ It partially grew out of a concern over rising healthcare costs. As these costs have been rising, firms have been finding innovative ways to encourage their employees to maintain a healthy lifestyle. WELL marries that concern of human health and wellbeing with the desire for environmental sustainability giving us a building standard that allows for total human sustainability. It comprehensively looks at all components of a building and analyzes how that could affect an occupant’s health and comfort, in an attempt to be proactive instead of reactive. The standard directly relates each of its features (‘features’ are WELL’s nomenclature for ‘credits’) to body systems. For example, one of the features is called Circadian Lighting Design. The intent of this credit is to design the lighting systems throughout the building so that they reinforce the natural rhythms of the human circadian cycle, which determines our sleep and wake cycles. This feature will benefit our cardiovascular, digestive, endocrine, immune, muscular, and nervous system.

Well Building Standard Click the image to download the WELL Building Standard

While there is an obvious connection between the healthcare industry and the WELL Building Standard, this first version of the standard is optimized for commercial and institutional buildings. However, there are pilot programs for many sectors, including:

- Education
- Residential Multifamily
- Athletic Facilities
- Retail
- Arenas
- Healthcare

We are just at the beginning, but the future seems bright for the WELL Building Standard. Its approach is holistic, with 102 performance metrics and strategies covering all aspects of occupant wellbeing. It also requires performance testing for many of its features. Lack of performance measurements has historically been a criticism of the LEED Rating System (LEEDv4 is attempting to address this), so WELL is starting right with requiring so many performance metrics. The testing may make some potential users apprehensive at first though, as these will be immediate increased costs to a project budget. However, in the end, it is all being done to ensure we are building the most efficient, comfortable and healthy buildings for our future generations, so I think it is worth it. It is time to get excited about buildings and health!

M+A Architects