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Introduction to WELL Building Certification
By Rachel DeSanto, Interior Designer

This month JMT’s Sustainable Operations Committee wanted to highlight and discuss the WELL Building Certification – a standard that supports a preventative approach to health and well-being. The standard focuses on components of the built environment that interact with personal, genetic, and behavioral factors, which shape our overall health and well-being. The WELL Building Standard focuses on 10 features: air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. These features aim to improve interior spaces based on the statistic that humans spend 90% of their time indoors. If 90% of our time is spent within the built environment, shouldn’t that environment support human health and well-being?

There are several names and abbreviations that deal with the WELL Building Certification:

  • In 2008, the US Green Building Council (USGBC), which is the same group that developed LEED, created the Green Business Certification, Inc (GBCI).
  • GBCI oversees the WELL certification which was launched in 2014 through the International Well Building Institute (IWBI).
  • WELL is administered in partnership with GBCI, which ensures that WELL works seamlessly with LEED certification.
  • WELL is a public benefit corporation, unlike LEED which is government-operated.
  • The WELL standard has been growing quickly around the world with over 8,000 WELL accredited professionals, 11,000 certified and rated projects, and another 15,000 enrolled projects – totaling 2.5 billion square feet across 99 counties.

WELL and LEED are related, but also distinct certifications. The two compliment each other and have many similar goals, but the fundamental difference is that LEED focuses on buildings and WELL focuses on people. They are both performance-based certifications that monitor features of the built environment and how those features impact health, productivity, and comfort. There are several categories in the WELL certification that overlap with LEED. A few examples of this overlap include designs that consider open spaces, bike friendly spaces, optimized materials, promoting building material disclosures, ensuring adequate ventilation, measuring particulate matter, and monitoring thermal comfort. These overlaps are referred to by the IWBI as “crosswalks”, which are intended to call out synergies between WELL and other building standards to acknowledge where the requirements align. Click here to read a full list of crosswalks. In addition to LEED, WELL also has crosswalks with the Green Building Council of Australia – Green Star certification, the BRE-BREEAM assessment, the Living Building Challenge, and the RESET certification.

The purpose of WELL certifications is to advance health and well-being, and to help people thrive. There is a clear intersection for the wellness, sustainability, and real estate communities to come together to support human health through the built environment globally. The standard underwent a thorough and transparent peer review process with three phases – a scientific, practitioner, and medical review. Ultimately, the IWBI created a scalable and globally applicable standard that is equitable, feasible, and evidence-based, user-focused, performance verified, and resilient.

When looking at why the WELL certification is important, there is an abundance of research and data for support. WELL not only addresses the physical dangers of the built environment (air pollution, noise pollution, lack of natural light), but also includes features that implement design elements to support emotional health and a healthy mind. Researchers at both Cushman & Wakefield and Steelcase conducted surveys throughout the pandemic and collected significant data which found that over half of employees believe that their workplace environment has a negative impact on their well-being. Employees in WELL-certified office spaces have self reported that they are happier, more engaged, more productive, and have a better overall well-being.[1] Additionally, the IWBI has estimated that offices that are WELL-certified have a 22% increase in organizational performance.[2] These are only a couple of examples from the multitude of data which supports the WELL features and why/how those features impact humans within the built environment.

Currently, there are two pathways to implementing WELL standard features: the WELL Health Safety Rating and WELL Certification.

  • The WELL Health Safety Rating
    • This rating it grounded in policy-based strategies for ongoing operations and maintenance that helps create safe and healthy spaces for occupants to return to interior spaces post-pandemic. It is a shorter, less expensive process than the WELL certification and its purpose is to help people feel safe returning to interior spaces post-pandemic.
  • WELL Certification
    • The WELL certification is a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact health and well-being. The current certification is the second version of WELL called WELL V2, which focuses on ten concepts (which include 108 features):
      • Air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, community (with an optional category called innovation).
    • There are preconditions and optimizations with a point-based system (similar to LEED)
      • 110 points available – 100 across the 10 concepts and 10 additional innovation points.
      • WELL is awarded certification at Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum levels (similar to LEED).

Ultimately, WELL and LEED work well together because when paired, the features facilitate designs that are environmentally sustainable, which also simultaneously support physical, mental, and emotional health and well-being.

[1] “Work Better: It’s Time for an Experience That’s Fundamentally Better.” Steelcase, 8 Mar. 2021, www.steelcase.com/research/articles/topics/work-better/work-better/

[2] Minch, Christie. “WELL Building Standard Promotes Health in the Workplace.” Work Design Magazine, 25 Nov. 2019, www.workdesign.com/2017/08/putting-peoples-health-center-design/

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