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Navigating the WELL Building Standard and Certification: A Cheat Sheet

In the course of our work, we speak to many enterprises who are looking to achieve green or healthy building certifications. These programs can help set the business on the right course towards effective strategies, as well as validate efforts to create a better workplace by improving office air quality or taking other steps to improve worker wellbeing.

The WELL Building Standard, and associated certification options are widely used in the industry, and have seen very high demand in recent years. However, they can also be complex, and many struggle to understand the different programs, requirements, and procedures involved. This guide is meant to give you a quick bird’s eye view of WELL, and point you to additional resources for further exploration.

What Is the WELL Building Standard and WELL v2?

The WELL Building Standard is a set of guidelines for optimizing the built environment, along with metrics to evaluate performance. It is based on a decade of cross-disciplinary research, with the stated aim to enhance human health and well-being. The standard forms the basis for IWBI’s global certification system for healthy buildings. 

Released in 2018, WELL v2 is the latest iteration of WELL. It revolves around 10 key concepts - air, water, nourishment, light, movement, thermal comfort, sound, materials, mind, and community. Concepts are measured by a set of metrics, referred to as features, which are grouped into preconditions and optimizations. In order to obtain WELL v2 certification, all of the universal preconditions must be met, as well as a certain number of weighted optimizations.

Learn more about WELL v2 and meeting the criteria for certification.

Who Is Behind WELL?

The WELL Building Standard was developed by scientists, physicians, and industry experts at Delos, a private company offering wellness solutions and products.

The standard and certifications are managed by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). a public benefit corporation whose stated mission is to improve human health and well-being through the built environment. Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI)–the organization behind the LEED standard–provides 3rd party verification for WELL.

Why Was the WELL Building Standard Developed?

In a recent webinar, Eric Sun of IWBI explained the rationale behind developing the WELL Building Standard:

 

HubSpot Video

 

“The evidence is clear: healthy people equal better performance. Companies that focus on health and safety as a core pillar of their culture are likely to have a competitive advantage in the marketplace. And this is catching the attention of business leaders and investors alike.


In fact, a recent study that modeled the performance of health and safety focused companies found that portfolios with higher scores on the corporate health achievement awards outperformed the S&P index… Companies that achieved the threshold scores for health and safety had a return of 333% compared to the 105% return of the S&P 500.


In light of these recent developments, WELL is really a tool designed to help organizations answer the question: What can you do to put the health of your people first?”

Watch the full webinar: Getting to Know the WELL Performance Rating

What is WELL Certification and the WELL Performance Rating?

The WELL Building Standard provides multiple ways through which a building can be independently verified as meeting its requirements. Three basic levels of verification are available: performance ratings, certifications, and WELL at scale.

The Different Levels of WELL Certification Explained

WELL offers three paths towards verifying a building’s adherence to the standard:

  • Ratings are targeted health achievements around specific themes such as health, safety, performance, and equity. They can be earned as a standalone designation or as a milestone towards single building certification or an enterprise commitment. Learn more about the WELL performance rating and its IAQ requirements.
  • Certification is the most comprehensive approach to a single building. It covers all 10 categories in WELL and has robust requirements for achievement. Certification also has different levels based on the number of points achieved across different WELL concepts, ranging from Bronze to Platinum.
  • WELL at scale is an enterprise offering to apply WELL across multiple locations. Subscribers gain access to all that WELL has to offer including unlimited certifications and ratings, as well as concierge technical service and strategic ESG and market support.

What Are the Benefits of WELL Certification?

The WELL Building Standard is designed to improve working conditions and tackle issues that cause sick building syndrome. Businesses that implement a comprehensive strategy aimed at improving employee wellbeing, and tackling issues such as poor air quality, can see improvements in:

  • Addressing employee burnout, which is at record highs
  • Creating a workplace culture that normalizes conversations about mental health and provides support to those who need it
  • Creating a culture of belonging and embedding diversity, equity, and inclusion, best practices into the organization's DNA.
  • Attracting and retaining the best people
  • Increasing employee productivity and engagement
  • Demonstrating a commitment to health and safety.

According to IWBI, clients report significant gains from WELL programs:

  • Cundall saw a 19% drop in employee absenteeism in one year. 
  • After WELL certification in CBRS Toronto and Vancouver,  total employee turnover rate had fallen by almost a third and the hiring rate for new talent had doubled 
  • At Landsec’s WELL-certified workspace productivity rose by 30% after achieving certification. 

Who Uses WELL?

According to IWBI data, over 2000 companies, including 96 of the Fortune 500, have adopted the WELL standard - either for a single building or enterprise-wide. You can find some examples here: 6 Notable Projects Rated Platinum by the WELL Standard

Screenshot: https://www.wellcertified.com/

How Do You Become WELL Certified?

To become WELL certified, a project must first be registered through WELL Online. A WELL Performance Testing Agent will then be assigned to the project to answer questions and review the documentation submitted by the requesting organization.

The next step is performance verification, which includes submitting documentation as well as a site visit where the agent will conduct visual ins[ections and performance tests (see below). If the project fails to meet some requirements, it can make improvements and request another visit.

Once requirements are met, the project receives the official award letter, a WELL certification plaque, and template marketing materials.

How Long Is Well Certification Valid For?

Certification is valid for three years, after which the project needs to apply for re-certification and undergo performance verification again.

What Is Assessed in WELL?

WELL v2 is divided into concepts, each of which consists of a series of sub-steps that can be used to accrue points for certification. The 10 key concepts are:

  • Air: Designed to improve indoor air quality over the lifetime of a building through strategies such as source elimination or reduction, active and passive building design and operation strategies, and human behavior interventions. 

Learn how to maximize your WELL V2 scorecard with indoor air quality optimizations from Kaiterra.

  • Water: Quality, distribution and control of water in a building - including availability of drinking water and contaminant thresholds
  • Nourishment: Encourages the creation of food environments where the healthiest foods are easily accessible, and highly processed foods are limited. 
  • Light:  Promotes exposure to light and the creation of healthy lighting environments through factors such as light exposure, visual lighting design, and daylight design strategies.
  • Movement: Environmental design, programs and policies that encourage physical activity and provide opportunities for movement within the built environment.
  • Thermal comfort: Monitoring HVAC systems and meeting individual thermal preferences to provide maximal levels of comfort.
  • Sound: Identifying and mitigating sources of acoustical discomfort that can affect the experiences of occupants.
  • Materials: Reduce human exposure to chemicals that may have negative health effects. Read more about volatile organic compounds.
  • Mind: Promoting mental health and cognitive well-being by implementing interventions, prevention and treatment.
  • Community: Promotes the implementation of policies to address health inequalities, as well as to support diversity and inclusion efforts, especially in the context of access the healthcare.

Achieving the highest level of certification will require meeting some of the criteria for every one of these concepts; however, for lower levels of certification and performance ratings, accruing points in one concept can make up for deficiencies in others.

How Does WELL Verify Performance?

Performance measurements cover air, light, and water quality, as well as thermal comfort and acoustics. Features are verified based on a combination of one or more pathways:

    • Surveys of employees connect building performance with the experience of the people inside.
    • On-site test results conducted by a qualified professional. For example, to verify water quality, a WELL Performance Testing Agent would collect samples to ensure they meet the thresholds set out in the WELL standard.
  • Continuous testing: certain parameters can be monitored with widely-adopted sensor technologies, including indoor air quality and thermal comfort.

According to the guidelines, at least 2.5% of the total building floor area must be available for performance testing - including all common areas.

Some performance-based optimizations explicitly state that they require testing in tenant spaces to be awarded. The project is responsible for identifying and communicating to Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI) and the WELL Performance Testing Agent the particular spaces which are available for testing.

Learn more about continuously monitoring indoor air quality.

How Is WELL Different From Other Certification Programs?

WELL is one of the most comprehensive healthy building standards available, and one of the most widely used one among large enterprises. On the flipside, it is probably one of the harder certifications to achieve, as we’ve covered in our healthy building standards comparison guide.

Learn More About the WELL Building Standard and WELL Performance Rating

We’ve recently had the pleasure of hosting Eric Sun of IWBI for an informative webinar covering both the basic concepts and motivations behind WELL, as well as the requirements for the relatively-new WELL Performance Rating. You can watch the full webinar on demand, and for free, right here.

If you’d prefer to chat directly with a WELL expert, we’d be happy to hear from you. Our product specialists have provided air quality solutions for many types of certified buildings, and would be happy to share their experience and discuss the best path forward for your project.

Get in Touch

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