WELL is the first and only certification system specifically designed to ensure the good health and well-being of people who use buildings. This is a good thing, considering that we generally spend some 90% of our time indoors. ‘Healthy people form the basis of any organisation’s success,’ says Kees Faes, a senior project manager with SGS Search and one of the two staff members currently being trained to become WELL-accredited professionals. ‘A healthy work environment will help people become permanently employable. Invest in a healthy building and you will earn back the outlay in no time.’
A study by Harvard University shows that employees who work in certified sustainable buildings experience less stress, perform better and sleep better than people who work in buildings in which little attention is paid to sustainability and health. The scientists examined various aspects of buildings, such as air quality, ventilation, lighting, thermal comfort, noise levels and humidity. These factors were investigated in ten buildings situated in five different cities, including the Harvard Blackstone South school building.
The reverse is also true: poor building design may badly affect our health. Dust, noise, smells, bacteria and moulds may cause the indoor climate to deteriorate considerably – the so-called ‘sick building syndrome’. ‘In a perfect world, we would design buildings that actually improve one’s health,’ says Faes. ‘The very first WELL-certified building in the world, situated in Los Angeles, comes close to meeting this requirement. The company has ergonomic workstations, nutritious food, ‘inviting’ staircases, yoga lessons, facilities that enable stand-up meetings, fitness equipment, monitoring of CO2 and humidity levels, and a constant supply of fresh air from outside.’
The WELL Building Standard measures and assesses the effect buildings have on people’s health. The certification process focuses on seven features: air, water, light, nourishment, vitality, comfort and a healthy mind. These features are based on medical and scientific research and together form the basis of the WELL Building Standard. ‘You are immediately given an insight into the impact a building will have on, for instance, people’s cardiovascular system, lungs, eyes, skin and brain,’ says Faes.
SGS Search is one of the first companies in the Netherlands to recognise the importance of the WELL standard and has begun to train its employees to become WELL-accredited professionals. ‘In order to be able to provide support and guidance throughout the process, one must be 100 percent aware of all the current requirements and standards,’ Faes tells us. ‘As a fully accredited WELL specialist, you must be able to give practical and detailed recommendations on all seven WELL features. You do your research and show your client to what extent his building and its interior will contribute to the employees’ health and well-being, and which aspects leave room for improvement. Both the mandatory criteria and optional, additional credits help determine the building’s WELL certification level: silver, gold or platinum.’
WELL constitutes an expansion of existing building certification systems such as BREEAM, LEED and GPR. ‘These are traditional sustainability-oriented certification standards that focus on energy, water, use of materials and waste, among other things,’ explains Faes. ‘WELL really focuses on human beings only. Health is a BREEAM feature, as well, but it is just one of nine sustainability-related features in a larger scheme of things. This is why WELL is an excellent addition to existing standards.’