What is the WELL Building Standard

O que é o Well Building Standard e por que foi criado
What is the WELL Building Standard and why it’s been created

O Well Building Standard or WELL has been designed by the International WELL Building Institute or IWBI, a Public Benefit Company (PBC) as a different approach and focus for sustainable buildings. WELL takes on health aspects and human comfort at the same time it complements LEED rating systems (more on future post). System has been created from wellness concepts and studies of buildings occupants, a way of improving social responsibility and fairness. WELL is the result of people following on the Clinton Global Initiative in improving people lives through social actions.

These sets of systems do not exist only as metrics for improvement per se, but as results of scientific studies of health professionals participating on the standard creation. A part of social aspects, the standard application has to make financial sense to be justified and adopted, so the highlight on the scientific studies behind the requirements and actions to be done. As people spend large parts of the day inside buildings, according to studies in the standard, a better care with factors that affect their health will bring financial and commercial benefit for the project owners. For companies or tenants this means less absenteeism reflecting in savings on lost or delayed work and employee replacement. For owners of commercial spaces, better rent value and selling prices as their offer a more attractive space to talents, feature that is seek by the market as they go over office renovations or relocations. For government it means less spending with public health system and early retirements as less people will be sick and won’t need to use the public health system as often.

Months ago IWBI disclosed a partnership with the Green Building Certification Institute or GBCI to work on spaces certification and accreditation, and although it does not use the same method or tools of LEED certification, a similar process and market recognition of GBCI will make the process flow better and more trustful.

How the certification works and why is is important

WELL defines features in 7 knowledge areas that are related themselves and impact on people health: Air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. For each area there is a set of requirements (pre-conditions) and recommendations (named optimizations) to the project. The requirements must be all attended in a project so it can be considered certified. Failing to meet a single requirement item prevents the project certification and demands a review. The optimizations are recommended design measures that sums up together to reach Gold or Platinum certification levels. Silver levels means the project has met all requirements or pre-conditions, while Gold means at least 40% of optimizations are met and Platinum 80% of them are met. This is valid for current project typologies, while for pilot projects, at least 20% of optimizations must be met to reach Silver certification level.

Project Typologies

Today there are three project classifications, named typologies:

— New and Existing Buildings: Although this might look like exterior focus (envelope), it is applicable to projects where the owner occupies at least 90% of the total floor area. This applies usually to companies offices (maybe retail stores) that own the building and control most of the construction and interior items and it varies a lot by region or country usual business way.

— New and Existing Interiors: Perhaps the most used typology, for interior offices (similar to commercial interiors). Will be used mostly to work wellness and health of office occupants rented by a tenant. Usually it will not include building core or technical areas, but can benefit from projects in compliance with the next typology where some of the requirements must be met.

— Core and Shell: Typology that assures projects where the owner will deliver facilities like electrical, hydraulic and air conditioning systems, but not the interior finishing, furnitures and other office items. It is complementary to the other typologies as it is in the early stage most of important decisions are taken, that later will affect window placement and daylight, thermal performance, location and others. In this case certification is named Compliance.

Available pilots: Multifamily Residential, Educational Facilities, Retail, Restaurant and Commercial Kitchens.

Future pilots: Communities, Exercise Facilities, Public Assembly and Healthcare. For example, Health project requirements can have variations for additional measures on asepsis, patients comfort for a quicker recovery.

WELL introduces a concept of primary and secondary space type that are applied in cases where one typology does not fit totally and on pilot projects. In those cases, both spaces must be worked according to their own typologies requirements and applicable optimizations, if a distinction is possible between spaces. This does not apply to the regular typologies already defined.

Certification

Project certification is worked over WELL Online tool and takes two phases: Documentation Review and Performance Review. Each item to be met as pre-conditions or optimizations may be assessed just by documentation (or evidences), by performance verification or both (the standard guide explains where each situation applies). The performance verifications are done by an WELL Assessor professional assigned to the project. The Certification Guide details this workflow. At the end of the process a report is presented about the project explaining each item assessed.

Project operations must send annually, performance data about some items in certification to the IWBI for latter studies and WELL improvements and each 3 years must perform a recertification. Project must have recertification process started before the end of the 3 year period, which will ensure 6 more months to run certification assessment. The process is very demanding and requires that after the first recertification, each new only must adhere to new items of the latest version of the standard available up to 12 months before the limit date of recertification. This makes sure the project will be updated with new technologies and methods at the same time it guarantees performance indicators have not fallen down since last (re)certification.

Critics

WELL looks like to be an excellent way to assess, standardize and develop better methods to accommodate people and take care of them, bringing social and financial benefits on long term. The standard is based on US centric norms, regulations and associations standards like EPA and ASHRAE. Because some of the requirements I’ve seem the following critics sometimes:

— An additional certification cost besides LEED plus consultant fees: It is a fact and maybe WELL certification is a short term investment where one does not know all variables and results as well in LEED or in other rating systems. However it can be a good selling point as certification gains traction and becomes more known on the market. Other certifications already educated the market so it is has a shorter path to market assimilation.

— Some of the pre-conditions are expensive or hard to achieve: There will be some requirements considered complex or expensive at the beginning, like light control, movable furniture/workstations for example, and this can be a factor in giving up certification. Ideally, the standard will amend the requirements at each review to improve the market, so there should not be any provision to those demanding requirements.

Opportunities

WELL has today lots of synergies between its requirements and optimizations with LEED ID+C projects for Commercial Interior and can benefit in common features. It is an advantage following Integrated Project processes so the common requirements can be considered and used early in the design meetings, so the process start better prepared with major stakeholders. Their opinions and input will make sure there are no barriers and rework needed as there is lots of integration between the knowledge areas.

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How self regulating and consensus based industry standards and policies can make better world.

Usually there are lots of news covering how some business hurt an industry reputation and the environment around it. There are the amount of bad news over it, people forget sometimes to look for the good ones, the exception and innovative ones. It does not need to be this way, and we can have a mind change over this issue and list some quite positive things happening and how they are going.

Should we always expect regulation as the only way corporations respect consumers, their industry and the environment? 

I don’t believe so. Those are needed sometimes and this varies globally as cultural, economic, social and political scenario acts differently in several places. And what if markets start self-regulating with increasing standards and volunteered participation from industry? To develop better processes, materials and operating standards?

Well, this happens for some quite long time in building industry along with its supply chain. The green building movement has more than 20 years and is a good example of how certifications aligned with volunteer participation and a dose of market demand can make it last. The green building certification programs like LEED from USGBC most used in Americas, BREEAM in Europe, Green Globes from Canada among others, are set to make not only buildings themselves less demanding on natural resources but to transform sourcing providers and improve occupants life and productivity.

Most known program, LEED, is consensus based and its participation is optional. Member companies and steering committees will design and envolve standards together to make better use of resources. Not only direct people involved in building design and construction are affected but the whole supply chain. Customers are asking more about the environmental and social impact of the products they buy. Companies are listening to them and working on bringing more products and solutions. For green building business this means supply chain can today not only offer better energy and water systems but also building, finishing and furniture materials. New projects seeking certification will need to need to focus more on materials starting with LEED v4. Also, indoor environmental quality which is closed related with materials and quality of work environment will be used more over next few years as companies design newer office spaces. So, few changes I am seeing right now.

More responsible supply chain 

Expect to see more FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood requests from building constructors, Green-E providers for RECs and carbon offsets purchases (both from companies and their suppliers as they are required to reduce impact on their operations) and other office materials like carpets, painting, furniture and furnishing to be audited and checked for their impacts on extraction, processing, shipping and reuse, recycling or taking back. Products extracted from questionable sources such as polluting ones, based on slavery or exploration of poor communities will suffer social media exposition and so the manufactures that buy raw or processed material from them. Those who can change early will have a better positioning and experience doing their part and auditing sources or looking for third party certification entities. I believe this shift slowly to more consensual practice than something mandated from law.

Products will be analyzed for their life cycle impact not only on extraction and logistics but on health impact over installation. US Health Product Declaration and European REACH codes for chemicals will help choosing less damage causing substances. If at first some of those replacement cost more, eventually they be sought by public even if not on legislation because corporations cannot hide it from public and many are truly changing their culture for the better. Another good outcome is that new business on the third-party certification will growth to help manufactures safer with their products and increase their reputation and sales value.

More engagement from the public

We can expect more participation from the public in their desires to see a better and less impacts on world resources. People working for corporations all sizes will see some examples such as location of their offices, specially in green buildings, how their furniture is responsible produced and reused or discarded. New markets will be created and we will see positive shift on the world labor market. There will always be things and process to improve which is opportunity for entrepreneurs in small and larger corporations.

In the end, corporations can and are shifting to a self-regulating standards (there are quite some old guilds around the world) which will help with reputation and marketability. While we cannot say tight legislation is a thing of the past, a better balance over it and industry value standards seem to be getting clear ahead.

Sustentabilidade e rentabilidade

Não faz muito tempo John Elkington, autor de inúmeros livros sobre ecologia, economia sustentável e comportamento social, baseado numa ideia anterior, lançou Cannibal With Forks tornando popular o conceito chamado de Triple Bottom Line que relaciona desenvolvimento econômico, com uso racional de recursos do planeta e que promovam justiça social. Conceito também conhecido como 3 Ps, para People, Planet e Profit. A ideia por trás disso é que o desenvolvimento econômico considere as relações e influencias às pessoas e ao meio ambiente, o que tradicionalmente parece ser conflitante. Saindo da ideia tradicional de maximizar lucros aos acionistas (shareholders), vai-se para entender como são afetados todas pessoas afetadas pelas decisões (os stakeholders).

Criado no começo da década de 90 o U.S. Green Building Council ou USGBC, cuja missão é “Transformar a maneira como edifícios e comunidades são desenhados, construídos e operados permitindo um ambiente que seja responsável, saudável e próspero melhorando a qualidade de vida“, promove o desenvolvimento de construções que sejam menos impactantes ao mesmo tempo que façam sentido economicamente. Para isso, o USGBC promove advocacia de formas melhores de construção, exposições e desenvolvimento de novos produtos. O programa LEED de certificação de prédios sustentáveis dispõe de ações que contribuem em 7 categorias de impacto por ordem de prioridade:

  • Reverter contribuição para as mudanças climáticas globais
  • Melhorar saúde e bem estar individual
  • Proteger e restaurar os recursos hídricos
  • Proteger, melhorar e restaurar ecossistema e biodiversidade
  • Promover ciclo de materiais sustentáveis e regenerativos
  • Construir uma economia verde
  • Melhorar equidade social, justiça ambiental e qualidade de vida das comunidades

Através destas categorias de impacto são definidos, para diversos tipos de construções, itens a serem explorados na construção que ajudarão a melhorar os itens do Triple Bottom line. Cada construção certificada aumenta o seu valor de venda ou locação devido à procura no mercado, seja por intenção contribuir para um mundo melhor, seja para atrair mais consumidores ou seja por benefícios operacionais. Ao se considerar custo de ciclo de vida (life cycle cost), os prédios certificados mostram economia de uso de água e energia (com isso, menor gasto direto em operações), além aumento de produtividade com redução de absenteísmo por doenças respiratórias, melhor ergonomia, ventilação e iluminação que trarão conforto adicional. Outro foco do programa além da economia em operações, é estimular o uso de transporte alternativo, redução de materiais extraídos, reuso e reciclagem nesta ordem de importância, transporte alternativo, integração com a comunidade e economias locais e saúde pessoal. Para saber mais sobre o programa LEED acesse a página principal do programa no USGBC. Em estudos recentes nos EUA, encontrou-se:

Projetos certificados apresentam em média 25% de economia com gastos de fornecimento de energia elétrica. Estes projetos tem um custo de operações cerca de 19% menor que a média nacional. Também mostram 36% de redução de emissões de CO2 e 27% de aumento em satisfação dos usuários, o que se traduz em melhor capacidade de atrair e reter talentos.

Indo além dos programas de construções, companhias de qualquer tamanho contribuem através de ações em comunidades locais. Exemplos mais interessantes são empresas que reciclam ou reutilizam materiais de forma inteligente como a Interface que consegue reciclar placas de carpete em redes de pesca reduzindo descarte e lixo ambiental enquanto auxilia economia local.