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Sustainability in CRE: Part 3 – WELL Certification (and how it differs from LEED)

In Part 3 of our series of posts on sustainability, we discuss WELL certification – a certification program generating a great deal of buzz in the commercial real estate industry.

For Part 1, Intro/State of Sustainability in Boston

For Part 2, LEED Certification


Part 4 (Thursday) – Sustainability Without a Certification

Part 5 (Friday) – Sustainability ROI and Leases

As mentioned in our previous post, there are dozens of certification programs which fall under the umbrella of sustainability. One program which has earned a great deal of attention recently is the WELL program.

Created in 2014, its methodology has a number of unique attributes that go beyond what many people traditionally think of in terms of sustainability.

Because the program is so new, it’s generating a lot of discussion about what the goals of sustainability should be, and how the program itself compares to LEED.

“Everyone has questions about WELL,” says Alex Spilger, a Senior Vice President of Sustainability Services at Cushman & Wakefield. “There’s a lot of interest, but people aren’t sure if that is because WELL is a great system or simply a new alternative to LEED.”

Consulting firm Arup announced in December 2016 that its new downtown office was working to be the first WELL-certified location in Boston.

Well The WELL Building Standard puts its focus on the health and well-being of employees, and is centered on how seven main concepts – air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind – can make a positive influence.

The scoring process also functions differently. To achieve any WELL certification level, employers must meet all of the minimum “preconditions” in a number of areas. To reach Gold and Platinum levels, participants must also accomplish 40 or 80 percent of the available “optimizations” of each feature. Many aspects of WELL certification require only a document outlining the company’s policy, but others are more detailed.

WELL also goes far beyond the performance and design of a property or space, and touches a number of internal departments not normally thought of in terms of sustainability, such as Human Resources, Benefits, and Corporate Travel teams.

For example, one of the features of WELL Certification focuses on business travel as it relates to employee health. To meet its guidelines, employers are asked to promote policies which minimize red-eye flights, avoid long layovers, and book employees at hotels with fitness centers or reimburse them for gym expenses.

Some of the program’s conditions are also challenging for some companies to meet, such as acoustic and sound masking requirements or maximizing daylight. And because organizations must meet all criteria to earn any certification level, the full program isn’t realistic in some cases.

However, the employee wellness concepts of the program are bringing the concepts of employee health and productivity back to discussions about companies’ bottom lines. In WELL’s first Pilot Program office, 83 percent of employees reported feeling more productive, and 94 percent said that the space had positively impacted their performance.

Harvard researchers have also found that people working in “green buildings” had fewer sick building symptoms, scored more than 25 percent higher in cognitive tests, and also reported better sleep quality.

With companies looking at employee productivity, satisfaction and retention across all of their business processes, wellness-driven programs will only earn more and more attention as time goes on.

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