I had a few doubts when deciding to take my WELL AP® Exam so early. “What if this rating system never takes off?” “How many people understand what that credential means right now?” “How soon will I be able to work on a project?” However, my concern was pretty quickly dissuaded by my belief in the future of the WELL Building Standard. This rating system is powerful in its ability to put people at the center of design. There is something about it that just makes you excited about the benefits our built environment could have on our health and well-being. So, in case you are having some of those same lingering questions about whether to join this movement, below are a few of the reasons I decided to become a WELL AP.
1. WELL is personal. While I am a huge advocate for LEED® and other green building rating systems, WELL hits at a nerve that I do not think those others have been able to. As an environmentalist, or an energy-efficiency aficionado, or even someone just looking to save a few dollars on utility bills, we logically understand why we want to implement these systems, but I do not think it always hits an emotional accord with folks – especially those unfamiliar to the green building realm. The WELL Building Standard, on the other hand, appeals to the person at an individual and emotional level. We love the idea of saving 20% on our energy consumption but it doesn’t always spur us to immediate action. The concept is distanced from our personal world. When we hear that our brains do not function as well with elevated CO2 levels in a room – I think that scares us a little. It is our body that we are talking about. We do not want to intentionally harm what makes us who we are. When reading through the standard, and seeing how each feature helps the muscular system, or the cardiovascular system, or the endocrine system and so on – the WELL Building Standard personally motives you to want to better your surroundings to live a healthier lifestyle. The features become incredibly tangible – and personal.
2. WELL is performance-based. It is one thing to design a building to perform optimally, but what we really want is to ensure that a building is operating to the levels you intended for it. 15 of the 102 WELL Features require testing from a WELL Assessor, with other Features requiring spot checks and visual verification. The performance tests measure items such as air quality, water quality, lighting, acoustics, and thermal parameters. The WELL Assessor is also checking to make sure what is shown on the documentation matches what he or she is seeing on site. However, the performance aspect of the WELL Building Standard does not end after this 1-3 day visit from a WELL Assessor. WELL Certification does not last in perpetuity. Every 3 years, recertification is required. At the time of recertification, the performance tests, visual verification, and spot measurements will check how well the implemented Features have been maintained. If some have slipped, the project is given the opportunity to correct and re-orient. If the project has pursued further health and wellness interventions, then achieving a higher level of certification may be possible for the team. Also, during this 3-year window, annual documentation is required to be submitted. I believe the purpose of a third-party rating system is to provide accountability and guidance for best practices for project teams. The WELL Building Standard has done an incredible job of providing not only the guidance, but a very high standard of accountability.
3. WELL is grounded in evidence-based medical research. 7 years of research among the world’s top scientists, medical professionals, wellness leaders, and architects went into creating the WELL Building Standard. Human health is a very complex issue, with many environmental and biological factors to consider, but WELL is challenging us to reconsider the built environment to be shaped with these determinants in mind. We have the research to begin to understand how our immediate surroundings can dictate our subconscious behaviors driving health outcomes. For example, in a recent study from the World Green Building Council, they found that for occupants with access to window views, a 15% increase in focused work was achieved.* WELL gives us the opportunity to turn healthcare from a reactive process, to a preventative one. The foundation of research has been laid, and WELL does not intend to stop. They continue to investigate best practices through their work at the Mayo Clinic’s WELL Living Lab. Delos and Mayo Clinic have partnered to create a lab to research ‘the real-world impact of indoor environments on human health and well-being, and generate evidence-based information that can be used in practical ways to create healthier indoor spaces.’** I am incredibly excited to see what will come from this body of work.
4. WELL simply just makes sense. The mantra ‘First do no harm’ is what comes to mind. As designers of our built environment, why wouldn’t we want to use the best practices out there to try to make indoor environments as healthy as they can be. We are creating the spaces for people to live, work and play – so shouldn’t we make those spaces so that they enhance the well-being of their users. We want to make great spaces for people to experience – and WELL provides a codified system to do that. We spend 90% of our times indoors, so let’s focus on that. The WELL Building Standard presents us all with an opportunity – using the built environment to promote and improve the health of our society. Now, that just makes me excited. And that is why I became a WELL AP.