WELL-Being in the Workplace

By Abigail Adams, USGBC-Missouri
Gateway Chapter Education Committee

As sustainable practices become more prevalent in the design and construction of buildings, the art of green building continues to evolve. While strategies centered on resource efficiency and waste minimization remain at the core of green building, there is a growing focus on occupants’ physical and mental well-being. Grounded in the increasing recognition that many elements of building design surpass physical construction and have direct effects on building occupants, a new building standard has entered the market which brings these concerns to the forefront.

The WELL Building Standard, pioneered by Delos and now administered by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), is the first building design standard to focus primarily on the health and well-being of a building’s occupants during and after construction. The standard is the result of seven years of research by doctors, building designers, and scientists.

WELL is a holistic approach to keep building users healthy and engaged in their workplace. Health and well-being are not considered scheduled occurrences, but rather are incorporated into the daily routines of building occupants. The standard is composed of seven categories: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind. In each category, there are required preconditions and optimizations that contribute to a point total for a certification level. Examples of strategies include central placement of stairs to encourage their use, the incorporation of flexible sit to stand workstations and ancillary furniture, access to clean drinking water, limiting processed foods, reduction of visual glare, policies to limit after hours work, offering counseling services, sound masking, and strategic use of plants and good aesthetics throughout a space.

One thing that I find most striking about the WELL standard is that after certification, the space will be reevaluated in three years’ time to ensure that it is still meeting original qualification levels. A project can move up or down through the certification levels if well-being and health aspects were improved upon or were not maintained. This building standard holds the design team and owners accountable to continually maintain a healthy workplace over time. Research by Delos and others who have implemented the standard has shown that through the promotion of well-being in the workplace, employee stress decreases and productivity increases. Each precondition and optimization in the standard evaluates which human body system would be affected, truly linking the realms of medical and architectural research.

The importance of human health and well-being is finally being recognized as a game changer in the green building sector because of the impact on employers, the impact on company productivity, and most importantly, the impact on employees. As a designer, I am excited to see the potential paradigm shifts that will be brought on by the WELL Building Standard, as the value of human capital is brought to the forefront of the sustainable building industry.

Join the USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter to learn more about how the built environment impacts health and well-being and the WELL Building Standard at two events featuring Jessica Cooper, WELL Faculty and Executive Vice President at Delos, March 8 and 9. More information is available online at our website www.usgbc-mogateway.org/calendar.