Analyzing the costs and benefits of WELL Building standards

WELL building
Cundall, an engineering consulting firm in the UK, spent about $80,000 in total costs for their WELL building standards transformation.  The company says it has noted a 50 per cent drop in absenteeism and a 27 per cent drop in staff turnover– both of which more than make up those costs in just a single year.

Cundall, an engineering consulting firm in the UK, spent about $80,000 in total costs for their WELL building standards transformation.  The company says it has noted a 50 per cent drop in absenteeism and a 27 per cent drop in staff turnover– both of which more than make up those costs in just a single year.

WELL Building Standard incorporates human-focussed design into buildings

By Matt Chester

This article was posted by the Chester Energy and Policy blog on Aug. 15 and is the second of three coming articles covering the WELL Building Standard. If you missed the first one, click here to read “Sustainable Buildings Beyond LEED: How the WELL Building Standard is Addressing Health of the People Inside and Protects the Environment Outside.”

Humans today typically spend about 90 per cent of their time inside buildings, and over half the world’s population currently lives in cities. As such, finding ways to optimize buildings so they bring the best out of the occupants while enhancing their daily lives is more critical now than ever before.

Incorporating human-focused design into buildings has been pushed most effectively by the WELL Building Standard, which is implemented by the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). As an associate from IA Interior Architects (and WELL-accredited professional) notes:

WELL Building Certification picks up where LEED drops off. LEED is primarily concerned with responsible sourcing materials and promoting sustainable building practices. WELL is really about the effect of the environment on the individual, both physiologically and psychologically. I think of it as human sustainability.

The WELL Building Standard is among the best tools today to make these changes, but the question that building owners, managers, and designers predictably find themselves asking is: do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Why WELL Buildings are important today

Analysis isn’t required to conclude that humans would love to find themselves in spaces that increase their comfort, optimize their cognition, and improve their emotional health.

However, when those in charge of buildings are looking to shell out large amounts of money, the benefits derived cannot be uncertain or ambiguous. Fluffy benefits will not do, hard evidence is needed– and statistics provide some insight into the status quo: graphic.

1. Air

The first area of the WELL Building Standard is air, focusing on air quality through improved filtration and ventilation systems, reduced microbes and mold, and minimizing air pollution of any kind.

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: Air pollution contributes to 7 million premature deaths worldwide every year.

The air we breathe is more immediately important than almost any other environmental consideration, and nowhere is that more apparent than when in the confined spaces of buildings.

2. Water

The next focus of WELL Buildings is in the water, specifically focused on the water filtration and treatment to ensure safe,  healthy, and adequate drinking water.

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: 80 per cent of adults in the United States go through their day at least mildly dehydrated.

Dehydration is all too common when water is inaccessible or even if the water a building provides simply comes with a funny taste. Ensuring healthy and suitable drinking water will help building occupants stave off dehydration, which can affect all aspects of health.

3. Light

The WELL Building Standard focuses heavily on a building’s lighting system, both in quality (improved lighting can increase alertness, enhance occupant experience, and promote healthy sleep) and efficiency (maximizing daylight harvesting and the use of LEDs instead of fluorescent lamps can both drastically minimize electricity costs).

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: 50 to 70 million American adults suffer from sleep disorders.

Harsh, inconsistent, or glare-filled lighting over the course of eight- to ten-hour workdays  is a prominent cause of sleep disorders, throwing humans off their natural circadian rhythms while causing frequent headaches.

So not only will more efficient lighting design save building owners money (not to mention the tax benefits afforded to buildings for certain lighting installations), but promoting a healthy sleeping cycle through lighting ensures the building will be filled with more productive and content employees.

Photo courtesy Best Buy.

4. Comfort

The aspects of comfort on which the WELL Building Standard focuses include improved acoustics, olfactory comfort, and temperature and humidity control.

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: Worker performance can be lowered by 66 per cent when distracted by office noise, while even a 4 per cent to 6 per cent decline in productivity can be measured when building temperatures are non-optimal.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that just because the comfort part of the WELL Building Standard does not address immediate threats to safety that it is less important, as an uncomfortable workspace can be one of the worst aspects for an employer’s bottom line in lost productivity and profits.

5. Mind

The key aspect to the mind part of the WELL Building equation has to do with incorporating nature into the building, be it in the ventilation, lighting, or water systems, as well as other biophilic design elements.

Notable statistics supporting the need for WELL: Office buildings with elements of greenery and nature incorporated report a 15 per cent increase in employee well-being, a 6 per cent increase in productivity, and a 15 per cent increase in creativity.

Much like comfort, the mind category of WELL standards is one that can have measurable and important impacts on the bottom line of companies and as such is one of the key aspects to consider when building managers weigh the costs and benefits.

6. Nourishment

Returning to the importance of the health of building occupants, the nourishment category is highlighted by ensuring building occupants have wholesome foods readily available to them and also that unhealthy options are limited.

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: Obesity rates in America are well-documented and rising, but better nutrition is associated with a 27 per cent reduction in depression and a 13 per cent reduction in distress.

Simple investments in providing healthful food to employees in the immediate-term can provide long-term and lasting benefits to an employer’s bottom line if it ends up preventing the need for expensive healthcare treatments associated with obesity and malnutrition.

7. Fitness

The last area of WELL certification is related to fitness, specifically the integration of exercise and fitness into daily life by providing features that support and encourage an active and healthy lifestyle.

Notable statistic supporting the need for WELL: In the United States, studies show that less than 50 per cent of young school students, less than 10 per cent of adolescents, and less than 5 per cent of adults reach their daily recommended exercise goals.

Like the nourishment goals, achieving the fitness goals for employees associated with WELL-certified buildings would keep said employees healthier in the long run and thus minimize the eventual healthcare costs they require.

The full standard and set of metrics can be found here.

Benefits to building owners

To the building owner, all these previously mentioned elements that promote wellness and a healthy lifestyle are great on a human level– but in the real world, such investments also need to pay off for widespread action to be taken. Fortunately, studies have shown that the WELL Building Standard does just that, as happy and healthy workers provide the following:

  • Many aspects of the WELL Building Standard spur increased productivity across the enterprise, such as one Harvard study that found that office workers increase their productivity by the equivalent of $6,500 per year when ventilation rates are optimized.
  • The increased health of building occupants leads to decreased medical costs, as preventable chronic diseases (such as stress-related illnesses and heart disease) are the ones targeted by WELL Building Standards.
  • When employees come in while sick and not functioning optimally, the costs to employers are 10 times higher than the cost to employers of workers missing work.
  • However, employees falling ill and missing work takes up anywhere from 3 per cent to 6 per cent of total working time, costing nations billions of dollars in aggregate.
  • The parts of a WELL-certified building that increase employee happiness and well-being are also likely to lead to satisfied and engaged workers, and companies with such employees experience 25 per cent to 65 per cent less staff turnover. Such increases to staff retention are extremely valuable to employers due to the high costs of replacing employees who leave the organization.
  • After the implementation of WELL strategies, some buildings saw up to 12 per cent reduction in energy use and 40 per cent reduction in water consumption, both of which will show up as financial savings on a recurring monthly basis.

In general, 90 per cent of business costs go to staff and salaries, so any improvement in employee well-being and productivity is low-hanging fruit.

By focusing on employee satisfaction and building a spirit of stewardship, as well as a healthy environment, building owners and businesses generally are making one of the wisest and most fruitful investments possible.

The WELL Building Standard provides an accessible framework for building managers to make that investment and get certification as verification of those efforts. photo.

In addition to the human-centred benefits, the WELL Building Standard does match LEED standards in many methods of enhancing building sustainability (indeed, many building managers look to implement strategies to allow dual certification of LEED and WELL).

Costs to building owners

All the previously discussed benefits do not come without a notable initial investment. In terms of the application process, a registration fee from $,1500 to $10,000 is required, on top of costs for certification program and support (varying based on the project type, size, and location).

Additionally, organizations can seek to get people on their own team certified as WELL Accredited Professionals to serve as a primary source of WELL expertise (which can be counted towards the innovation category but is not required for accreditation).

To do so, individuals can receive a 30-day study plan and exam registration that costs $660.

The WELL Building Institute provides a cost calculator based on a variety of inputs. So, while the marginal costs for compliance of completed projects are difficult to find, this calculator allows us to find, for example, that a 5,000 square foot building would incur the following fees:

Beyond those nominal fees, though, the bulk of the costs to building owners logically come from the actual installations, retrofits, and programs required to attain certification. These costs obviously vary from project to project.

For a real world example, Cundall (an engineering consulting firm) designed their London office in 2016 to be the first building in Europe to be WELL-certified at the Gold level.

Cundall attributes about $80,000 of total costs for their WELL transformation, but reports a 50 per cent drop in absenteeism and a 27 per cent drop in staff turnover– both of which more than make up those costs in just a single year.

Now what?

These costs are by no means negligible, as nothing about establishing a WELL Building amounts to a free lunch. Rather, becoming WELL-certified is meant to be an investment– and one that pays off in the end, given the laundry list of tangible and cost-savings benefits.

As stated in Part I of this article series, there are several actions you can take upon learning about this information:

  • Read up on the various aspects of the WELL Building Standard to learn for yourself and prepare to educate other people about the program.
  • Find small ways you can suggest to the building managers of spaces you occupy most frequently to embrace human-centric design.
  • If you’re in a position of designing a building or interior space, use these articles as the push to find out more about how you can ensure such design is WELL-certified. Do more research on your own, and when ready reach out to professionals who are already certified in and eager to engage more people in their expertise of the WELL Building Standard (So-Core is one recommended example of a company suited to implement WELL practices).
  • Check back to this website (subscribe to receive updates when new articles are posted) to read the final piece in the trio of articles on the WELL Building Standards.

Sources and additional reading

Americans have a nature problem. Is ‘biophilic design’ the solution? NBC News

Biophilic Design: A Pathway to WELL Certification at ASID Headquarters

Creating Positive Spaces Using the WELL Building Standard: International WELL Building Institute

Designing with the WELL Building Standard in mind: Human Spaces

New practitioner’s guide explores nature’s role in creating positive spaces: International WELL Building Institute

The Power of Healthy Buildings: TLC Engineering for Architecture

This Is the Future: Workplaces that Make You Healthier: Fortune

WELL Building Standard: Delos

WELL people directory: International WELL Building Institute

WELL Projects: International WELL Building Institute

What Is and Is Not Biophilic Design: Metropolis

What You Need To Know About The Well Building Standard: Charge Spot

Workplace, meet WELL: Enhancing the employee experience through healthy buildings: WELL Building Institute

If you enjoyed this post and you would like to get the newest posts from the Chester Energy and Policy blog delivered straight to your inbox, please consider subscribing today

About the author: Matt Chester is an energy analyst in Washington DC, studied engineering and science & technology policy at the University of Virginia, and operates this blog and website to share news, insights, and advice in the fields of energy policy, energy technology, and more. For more quick hits in addition to posts on this blog, follow him on Twitter @ChesterEnergy.

Facebook Comments

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.