Energy consumption reducing WELL Building Standard gains momentum, except the US

WELL Building Standard registered or WELL-certified projects can be found in 34 different countries spanning every continent outside of Africa and Antarctica.  Pavleas Design and Build image

WELL Building Standard registered or WELL-certified projects can be found in 34 different countries spanning every continent outside of Africa and Antarctica.  Pavleas Design and Build image.

WELL Building Standard footprint began massive growth in Nov. 2016

By Matt Chester

This article was published by the Chester Energy and Policy blog on August 22, 2o18 and is the last of three coming articles covering the WELL Building Standard. If you missed the previous two, 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” and click here to read “WELL Buildings Beyond the Feel-Good: Analyzing the Costs and Benefits of WELL Spaces.”

WELL Building practices enable the forward-thinking building owners and managers to reap the benefits of increased worker productivity, decreased healthcare costs, and reduced energy bills that come from human-centric and sustainable building design.

So-Core, as an expert in corporate sustainability, is an example of a company that can bring that forward-thinking to your organization. And despite the required large initial investments that likely deter some building owners from taking the plunge, the early adopting companies getting certified today will not only see their investment pay off through the various cost savings previously discussed, but they are also being rightfully labeled as innovators on the ground floor of what will become a trillion-dollar industry.

Given these favorable benefits compared with the costs, how quickly has the WELL Building Standard been promulgated through the world of architecture and design? Let’s take a look at the numbers…

Global growth according to the data

The footprint of WELL-certified buildings really began its massive growth in November 2016 when the WELL Building Standard and BREEAM standard were aligned, later receiving another jolt when WELL and LEED were also aligned.

Both BREEAM and LEED are long-established building certifications focused on the environmental- and energy-related aspects of sustainable buildings, with the CEO of the International WELL Building Institute(IWBI) specifically noting how intertwined and synonymous sustainability and health are in the building sector.

Thinking holistically about best practices in new and retrofit buildings and spaces requires addressing both of these concepts.

To enable a current and updated snapshot of the penetration of WELL projects, IWBI provides a running database of all projects registered with WELL, which can be accessed here, searchable by project type, building sector, location of building, and project status.

Important to note when using this database, though, is that not all projects in the database are certified or even on their way towards being certified– plenty of the projects listed are simply registered with the IWBI and may or may not end up getting certified in the end.

As of the end of the second quarter of 2018, this WELL database listed nearly 900 different projects as having engaged with WELL to the tune of over 170 million square feet of real estate worldwide.

Just one month earlier, WELL had enrolled about 830 projects totalling 155 million square feet, showing just how rapidly adoption is accelerating. What follows is a quick rundown of where those 900 projects (as of writing) land in terms of various metrics:

By location

WELL-registered or WELL-certified projects can be found in 34 different countries spanning every continent outside of Africa and Antarctica:

Click to enlarge.
Click to enlarge.

By status

The WELL Database lists projects that are either certified, pre-certified, or just registered:

Click to enlarge.

We have no way of knowing how successful the projects that are simply registered with the IWBI will be, so analysis must zoom in on the certified and pre-certified projects:

Click to enlarge.

Only 16 different countries have projects that actually reached pre-certification or certification status, still spanning the same 5 continents. However, at 101 certified projects and 90 pre-certified projects, WELL Building Standards have clearly not been fully implemented and become as widespread in practice as they could be (and, hopefully, will be).

Pushing the United States to catch up

Given the previous data and graphs discussed, the idea that the United States is lagging behind might seem confusing– the United States is home to more WELL-registered and WELL-certified projects than any other country, with only China having more total square footage of WELL-registered projects. So how can it be that the United States needs to catch up?

Photo courtesy Little.

First, these numbers are only looking at total number of WELL Buildings and not proportion of a country’s buildings which are integrating WELL practices. For example,  the United States is home to over 5,000 skyscrapers, over 1,500 more than China (who has the second most) and over four times more than Canada (who has the third most).

While WELL Buildings are not exclusive to skyscrapers, this vast lead in total skyscrapers underscores just how many more opportunities for WELL spaces exist in the United States compared with other countries.  One would expect the United States to have the greatest number of WELL projects given that opportunity.

But when looking at the ratio of WELL-certified and WELL pre-certified projects to total number of skyscrapers (interpret this as a very rough estimate of rate of successful WELL projects compared with the relative opportunity for such projects), the United States comes in last of all nations that have at least one certified or pre-certified project.

Click to enlarge.

Second, the count of total WELL projects that makes the United States appear as a leader is only a factor of the recent catchup being played in the country’s buildings sector.

The early-adopting markets for WELL Buildings were almost exclusively in Europe– first in France, the United Kingdom, Spain, and the Netherlands, before breaking into the next stage in Poland, Sweden, and Ireland (perhaps this fact should not be surprising, given the nature of European workplaces that have long been more aggressive in adopting progressive and people-first measures like extended vacations, maternity and paternity leave, and more).

But for a real look at how the United States is slacking in terms of how much WELL could be penetrating the market, let’s examine the rate of adoption compared with the rate LEED penetrated the market just two decades ago:Click to enlarge

Starting by counting in the quarter in which the first LEED/WELL registration is recorded in the official LEED and WELL databases, at this point in LEED’s history there were more than double the certifications and triple the registrations compared with where WELL finds itself in the U.S. market.

The concerning trend here is that, in retrospect, at this point in its history LEED was clearly at an inflection point where the rate of adoption  was accelerating faster than ever before, while the penetration of WELL Buildings in the U.S. market looks like it’s still moving at a slow and steady pace.

While Aesop would have us continue to believe that slow and steady will win the race, the LEED numbers tell a different story.

By looking at the sheer volume of construction in the United States today, a keen observer will note that the potential for WELL Buildings to be built from the ground up is massive, and, as previously discussed, the cost savings of doing so makes such a decision a no-brainer for building managers.

The adoption of WELL standards being a slam dunk decision but not yet making significant headway in the United States supports the argument that the issue of too few WELL projects is merely one of awareness.

With the proper marketing push, WELL could (and should) become a household name like LEED, with foyers and front desks proudly displaying plaques from WELL and office managers seeking out WELL-certified buildings for their businesses.

What to do, what to do?

Fortunately, WELL is starting to make headway breaking into new sectors in the United States, with health and well-being increasingly being applied to industrial facilities, warehouses, leisures complexes, senior living facilities, and more.

So, reader, what can you do? These points have been mentioned in the first two posts of this series, but they bear repeating:

  • After finishing this article, continue researching, reading, and learning about WELL Buildings– the benefits, the market, and the future.
  • Reach out to design and sustainability teams who emphasize and exude the principles of WELL and can help you integrate the same into your business and building (So-Core being one great example who can help you navigate tax benefits, loan discounts, cost-benefit analyses, and more).
  • If you’re passionate about the cause and want to become hands on and integrate the practice into your career, you can even become a WELL Accredited Professional yourself and follow that by continuing to spread the awareness and education to others.

While WELL started with the sustainability leaders in the buildings sector, the program’s focus on energy and the environment as well as personal well-being has expanded its reach to new stakeholders: human resource professionals, investors, facility managers, and anyone else who wants to help organizations recruit and retain the best talent, maximize productivity, and make a  difference.

Because WELL really hasn’t yet reached ‘trending’ status in the United States, this situation also provides an opportunity for passionate professionals, companies, and building owners to get in on the ground floor of the practice.

Sources and additional reading

BREEAM & WELL: Assessing health and wellbeing in buildings: International WELL Building Institute

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

These WELL Certified Buildings Are Amazing Examples of Human-First Design: Terramai

WELL Building Standard Gaining Momentum in Europe: Associated Press

WELL Building Standard: Delos

WELL people directory: International WELL Building Institute

WELL Projects: International WELL Building Institute

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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.

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