By Ilvy Bonnefin • March 1, 2017

The Future is WELL

The WELL Rating System and How It's Changing the Game

With the recognition of the need to change our practices in order to improve our environment, also comes the need to create systems by which to rate new buildings’ and products’ environmental impact. One such rating system is WELL. This system is very different to most rating systems for the built environment, as it goes beyond merely rating the embodied energy of building material and day to day function, but also rates the building’s capacity to make more productive, healthy and psychologically stable environments for the occupants. Subsequently improving the building’s overall energy output and carbon footprint whilst improve the health of its occupants.

This is achieved by rating buildings across a number of categories, these being air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind as described below:

Poor quality or polluted air is currently the highest environmental cause of premature death accounting for 1/8 of all premature deaths worldwide. Poor air quality creates many health issues linked to poor respiratory function caused by pollution, therefore by aiming to reduce indoor pollution as well as limiting carbon emissions, healthier environments can be created which inturn improves the respiratory health of people. By improving air quality globally and in building environments many deaths can be prevented, as it is currently believed by WHO that 12.7% of deaths currently could be avoided globally through improved air quality alone. This subsequently would also reduce health care costs as the respiratory health of the general populous would be greatly improved. Therefore, by spending money now and aiming to create systems which improve our health more money can be saved later.

The second category which WELL rates is water. Water and hydration are essential to our cognitive function as well as our general health. Studies have shown that dehydration by only 2% can reduce cognitive function leading to poor choices and lower productivity, having detrimental flow on effects not only to the person’s health but also on their company due to lower productivity. Well hydrated people have much faster reaction times and improved productivity making it a simple solution to create cost savings and improved health.

Thirdly is nourishment which is related to the availability of poor or healthy food choices in the built environment. By attempting to limit the availability and amount of unhealthy food choices and promoting healthier ones, health issues related to poor nutrition such as obesity and diabetes can be reduced, again improving the overall health of the occupants of buildings.

Light is a key concept when designing a comfortable and accommodating space. The goal when considering lighting is the aim to reduce any disruptions to the body’s natural circadian rhythms which reduce the risk of chronic illness such as obesity, depression and diabetes. By maximising the amount of windows and access to natural light creating a connection with the outdoors and the natural environment, a more natural lighting level can be achieved creating more comfortable conditions which improves productivity as well as occupant health.

In our postmodern age, it is becoming more and more difficult for people especially in office environments to be adequately active. Fitness is therefore a key concept in attempting to improve the overall health of occupants. Studies show that being insufficiently active leads to a 20 to 30 percent higher mortality rates. Therefore, attempting to create a healthier and more active working environment can drastically improve the health of its occupants and lead to cost savings in the future with generally healthier people.

The general comfort of building occupants is key to maintaining peak productivity and mental health. Simple things such as distracting noise can lead to a 66% reduction in workplace performance. Designing for the physical comfort of the occupants is essential especially when considering ergonomic design. By designing with respect to the human body and attempting to reduce stress on the musculoskeletal system a space becomes healthier and more comfortable promoting productivity. One of the most important environmental aspects within any building is thermal comfort. Aiming to maintain a level of optimal thermal comfort is absolutely essential when trying to maintain peak working performance.

 Many rating systems take into account the importance of physical health, yet very few consider the broad implications of buildings and the built environment on the mind and people’s psychological health. WELL takes a very important stance on taking into consideration the mental health of occupants when rating a building’s success as well as rating its outward ecological effects on the greater environment. Currently workplace disengagement alone amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars of lost productivity as a result of an uncomfortable and unproductive work space, therefore by attempting to create a physically and psychologically comfortable space costs related to lost productivity and health care can be greatly reduced.

WELL rating takes into account many variables in order to create a rating which demonstrates a building’s commitments not only to the greater environment reducing embodied energy and carbon emissions but also commits to improve the occupants experience within the building, benefiting their health both physically and psychologically. For more information on WELL Ratings please go to our page describing what a WELL rating entails, here.

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Written by Daniel Viglione Published 1/3/17
Gallup, I. (2013). Gallup Releases New Findings on the State of the American Workplace. [online] Gallup.com. Available at: http://www.gallup.com/opinion/gallup/170570/gallup-releases-new-findings-state-american-workplace.aspx [Accessed 28 Feb. 2017].
NIGMS, (2016). Circadian Rhythms Fact Sheet - National Institute of General Medical Sciences. [online] Nigms.nih.gov. Available at: https://www.nigms.nih.gov/Education/Pages/Factsheet_CircadianRhythms.aspx [Accessed 28 Feb. 2017].
WELL, (2017). Our Standard. [online] International WELL Building Institute. Available at: https://www.wellcertified.com/our-standard [Accessed 28 Feb. 2017].