What cleaning companies need to know about WELL

25th of July 2019 Article by Ron Segura
What cleaning companies need to know about WELL

Following the launch of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) in the US some time ago, there is now the International WELL Building Institute. This focuses not so much on buildings but on the people working in those buildings – and cleaning contractors are very much involved. Ron Segura, president of Segura Associates, explains in the first of a two-part blog.

Most European cleaning professionals are familiar with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) programme.  There are now thousands of LEED projects and LEED-certified buildings throughout Europe encompassing more than 95 million gross square feet of LEED-certified space. And around the globe it is estimated that more than 170,000 total square metres of space are LEED certified every day.

However, recently a new programme has entered the picture, which in some respects is similar to LEED but has a different emphasis. Known as the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), the programme began in 2014 and its focus is not so much on buildings but on the people working in those buildings. Moreover, this is where the professional cleaning industry, and specifically building service contractors, come into the picture because IWBI shares the professional cleaning industry’s focus on protecting the health of building users.

To help better understand WELL, we should point out how it differs from LEED. Some of the key differences include:

• LEED was started by the US Green Building Council in 1998 and is a programme
run, operated, and funded by the government.

• WELL, as mentioned earlier, was launched in 2014 and is a privately operated organisation. In fact WELL is a corporation, but an unusual type of corporation.  It is recognised, at least in the US, as a “public benefit” corporation. The shareholders expect the organisation to make a profit but the corporation has a specific, public benefit, and that is to help keep building users healthier.

• Similar to LEED, WELL is a performance-based system that measures and monitors a facility and how it impacts health, productivity, and the comfort of those using the facility.

• Both LEED and WELL work closely with architects and designers, but WELL also turns to medical experts to explore the connection between buildings and the health of those working in them.

• Both organisations use an independent, third-party organisation to certify facilities. However LEED certification typically involves providing facility data and the filling out of forms by building owners and managers. With WELL, someone from the organisation personally visits the facility, ensuring it complies with WELL standards and guidelines.

Change of focus

• Finally, just as LEED has different levels of certification such as LEED Silver, Gold, and Platinum, similarly, WELL facilities can be certified as WELL Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

According to Nathan Stodola, director of the WELL building standard, in many parts of the world healthcare systems have traditionally focused on health issues after someone becomes ill. But with the increased costs of healthcare across the globe, as well as the increased prevalence of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and even cancer, that focus is being redirected toward prevention. Ultimately it is far less costly and certainly much better for building users if the facilities they use every day are operated in such a way that their health is protected.

The WELL programme also places a big emphasis on the comfort of people working in facilities. “Occupant satisfaction in the building is as big a part of the WELL Building Standard as overall health,” adds Stodola. He also says poor soundproofing in facilities and temperature issues tend to be the most significant areas of complaint in most office spaces.

The “concepts”

To be WELL certified, 102 different performance metrics must be evaluated in seven key categories referred to as “concepts.”

Air. The facility must have steps in place to optimise indoor air quality, which includes the removal of airborne contaminants, preventive measures, as well as air quality purification when needed.
Water. This provides for strategies to remove pollutants from water through effective filtration systems.

Nourishment. Healthy eating habits are encouraged by providing building users with healthier food choices as well as information about nutrients and nutrient quality.

Light. The goal here is to minimise disruption to the body’s natural circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythms impact most living things. We sleep when it’s dark and get up when it is light.  By providing proper illumination levels in a facility, the results can be improved energy and productivity, with fewer mood swings.

Fitness. Many large office buildings in North America and around the world are adding gyms to their facilities to be used only by building users. Making such facilities available is a crucial factor for a facility to be WELL certified.

Some LEED overlap

Comfort. We mentioned earlier that noise and indoor temperature issues are two of the most significant problems in many facilities. The WELL programme has created design standards and criteria to help facilities eliminate these and other sources of discomfort.

Mind. WELL certified facilities provide building users with relaxation areas, quiet areas, and through the use of design elements, take steps to support mental and emotional health.

To develop these metrics, the WELL organisation turned to architects, designers, and construction industry professionals, as has the LEED programme. But as referenced earlier, WELL took the additional step of creating a medical review board to help establish these metrics.

As we can see, there is some overlap.  Both are very focused on indoor air quality and lighting, for instance but LEED does not address issues - at least explicitly - such as nourishment, comfort, fitness, and mind.  These are people-focused concerns, and where WELL takes a different fork in the road from the LEED programme.


Next time Ron takes a look at the role of cleaning contractors in the WELL programme.

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