Q&A: WELL for a healthier
built environment

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Paul Scialla, Founder of the
International WELL Building Institute

 

Tracy Backus, Teknion’s Director of Sustainable Programs, interviews Paul Scialla, Founder of the International WELL Building Institute, about the human-centered approach of the WELL Building Standard, its relationship to LEED, and how architects, interior designers and furniture manufacturers can follow its guidelines to create a healthier built environment.


 

 

Q.



Was there a single moment or situation that presented itself to you where you realized a health standard for green buildings was a necessity? Why WELL?

 

A.



When the International WELL Building Institute was first launched several years ago, green building certifications like LEED had set out a baseline for how green building practices could impact human health. But there was no certification devoted specifically to the impact a building would have on the people who use buildings every day. WELL therefore takes a much deeper dive into these impacts. WELL consists of 100 features within the seven concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind, requiring projects to incorporate features from lighting that supports the body’s sleep/wake cycles to designs that promote physical activity by enhancing the walkability of a space.

 

 

Q.



What is the most important change that Interior Designers can do for their clients?

 

A.



Interior design has the power to impact our health and wellness and the human experience in a tremendously positive way. For example, biophilic design strategies can introduce natural elements into a space to help reduce stress and increase air quality. There are also little things that you can do that can have a big impact. For example, instead of placing printers at every desk, things like a central print station can force employees to leave their desks to gather materials. Other design elements like a circadian lighting system can expand efficiency by helping to regulate the body’s physiological processes. These design foundations coupled with policies and procedures that emphasize employee health and productivity can contribute to a person’s overall wellness and happiness. Sit/stand desks at workstations and designing a wellness room to provide mental breaks are just a few more examples of the countless interior design decisions that can contribute to a person’s overall wellness. 

 

 

Q.



What is the most important change that Architects can do for their buildings?

 

A.



The WELL Building Standard sets best practice guidelines for building design and organizational policies – the goal being that the interior architecture, as well as the continued operations of the space, support occupant well-being. Approximately half of the WELL features relate to building design and the rest focus on continued building operations and wellness policies. There are many ways to use architecture and behavioral science to educate people and help them form new, positive habits in largely automatic ways. By this I mean that design interventions can make better choices easier and/or constrain behaviors by making certain actions more difficult. For example, staircases can be placed front and center in offices to encourage employees to walk between floors instead of taking the elevator. Designing so that employees have more access to natural sunlight and outdoor areas can also make for happier, more engaged employees. Other design elements like sound masking systems can greatly contribute to a person’s overall wellness and happiness, too.

 

 

Q.



For the last seven years, manufacturers have been pushed hard for material transparency by interior designers and architects, yet we still aren't seeing significant numbers of users/clients asking for transparency. What can manufactures do to educate the industry more quickly, and also honestly, that there is a need for material transparency and the elimination of toxins in building products? Is this issue in the top five "game changers" for organizations seeking healthier workplace environments?

A.



As sustainability issues become increasingly complex and global in nature, we can’t make the necessary impact by acting alone. Through our experience with WELL, we have learned that looking comprehensively at supply chains and seeking opportunities for partnerships are critical to success. Leading manufacturers can be important partners, because their investment in research and development activities that prioritize human health and wellness brings more product options to the market as well as helps to build market scale so that materials that optimize human health and wellness are available and affordable. 

 

 

Q.



What is your advice to a client that wants to certify its new interiors for WELL but not to LEED? What would you advise a client that is building a new building and wants to choose one or the other? This question is prevalent in conversations with end users who feel that they want to pursue both but can only afford one or the other.

A.



Environmental sustainability and health and wellness go hand-in-hand. The health of the planet is as important as the health of building occupants, and for this reason the WELL Building Standard is inherently in close alignment with leading sustainability standards. Where there are synergies, WELL has purposefully aimed to overlap with sustainability standards like LEED. In order to promote both environmental sustainability and human health, WELL was designed to work harmoniously with LEED at its inception. Additionally, both systems are third-party certified by GBCI, which further streamlines the way in which the systems work together. Just recently, The International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) announced alignments between the WELL Building Standard and LEED to make it easier for green building projects pursuing dual certification. Through this crosswalk, IWBI and U.S. Green Building Council have identified specific credits whereby submitted documentation will be recognized by Green Business Certification, Inc. (GBCI), the certifying body for both LEED and WELL. This alignment saves project teams the time and costs, and reduces documentation. We are making it easier for project teams to incorporate both LEED and WELL Certification in their buildings through this credit crosswalk. If every story about a green building is a story about people, it’s essential that we bring greater focus on the positive human impacts our buildings can have and explore ways to incorporate them into every office, classroom, store, stadium and other places that make up our built environment.

 

 

Q.



Teknion has advanced our thinking and culture to align with restorative sustainability. We began in 2010 with advocacy for Living Buildings; we have made material transparency an everyday practice from the top down in manufacturing and design development. As we register our five new North American showrooms to pursue WELL Certification, what would your words of encouragement be to our employees as well as our senior executives?

A.



We spend more than 90% of our time indoors, which means that buildings can have a profound impact on human health and wellness. It is therefore imperative that we harness the built environment to promote biological sustainability. Real estate is the largest asset class in the world at about $180 trillion in value globally. Health and wellness is the fastest growing industry in the world at more than $4 trillion per year. By bringing the two together through innovative design and building solutions, we are creating new opportunities for the marketplace and giving people the tools to build and foster healthy, restorative and forward-thinking offices and communities that will further drive adoption and establish a renewed vanguard of global leaders in sustainability.