Anthony Marklund: Things you need to know about the WELL building standard

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The WELL Building Standard is surging in popularity as a comprehensive and holistic tool to measure, certify, and monitor features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing. Anthony Marklund from Floth explained how each of the categories in WELL are related to the 11 human body systems, among other insights, and walked attendees through the benefits of using the standard.

An edited version of his presentation follows.


I will be covering some points from the WELL building standard, as well as how we can seek and destroy those lurking things in the air and water in the building. 

We spend almost 90 per cent of our time in buildings. Think about how much time will you spend outdoors today. Would it be one hour, three hours? If that’s the case then you would be spending 90 per cent of your time indoors. For most of us that’s an optimistic figure. Then consider that pollutants like carbon dioxide and VOCs can be up to five times higher than the typical outdoor concentration. 

Cognitive performance is reduced by about 15 per cent at CO2 levels just over twice the amount of outdoor levels, and reduced by 50 per cent at levels that are about four times ambient.  

This brings us to our first value proposition. Typical office costs are about 90 per cent for staff, 9 per cent rental costs and 1 per cent energy costs. 

We focus on energy because it’s easy to quantify. But consider this simple analysis – this is a conservative estimate – a 2 per cent human productivity improvement will save on salaries eight times the building’s capex while halving the building’s energy consumption. Typically, the benefits are much higher than this 2 per cent. 

Our buildings have a huge potential to improve our performance. Now enter the WELL building standard. While NABERS, Green Star and others have indoor environment tools, WELL is the first to explicitly focus on the health and wellbeing of people in buildings. 

The WELL building standard takes a holistic approach to health and wellbeing in the building based on behaviour, operations and design. It features credits across ten categories: air, water, nourishment, light, movement (formally fitness), comfort, sound, materials, innovation and community.

I’ll focus on air and water. 

Air – Why it’s a top priority in WELL

Each of the categories in WELL comes back to one of these body systems and how it directly impacts these systems. 

The endocrine system is our glands. And the integumentary system is our hair and nails and skin – our biggest organ – and forms the first line of defence to the outside world.

“poor air quality has been defined as the biggest risk factor for mortality worldwide. The WHO estimated that 7 million people die each year from poor air quality”

 Our second line of defence is arguably our respiratory system. When we are otherwise well and we suddenly sneeze or cough, this is our natural defence response to an airborne pollutant to keep out or prevent the potentially bad impacts. 

We breathe more than 15,000 litres of air every day. This amounts to four times more, by mass, of liquid and food we ingest every day. This is why poor air quality has been defined as the biggest risk factor for mortality worldwide. The WHO estimated that 7 million people die each year from poor air quality. 

Hence, the WELL air category comes first. It includes ventilation standards, strategies to remove germs, and more. There are a few ways to mitigate air quality issues, including healthy entrances that mitigate particular pollutants on shoes, and ventilation that reduces C02 and pollution levels.

On the productivity side of things, research shows that across the board productivity increased by 15 per cent due to improved air quality measures. 

Water – we’re swimming in the stuff

On to water, which helps our bodies detoxify and helps the kidneys and liver by flushing out waste. Two thirds of our bodies are water. It lubricates joints and tissues such as eyes, mouth and throat. 

Approximately 80 per cent of adults are in a state of mild dehydration all the time

Approximately 80 per cent of adults are in a state of mild dehydration all the time. I feel like having a drink now. The WELL Building Standard calls for safe and clean water, through water testing, water filtration where required, as well as policies about handwashing, among others. 

A bit of information about water additives. There’s some additives intentionally put in public water such as chlorine to disinfect and fluoride to prevent tooth decay. A bit of these chemicals are good but high levels are associated with adverse affects, such has eye or skin irritations.

The many benefits of WELL certification

So just going back to the take home point. The investment in WELL certification drives the mandate to instil health and wellness into your building and creates meaningful return on investment. 

“Around 72 per cent of tenants prefer well certified buildings, 73 per cent of building owners see faster leasing and 63 per cent of investors see increased value through increased investor demand”

WELL fees are much less than 1 per cent of total development costs. Return on investment costs occur through revenue gains, increases in rental premiums, building value, and savings from increased tenant retention. 

Around 72 per cent of tenants prefer well certified buildings, 73 per cent of building owners see faster leasing and 63 per cent of investors see increased value through increased investor demand. 

The market interest is reflected by WELL certifications being on an upward trajectory. 

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