Building Wellness Above All

Building Wellness, Delos Living, Green Build, Webcor, CBRE, Gensler, San Francisco, USGBC, WELL Building Institute, WELL Building Symposium
Interior of DPR Construction’s new San Francisco headquarters

A new building industry standard takes a more holistic measure of the built environment.


By Robert Celaschi

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] new type of certification is entering the building industry, this one called the WELL Building Standard. Slated to make its debut Oct. 20 in New Orleans at the first WELL Building Symposium, the new standard is a performance-focused system for measuring, certifying and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing. That includes air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind.

The International WELL Building Institute and the Green Building Certification Institute had entered into a formal collaboration to streamline how LEED and WELL work together.

To get some insights on the new standard, we spoke with Paul Scialla and Phil Williams of research, consulting and real estate development firm Delos Living LLC. Scialla is a founder of both Delos and the WELL Building Institute, and formerly was with both Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.

Williams is the new executive director of project delivery at Delos. He joined this summer after 12 years as vice president of Webcor Builders in San Francisco.

Delos has its headquarters in New York City, but early in September it also opened a small San Francisco office in the mid-Market neighborhood.


Q: Why do we need a WELL Building Standard? Are today’s buildings that unhealthy? 

Scialla: We looked at the great work that certain indices like LEED, starting to address the human condition in the environment, and we wanted to push the envelope a great deal further. We wanted to move beyond daylighting and air exchange. We want to look at every way the work environment affects the human condition.

This is meant as a compliment to the various indices out there.

Q: There are a lot of building standards out there already, such as LEED, EnergyStar, Green Globes, the Living Building Challenge and others. Can the industry absorb another one?

Scialla: We are very pleased to announce our affiliation with GBCI. We felt it was essential for us to take advantage and partner up with that infrastructure. The last thing the industry wants is yet another governing body and registration. We felt [that] we could streamline the effort.

Williams: As we have gotten more mature on energy, it is more important that we look at what is happing within the building. Everybody always recognizes they don’t have individual expertise to have the certification. Everybody would like to rely on evidence-based health and wellness.

Right now it’s what the industry recognizes that it needs. The response has been extremely supportive.


Q: How will you cut through the noise of so many certification types?

Scialla: We find for the most part they are complementary. With LEED and the WELL Building Standard we have identified up to 20 percent of overlap in things that are already addressed, especially in the indoor air quality bucket. We are seeing synergy here.

Williams: The ability to have companies like Webcor, CBRE or Gensler to be early adopters is key. You’ll also see people like DPR [Construction] was one of the peer reviewers.

Q: Up to now, “sustainability” has focused on energy efficiency and environmentally friendly practices. Is wellness an extension of that, or something new altogether?

Scialla: We do feel like this is a fairly new frontier, but built on a great baseline. It’s an extension into what the environmentally friendly indices begin to address. Certainly human health is addressed at a baseline with LEED, as with air exchange and daylighting, but we think this is a complement.

Williams: When you realize the biggest asset in most companies is their people, we can address a whole new aspect of business that sustainability doesn’t address. Energy is going to cost you about $8 a square foot. The cost of your people is about $800 a square foot. The ability to get productivity from your people is extremely important in business. Yes, this addresses commercial office, but the ability to have this also address multifamily residential, hospitality and education, as the other indices do, is important.

Q: What is your role in introducing and promoting the Well Building Standard? How will you measure success?

Williams: We have some pilots for the last year. One of the first certified WELL spaces is the CBRE office in Los Angeles. On Oct. 20 will be the official rollout with the WELL Building Symposium in New Orleans. There will be a published set of guidelines. There will be online registration. For right now a lot of the expertise resides in Delos, but that will be rapidly transferred to the industry.

It’s an idea that appears to be revolutionary, but it’s really evolutionary. It’s physically taking information from science and medicine and giving it to people who didn’t know it existed. We were all doing our best. We weren’t doing things wrong, but we weren’t doing things to the best of our ability because we didn’t know the information existed.

Scialla: We’ve got upwards of 40 projects now registered to achieve WELL Building certification. We look forward to demonstrating to industry the collaborative nature of this approach.

The well building standard is going through a peer review. This is about taking a half-decade body of work that we have assembled and opening it up for industry.

Q: When LEED was first introduced, developers complained about both the cost of sustainable practices and the cost of certification. Do you expect the WELL Building Standard to follow a similar path?

Scialla: We’re very excited about the initial feedback on the economics. We’re seeing in our pilot projects to date less than a 2 percent premium for construction hard costs.

These are not necessarily more expensive courses and decisions. These are more informed decisions. We’re really optimistic here about the prospect for widespread industry adoption.

We’re really excited that the standard is not prescriptive. It’s not an ingredient checklist where lots of documentation and paperwork are necessary to prove what was done with construction. When a project is completed, there’s an on-site assessment. We’re simply focused on output and performance and the end results.

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