Promising Wellness

Wellness, Delos Living, CBRE, Well Building Standard, Los Angeles, LEED, Macquarie Group, Haworth
CBRE's office in Los Angeles
CBRE’s office in Los Angeles

Adoption grows, and the new standard becomes more mainstream.


By Robert Celaschi

[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hen introducing a voluntary building standard, it’s crucial to get big names on board to attract attention and lend credibility. Delos Living managed to get several well-known companies to explore its Well Building Standard even before formally introducing it in the fall of 2014.

So now, even in its infancy, the International Well Building Institute can point to commercial brokerage CBRE and office interiors company Haworth as early adopters, along with the Conrad R. Hilton Foundation and Australian investment banking firm Macquarie Group.

[contextly_sidebar id=”BzyrSt1iJ4xDb9dKNgJpCQUGiVHa47Lu”]While the best-known building standards award points for the way structures are built, the Well Building Standard examines how a building is run. It focuses on human wellness as affected by air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and the mind. It takes a passing score in all seven categories to earn certification, as measured through an on-site audit after occupancy.

In Los Angeles, CBRE Group’s global corporate headquarters created the world’s first Well certified pilot office in the top two floors of a 26-story, LEED certified office tower.

CBRE already has an internal group that advises clients on how to make the most of spaces they occupy, suggesting ways to increase efficiency and collaboration. In laying the groundwork for its new downtown Los Angeles office, CBRE decided to take its own group’s advice.

“They were able to come in and tell us a lot about how we were utilizing our space,” said Onno Zwaneveld, executive vice president at CBRE. The old space was laid out much like an old-school law firm, with lots of swagger but not much opportunity for interaction. The new design would have innovations such as 100 percent free addressing. That is, people who have no fixed work space, and technology would allow them to plug into whatever place dovetailed best for their needs that day, or even from hour to hour.

But CBRE soon ran into some practical problems during testing. Nobody wanted to be the next person to use a workspace where the previous person had gone home sick, or even sneezed too much, Zwaneveld said.

It was about that time that he learned of the work Delos was undertaking, including Well Shield, a coating that can break down bacteria and viruses. CBRE investigated further and liked the fact that Well Building certification requires on-site testing. And because some actions satisfy both LEED and the Well Building standard, it made sense to strive for both, Zwaneveld said.

The office opened in the fall of 2013. A post-occupancy survey, while subjective, showed 92 percent of employees saying the new space improved their health and well being, and 94 percent said it helped their business performance. For instance, the main staircase connecting the two floors produces lots of incidental interaction.

Well Building certification has not been made mandatory across CBRE, but offices in Vancouver, Madrid and Amsterdam are exploring the idea.

“Once you have worked in this type of environment, I think some employees would give consideration to whether they would work in a non-Well certified space,” Zwaneveld said. “That creates a little ‘stickiness’ form an employee-retention standpoint.”

Haworth, based in Holland, Mich., has earned Well Building certification for its Shanghai office, and is aiming to get certification for its Los Angeles showroom later this year.

The company regularly gets bombarded with sustainability proposals, said global sustainability manager Steve Kooy, “but wanted to explore the Well Building Standard in part because it covered ground that LEED doesn’t.”

“Once we explored it more, as someone that supplies architectural interiors, the Well Standard is really well-equipped to have conversations with interior designers,” Kooy said. “It gets us into some new questions.”

Because the standard is based on building performance, not construction, design requires a more collaborative approach, he added.

“You really need to bring in the occupants early, the leadership,” he said. “This is not just a building change, it’s a culture change.”

So in addition to the construction team he recommends having someone from Human Resources, someone with a lighting background, and someone who understands acoustics. Even leases come under new scrutiny, such as the way janitorial services are performed, and the kinds of chemicals that might be used.

This can inflate the construction budget, but it can be earned back, he said. With a healthier, more pleasant place to work, employees will have more reason to stick around, reducing recruiting expenses.

Like CBRE, Haworth is making itself something of a guinea pig. As it gets its Los Angeles showroom online, the company also is doing a wellness study on its existing Santa Monica showroom to see how it compares.

“We are going to wait and give [ourselves] six months. From a science perspective, we think it is important to do the research,” Kooy said. The company already knows the new standard is good; now it aims to discover how much of a difference it really makes.

Photo courtesy of Gensler

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