With a booming real estate market, progressive social attitudes and a technology industry famous for its employee perks, the Bay Area would appear to be the ideal market for the adoption of the WELL Building Standard.
The WELL standard certification, which is administered by New York-based real estate firm DELOS, is meant to recognize buildings following best practices for the health and wellness of the buildings’ inhabitants.[contextly_sidebar id=”kyfFBU7lATyXy2iWcc6ZXroNmbM9mIQp”]“It is about creating healthier, more productive places for people to live, work, learn, play, whatever it might be,” said Jessica Cooper, executive director of project management for DELOS, at a presentation in Sunnyvale last month, sponsored by the trade group CoreNet Global. “And it does provide a performance-based framework for evaluating the impact of the building on the people inside.”
After its formal launch in October 2014, there are now five real estate projects in the Bay Area that are pursuing or are already certified as meeting the WELL Building Standard, according to a DELOS spokeswoman.
Those include the headquarters of contractor BCCI Construction Co. at Levi’s Plaza in San Francisco, and an office building under development at 85 Bluxome Street in the South of Market. BCCI is the general contractor on the 85 Bluxome project.
Developers, architects and builders who are pursuing WELL certification say that it is the next step beyond LEED certification. LEED is the standard administered by the U.S. Green Building Council for sustainable construction. While LEED is focused on the broader environment, WELL is focused specifically on the well-being of a building’s occupants.
“Sustainability has always been at the forefront of our development principles,” said Cyrus Sanandaji, principal of 85 Bluxome developer Bluxome Partners. “LEED always fell short of providing any direct benefits to the building occupants and, in turn, the tenants and employees. When learning about the WELL standard and extending the benefits of the WELL standard to the residents of the building, it made all the sense on the world to complement what we were already doing with the environment.”
To achieve WELL certification, a building must meet seven standards in the areas of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and “mind,” according to DELOS.
Some of those standards are out of the control of the builder or developer. Providing nourishment and opportunities for fitness, for example, requires the tenants to provide employees with food options that meet the standard, and to adopt policies that encourage exercise.
“A lot of the WELL standard is really focused on how the operation of the space is run,” said Kena David, BCCI’s sustainability manager. “It’s not only about the design of the space and the property. It’s also about how all of the operations relate to the employees. It’s more focused on the people than, say, working on the overall energy consumption of the building.”
BCCI’s WELL certified space occupies 16,000 square feet on the second floor of an eight-story building next to a park. It has an open floor plan with no private offices, except for human resources. Desks are oriented toward windows that surround the space. All of the desks are sit-stand, with ergonomic chairs and adjustable computer monitors. The space also features lounge areas, where BCCI employees can work on laptops, a patio, bicycle storage in the front lobby and a “wellness room,” where employees can change clothes to go for a run during the work day, David said. The kitchen is stocked with booklets on nutrition and offers fresh, local fruits every Wednesday.
While BCCI designed its own space within a larger building for WELL certification, Bluxome Partners is building a core and shell that will seek WELL certification and that is intended to make it easier for tenants to meet the standard in their own space.
The five-story, 56,845-square-foot building, is located near Caltrain, the 4th Street Central Subway and MUNI stops. It already offers secure bike parking, locker rooms with showers, a 1,300-square-foot terrace on the fifth floor and a rooftop deck that can be customized with features such as a fire pit or barbeque.
The building at 85 Bluxome is already fully leased to a single tenant who will take occupancy this spring, Sanandaji said. He declined to identify the tenant, which he said is in the healthcare industry.
WELL certification is likely to be an attractive feature to prospective tenants in the Bay Area where companies employ managers with titles such as “chief happiness officer” and “director of people,” amid fierce competition for talent, Sanandaji said.
For the tenants themselves, it is also hoped that the features of spaces that achieve the WELL standard will make employees more productive and help them to take fewer sick days. The benefits to the tenant’s bottom line may help justify the cost of designing spaces that achieve the standard.
Supporters of the standard acknowledge, however, that its benefits for productivity have not yet been fully documented. The standard is too new for definitive studies to have been completed, comparing the health and wellness of workers in WELL certified spaces, to their health and wellness before the standard.
“They do take surveys of the WELL certified spaces, but until we have enough data, I don’t think there’s going to be a clear metric around the WELL building standard,” David said.