New LEED, WELL partnership supports better health in green design

Photo of Gold LEED and WELL certified CBRE Global Corporate Headquarters in L.A.

Today, the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) and the Well Building Institute (IWBI) announced a new partnership that strives to make health and wellness a more fundamental building block of green building design.

Laying the groundwork for progress, GBCI — which administers the LEED building standard — will provide third-party certification for IWBI's WELL Building Standard, which assesses how the built environment impacts health and wellness. In addition to the new certification process, the collaboration aims to streamline how LEED and WELL work together, while helping both organizations further the smart building movement.

"We always say green buildings are healthier for their inhabitants, but until now, we didn't have an aggressive system that looked at wellness and the human condition from a completely separate lens," said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO of GBCI and president, CEO and founding chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). "IWBI and the WELL rating system will bring a better understanding of what it means to be healthy — and the ability to achieve wellness through technology and design — to the front burner."

Wellness in the spotlight

This collaboration taps into a broader movement to embrace better health and wellness. Paul Scialla, founder of the International WELL Building Institute and Delos, notes that an annual $2 trillion is spent globally in this category, with 15 percent growth per year.

"At the end of the day, people care about their own health and well-being, and we're seeing more and more awareness," he said. "Regardless of demographic, everyone seems to be more in tune with precautionary and preventative steps to [foster wellness]." 

The WELL Building Standard, developed by Delos in partnership with scientists, architects and thought leaders, looks at many ways in which building design can aid in these steps, with a focus on air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Beyond more obvious initiatives such as onsite spa or fitness facilities, subtle elements include prominent staircases that encourage people to walk more, or accessible water-hydrating stations.

Far from existing in a vacuum, these initiatives often dovetail with sustainability efforts. Air quality and lighting, for example, are both green and wellness issues. In fact, according to Fedrizzi, about 10 to 20 percent of WELL and LEED standards already were overlapping as a result of this natural connection.

Partnership goals

A critical component of the collaboration is GBCI's third-party certification for the WELL standard, an effort that seeks to enhance the program's credibility. "There are green building ratings that don't require third-party certification," Fedrizzi notes. "Here this startup standard on wellness comes into the marketplace, and one of the first things they want to do is get certification. It sends all the right signals to the market that this is a very strong program that will change the way we see our offices and buildings from now on." 

While both organizations are figuring out how exactly this process will work, the idea is that it will echo the way LEED functions, with a design team and consultants submitting documentation to GBCI for verification. GBCI also will be involved in an onsite performance audit to assess elements such as water and air quality.

Down the line, it may be possible to transfer relevant credentials from one standard to the other — a possibility Fedrizzi says clients are particularly excited about. IWBI also hopes to introduce more of an educational element to the program, certifying professionals in a way similar to how GBCI credentials LEED AP professionals.

Projects in the pipeline

Already, clients have expressed interest in pursuing both LEED and WELL. The William Jefferson Clinton Children's Center in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, for instance, will be LEED Platinum and WELL certified. And CBRE's new Global Corporate Headquarters in downtown L.A. is the world's first commercial office building to be both LEED Gold and WELL certified.  

"We're growing our pipeline by the day, and we continue to run into projects pursuing LEED and interested in implementing WELL," Scialla said. He adds that the organizations are looking at upwards of 25 collaborative projects, ranging from hospitals to schools to office buildings.

As more people get savvy to the importance of wellness, and the ways in which health and sustainability can work together, this list of projects likely will continue to expand. "To have this connection with the IWBI shows the world that true sustainability is not just about the brick and mortar," Fedrizzi said. "It's about the human beings inside the brick and mortar."

Photo of LEED Gold and WELL certified CBRE Global Corporate Headquarters in L.A. via CBRE