WELL! What's it all about? Healthy Building Perspectives for Bringing People Back to the Office
In our quest for answers on bringing our firms back to the office and what to recommend to owners opening their buildings, we were fortunate to speak with Amy Malmstrom, WELL AP, LEED AP, RA, lead architect at BHDP. We explored the topic of accreditation and the benefits of the WELL Health-Safety Standards that may help organizations get back to collaborating in person.
Here's what we learned from Amy about WELL accreditation and her perspective on the impact WELL Health-Safety Ratings can have on our industry.
What sparked your interest in becoming a WELL AP and what benefits do you see from becoming an accredited professional?
I have always been interested in the effect the spaces we design as architects and interior designers have on the people that occupy them. Because we spend so much time ‘inside,’ the concept of creating space that enhances and strengthens the way we live, work, and play versus causing harm is paramount. Becoming a WELL AP offered a tangible, science-based system that I could use as a resource with our clients to provide either incremental or full-scale design impacts to improve their space; but also, to demonstrate their health and well-being commitment to their employees.
What advice would you give to professionals seeking accreditation?
Do it! Like LEED, becoming a WELL AP is an easy way to showcase your commitment to health & well-being within the industry. The USGBC has always talked about LEED to push and drive permanent change to the building industry and with each revision they are able to push change a little bit further. This concept has proven itself time and again. With WELL, we all have the ability to push beyond sustainability into the health & well-being sector to begin driving change through our work.
Have you seen an increased interest in WELL Certification or the WELL Safety Certification since the pandemic?
Absolutely, companies are looking for opportunities to bring people back to their spaces in a safe way and showcase the changes they have done. WELL Certification and the new WELL Health & Safety rating are two examples of visible, third-party verification methods that organizations can use to educate occupants on the measures being taken within a facility to keep them safe and healthy.
Has the pandemic impacted your approach to WELL standards and certification?
Health and Well-Being has never been more intrinsically connected to the places we choose to occupy. At BHDP, we believe health and wellness practices should be incorporated into every project to elevate the user experience whether there is a desired goal of certification or not. We are focused on incorporating improvement measures across six focus areas including indoor air quality, energy, water, occupant comfort, access to nature, and active design.
What are the biggest challenges to architects and owners as they attempt to implement WELL in existing spaces?
WELL remains challenging due to two factors: cost and internal policy change. Unlike LEED where 75% of the credits are directly related to design and construction impacts that architects and designers’ control, only 25% of WELL features are directly related to design. This leaves a lot of responsibility on the building owner to impact change within the organization including HR Policies, facility maintenance and operations, and cleaning policies, among others. Architects and designers can help facilitate and educate others on these needed changes, but it is up to the owner to implement and drive policy change into the organization.
Are there energy savings or building efficiencies realized by WELL standards?
Absolutely, there is a good amount of overlap between the LEED and WELL rating systems particularly in the areas of indoor air quality, thermal comfort, and water quality. The synergies between the two systems are intentional so that spaces seeking dual certification can utilize the same documentation between the two certification submissions. WELL features are not as directly correlated with building efficiencies and savings as you would find within the LEED rating system credits, whereas the concepts and features incorporated into WELL are directly connected to the effect of those occupying the space.
Is there an environmental impact of WELL certifications or safety ratings?
Yes. WELL features focused on improvements to indoor air quality, water quality, mindful material selection practices, acoustical and thermal comfort, and responsible food sourcing and production to name just a few; all have made a direct impact on the way we design buildings and the environment around us. We all have a responsibility to improve the environmental footprint we are leaving behind. Even with small changes made today, we can still create long-term change as we educate others, design better places to work, learn and play, and highlight the importance of health and well-being through our projects.
The need for office and workplace environments' improvements to indoor air quality, comfort, light, and water quality have become more important this last year. As engineers, we recognize the necessity for designing healthy buildings. Referencing the WELL Health-Safety Standards will provide goals for any organization that is looking to improve the health of the workplace. In addition, the WELL and FitWELL accreditation will increase the industry's knowledge base of designing for the health and well-being of our precious workforce.