Buildings that bond us to nature: The new WELL Building Standard

The new WELL Building standard will work with LEED with the intent to promote a healthier human environment based on nature.

This living wall constructed by GreenScaped Buildings incorporates a flat screen display at LPL Financial in San Diego, California. Photo: Courtesy GreenScaped Buildings
This living wall constructed by GreenScaped Buildings incorporates a flat screen display at LPL Financial in San Diego, California. Photo: Courtesy GreenScaped Buildings

SAN DIEGO, February 2, 2015 – In just 14 short years, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification system has become the standard for energy-saving, cost-efficient building in the United States and abroad.

The LEED standard is familiar to the general public and a source of pride and even brand marketing for office buildings, hotels, schools, and other community projects. The State of California now requires all new state buildings to be LEED certified.

LEED has been a wonderful standard, and it’s gotten people thinking more seriously about ways green building practices can improve the health and well-being of a building’s occupants, such as access to daylight and outdoor views, active design, improved air exchange and better and safer materials choices. Now it’s time to take the next step.

An area of serious interest and concern for me and for many of my peers is integrating the higher concept of biophilia—the natural bond between humans and nature—recognizing how and why humans need nature in their everyday environment for optimal mental and physical health.

New building standards need to focus on human health impacts. Because of our increasingly urbanized lives, we need to work harder at incorporating elements of the natural world into our human-built environment. This is what drives our work at Good Earth Plant Company and GreenScaped Buildings every day.

We were excited to learn more about a new building standard that promotes a healthier human environment based on nature. It’s called the WELL Building Standard®. This standard doesn’t compete with the LEED standard. Instead, it works seamlessly with LEED, adding thoughtful new building design considerations focused on a different goal.

The WELL Building Standard includes seven specific categories encompassing conditions that enhance the health and well-being of building occupants when holistically integrated into building architecture and design: Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.

I’m extremely pleased that this standard recognizes the importance of adding living plants to interior spaces. Indoor potted plants and vertical gardens or walls are specifically called for as part of the certification standards.

“In October 2014, the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) publicly released version 1.0 of the WELL Building Standard, marking a momentous step forward in our efforts to bring health and wellness into the indoor environments where we spend more than 90 percent of our time,” said IWBI Founder Paul Scialla. “Through the launch of WELL v1.0,” he continued, “we are creating a clear intersection for the wellness, sustainability, and real estate communities to come together to support human health through the built environment globally.”

WELL Certification™ requires a passing score in each of the seven categories of the WELL Building Standard. Administered by IWBI, the WELL Building Standard is third-party certified through IWBI’s collaboration with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) – the certification body that administers the LEED Green Building Rating System. The IWBI awards certification at one of three levels: Silver, Gold or Platinum, similar to the different levels of LEED certification.

All of this is grounded in solid science. The WELL Building Standard is the culmination of seven years of medical research in collaboration with leading doctors, scientists, architects and other wellness professionals. It was pioneered by Delos, a New York based wellness real estate and technology company.

Some of the visionary world leaders who support the WELL Building Standard include Deepak Chopra, former Congressman Richard Gephardt, sustainability activist and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and leading physicians from the Mayo and Cleveland Clinics.

CBRE Group Inc.’s new Global Corporate Headquarters, which opened in November 2013 in downtown Los Angeles, is the world’s first commercial office space to be both Gold LEED and WELL Pilot certified.

In October, the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscape in Pittsburgh became the first institution in the world to achieve WELL Platinum Pilot Certification. To date, nearly eight million square feet of projects have already registered or certified through WELL.

The WELL Building Standard works in alignment with the LEED Green Building Rating System, the Living Building Challenge, and other leading global sustainable building programs. These programs aren’t in competition with each other. They actually compliment each other, since each addresses a different aspect of environmentally responsible building leading to the most positive possible impact on human beings and the earth as well.

Most city dwellers now spend as much as 90 percent of their time inside buildings, including time spent at work, at home, in restaurants and movie theaters, and a variety of additional pursuits. It’s shocking to think that we are only now beginning to realize the health and wellness impact that buildings and their internal environments have on their occupants—like you and me.

Just as we are starting to realize the health dangers of sitting for hours at a time at our office desks or computer terminals, so too are we beginning to recognize the dangers of living and working inside unhealthy buildings, even without realizing or understanding the biophilia connection.

I am eager to see The WELL Building Standard become as popular and important as LEED building certification. Who will step up and become the first to achieve both WELL and LEED certification at the highest levels? Let me know, because I want to be at your grand opening to celebrate.

Jim Mumford, GRP, CLP is the owner of Good Earth Plant Company and GreenScaped Buildings, San Diego, California. Find Good Earth Plants on Facebook and Twitter.

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