How WELL Is Your Office?

How WELL Is Your Office?

New Industry Standard Spotlights Health Implications

Originally published in Banker & Tradesman. By Janet Morra

June 26, 2016 – We have all become familiar with LEED certification, a third-party rating system designed to document levels of sustainability in buildings. Another new rating system has now emerged, called the WELL Building Standard, which is designed to document levels of wellness supported by those buildings. Where LEED is focused primarily on building performance, WELL is focused on occupants’ wellness and comfort.

While there are some similarities between the rating systems – for example, both are rated by the same third-party organization (GBCI), have a similar structure, rate projects as Silver, Gold or Platinum, and provide accreditation to trained professionals, there are a few major differences. Unlike LEED, the WELL Building Standard certification includes performance verification made by an authorized “assessor” who physically inspects and tests the facility. And unlike LEED, WELL performance must be re-verified every three years in order to maintain certification.

Choosing to gain WELL certification for your facility is certainly a major decision, most typically undertaken at the time of new construction or renovation. What if you would like to dip a toe into the water and find some lower-impact ways that would allow you to improve the level of wellness in your office today?

The WELL Standard is divided into seven categories or concepts: air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. Each concept contains numerous features that identify areas of concern (102 in all). Here is a suggestion from each of the seven concepts for changes you can make without committing to a major renovation project or incurring major costs:

-Air: Cleaning Protocol (Feature #09). In order to maintain a healthy indoor environment, create and follow a written cleaning protocol with more frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces (such as light switches and keyboards) and use non-toxic cleaning products throughout.
Water: Drinking Water Promotion (Feature #37). To promote proper hydration throughout the day (and reduce dependence on bottled water), provide a filtered water dispenser within 100 feet of all occupied areas. Clean on a daily basis.
-Nourishment: Mindful Eating (Feature #57). Promote better eating habits and reduce stress by providing dedicated eating areas to encourage employees to leave their desks at mealtimes. Provide a refrigerator, sink, microwave, eating utensils, cleaning supplies and seating for 25 percent of occupants.
-Light: Visual Lighting Design (Feature #58). Provide targeted task lighting at work areas and avoid over-lighting in general areas.
-Fitness: Activity Incentive Programs (Feature #65). Provide incentives to increase employees’ level of activity, such as subsidies for gym memberships, sports team membership or bike sharing programs.
-Comfort: Ergonomics – Visual and Physical (Feature #73). Encourage employees to use a variety of sitting and standing postures. All computer screens should be on adjustable mounts and at least 30 percent of work surfaces should be height adjustable. There are a variety of reasonably priced desk top surfaces that can be used instead of replacing the actual furniture. Seating should also be easily adjustable and ergonomically featured.
-Mind: Altruism (Feature #96). Promote a feeling of well-being and community connections by supporting charitable activities. Offer paid time off for staff to volunteer for community charities or activities. Participating in charitable team activities will also create an enhanced sense of bonding among staff members.

Clearly, there are many more ways to increase and promote wellness within your organization. The advantage to a program like the WELL Building Standard is that it provides clear direction and independent verification. At the moment, the program is very new, and in fact there are only eight certified buildings in the U.S. to date. But much like the acceptance of LEED, it is easy to see WELL quickly catching on as a way for companies to demonstrate their commitment to wellness to employees, new recruits and customers alike.

Further information about this new rating system can be found at

Janet Morra, AIA, LEED AP, is a principal and partner at Margulies Perruzzi Architects.