Building a healthier world isn’t just about improving environmental conditions. It’s also about advancing wellness by improving the buildings in which people spend much of their time. Recognizing this, a team of passionate wellness advocates at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI) launched the WELL Building Standard in October 2014.
This program incorporates scientific and medical research on behavioral factors, health outcomes, and environmental health in the design and construction of buildings to promote human health and wellness. Nearly 4,500 projects in 63 countries have applied WELL building components since the program’s inception.
Expanding upon the WELL Building Standard, IWBI officially launched the WELL v2 on September 15, 2020. The pilot version of the program has been market tested across more than 3,300 projects since 2018. It features several enhancements and additional features designed to improve health and wellness of those occupying WELL-certified buildings. In the post-COVID-19 era, this is even more vital.
Below are features incorporated across four concepts in WELL-certified buildings:
Understanding that humans spend, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors, the IWBI incorporates several design components into the WELL v2 to ensure excellent indoor air quality. These features work in conjunction to help eliminate indoor air pollutants that contribute to adverse health consequences, such as carbon monoxide poisoning, headaches, and eye irritation.
The WELL v2 air quality concept encompasses 14 different features, each of which have multiple components, that contribute to a pollutant-free indoor environment. For example, all spaces must meet fundamental air quality thresholds for particulate matter, organic gases, inorganic gases, and radon.
Buildings must have adequate ventilation and air filtration systems and be developed with pollution management solutions in mind to reduce construction-related pollutants. Building tenants can also play a role in ensuring optimal indoor air quality by not smoking indoors and frequently opening windows when outdoor air quality is at acceptable levels.
While drinking water quality has improved drastically over the past 100 years, there are still additives that can increase risk factors for various diseases. Chlorine and chloramine, for instance, are often added to water sources to destroy pathogenic organisms but can help create disinfectant byproducts that increase risk for cancer when individuals are exposed at elevated levels.
The WELL v2 water concept makes use of features and design elements that improve drinking water quality and enhance distribution throughout the building to avoid potential water damage and adverse environmental conditions.
All water in WELL v2 buildings must meet sediment and microorganism thresholds as confirmed through on-site testing. This means any water used for human consumption must have a turbidity equal to or less than 1.0 NTU with 0 CFU/100 mL total coliforms.
Drinking water must also be within acceptable parameters for dissolved metal, organic pollutants, disinfectant byproducts, herbicide and pesticides, and fertilizer. Finally, building owners must employ a management program to control Legionella bacteria exposure and implement a water conservation system, among other actions.
High levels of light exposure have been shown to have positive health effects, while reduced exposure to sunlight has been associated with depression. A 2006 study published by The Center for Health Design states, “By controlling the body’s circadian system, light impacts outcomes in healthcare settings by reducing depression among patients, decreasing length of stay in hospitals, improving sleep and circadian rhythm, lessening agitation among dementia patients, easing pain, and improving adjustment to night-shift work among staff.” The study also highlights the impact of windows and access to daylight on employee satisfaction in the workplace.
With that in mind, the WELL v2 standard seeks to develop spaces with lighting environments that contribute to improved sleep patterns, positively impact mood, and reduce disruption to circadian rhythms. This can be achieved by meeting illuminance recommendations in one of four lighting reference guidelines and utilizing electric lighting to meet light levels of at least 240 EML between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m., among other actions. Building tenants should also be able to customize lighting based on their individual requirements.
Physical activity is another critical focus in WELL v2 building design. Physical inactivity is a major global health concern among adults. It contributes to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and dementia, among others. The WELL v2 movement concept strives to promote active living and physical activity by discouraging sedentary behaviors via programs and policies as well as design strategies.
Features supporting this effort include the implementation of ergonomic workstation furnishings and workspaces strategically designed to promote movement. Desktop computer-based workstations, for instance, should include height-adjustable stands and mounted, adjustable arms.
Physical activity outside of the workspace should also be promoted for a building to earn additional credentials. This includes the encouragement of active commuting such as walking or cycling and providing exterior site amenities. Education is also a crucial component of the movement concept as all occupants of the building should be informed of the importance of physical activity.
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